National Summer Learning Day targets 'summer slide'

Parents and volunteers can take the lead on summer learning, using National Summer Learning Day as a kick off for nurturing learning experiences through summer vacation and all year long.

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A map showing a sampling of summer learning programs available on National Summer Learning Day, June 20.

For the millions of US children who attend summer camps and enrichment programs, there are many millions more who leave school for summer vacation and don’t have any plans until the school bell rings again next fall.

According to experts, this seems to be a prime cause of “summer slide” - the condition in which kids forget much of what they learned in school over the course of a few short months, primarily because they have few experiences outside of school to remind them of their lessons.

Friday, June 20 is National Summer Learning Day, a day created by the original efforts of Johns Hopkins University students to fight the effects of summer slide.

The day is a touch point of a bigger effort to re-shape the way parents, legislators, and educators think about summer vacation as an opportunity to continue learning in engaging ways outside the classroom. As part of the celebration, there is a user-generated program map outlining nationwide activities for families.

Organizations around the country have amped up their summer offerings in an effort to make sure that kids keep learning. Reading is Fundamental released survey data this week outlining reading as a tertiary part of summer vacation routines behind outside play and screen time, in an effort to remind parents of the importance of keeping kids reading over summer break. 

Many parents in my neighborhood in Norfolk, Va. have signed up their kids for summer camps to fill weeks, if not months, of summer vacation. They have built a routine for their kids that seamlessly transfers them from school to summer activities, with a vacation on the side. Many parents planned these summer camps months ago, and they recognize that the time and costs involved in planning these activities is a luxury many families around the country don’t have.

When I lived in New York City more than a decade ago, I was a Girl Scout leader at the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, located on the edge of Harlem on 96th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. 

I worked with a troop of Brownie Girl Scouts gathered from Manhattan, The Bronx, and Queens. There were a lot of working parents, and a lot of uninvolved parents, many who seemed to view Girl Scout meetings as a chance for a free baby sitter more than anything else. 

At the time, as a young college-grad with no kids, working and living on my own in the city, I bristled at the idea of these uninvolved parents. Now, as a new mom, seeing my own stay-at-home mom friends fill up their kids’ schedules with activities to keep them busy until graduation (a full-time job in and of itself), I realize that I should have been grateful to have a troop at all.

The first time I took my Brownies on a field trip, I was sure I was going to lose at least one of them on the subway or somewhere on a city street. Instead, their confidence led me and left me rest assured that these kids had street smarts far beyond what a suburban kid, like myself, could ever understand. 

What many of these girls didn’t have a lot of was learning experiences outside of school. Girl Scouts was one activity for them that carried over from school year to school year, but my individual impact as an idealistic young volunteer needed a lot of backup. It needed full community involvement to help encourage learning, remind kids to never stop learning, and develop a full schedule of programs for kids outside of school.

I had the opportunity to see as a Girl Scout leader what extra-curricular learning did for my Brownie’s confidence and self-respect, in addition to their school lessons. That opportunity for kids should be available across the board, all year long.

National Summer Learning Day helps to close a gap for parents in need of resources and parents in need of ideas. Before parents entirely unplug from school routines, there is a chance to make sure every day includes the opportunity to learn.

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