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Five Myths About Summer Learning

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Updated April 2021. Originally posted July 2016.

The pandemic has affected students greatly, causing major gaps in learning. Students rely on school for their education, for extracurricular activities, social interactions, and even for their mental well-being

Recover Learning Losses this Summer

It may take years for students to recover from the pandemic. Summer vacation is an opportunity for students to catch up and get a head start on next year’s learning. However, the idea of summer learning doesn’t always sit well with students and parents. After all, the last thing that most students want to do is spend their summer learning.

Check out these five common assumptions about summer learning—and why they might be incorrect:

Myth 1: Kids need the summer off to recharge.

While the school year can be tiring, research shows that kids thrive with structure such as the one that the school year provides. A break from the school-year routine can be invigorating for a short period of time. However, a too-long break rarely helps students feel recharged; rather, it leads to boredom and academic malaise.

Without replacing the school day structure with summer camps or other regular day programs, children can become disengaged from not only their routines but also from learning. Video games, texting, movies, and lounging by the pool are fun, but eventually, relaxation and downtime become boring too. Providing mentally stimulating summer activities that are reliable and routine is the best way to avoid summer boredom and keep kids charged up and ready to take on a new school year.

Myth 2: If summer was not intended to be a break, school wouldn’t shut down.

The most common school year as we know it—from September to June—exists because of two main reasons: At the turn of the last century, agricultural societies required children to help out with farming chores during busy growing seasons and, in cities, schools were unbearably hot during summer and made teaching and learning in poorly-ventilated buildings a health hazard. The current 180-day school calendar is still in place, even if the reasons for it are no longer valid.

School boards don’t intend summer to be a “break” for students—policymakers are simply continuing to follow a system that has been in place for many years, and, coincidentally, one that has come to be beneficial to cash-strapped school boards.

Myth 3: Summer isn’t part of the school year.

Summer is just as important to a student’s overall learning experience as what is learned from September to June. In terms of the brain, learning runs 24-7, all year round. Research suggests that year-round learning is actually better for students. It’s time to stop thinking about the school year as only September to June: there is no final bell on a student’s education.

Myth 4: Summer school is for students who get bad grades.

While summer school may have at one time been reserved for those students needing extra help, that is no longer the case. Summer school attendance doesn’t mean that students have bad grades: students looking to get ahead, tackle extra credits, and get a competitive advantage by signing themselves up for summer school.

Myth 5: Summer will make students refreshed and ready to learn in the fall.

This is the scariest myth about summer learning. After a summer spent relaxing, students may feel refreshed, but they are far from ready to learn. Research into summer learning shows that after taking a two-month break, students can lose anywhere 20-30 % of their academic learning momentum: they’ve gone backward in terms of learning. Students aren’t ready to learn after a summer off: they’ve lost their learning momentum after two months of video games and relaxing at the beach.

Keep Students Learning This Summer

Watch our video to learn more about how learning all summer can help students prepare for next year.

The summer slide, the brain drain, or summer learning losses—whatever you call it, it can be easily prevented. A few hours a week of active academic learning keeps the brain sharp, so that when falls rolls around, students are ready to learn and take on the challenges of a new school year.

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