TOTH: School’s Out for Summer, But Learning Should Never End

Courtesy of DCPS

It’s the “end” of another school year. Our students have spent the past 10 months learning and achieving great successes in and out of the classroom. And while students have much to celebrate at the close of the school year, we know that learning doesn’t stop when schools break for the summer. In fact, during the summer, it’s critically important to keep kids engaged, intellectually stimulated and inspired to continue to learn.

Summer learning loss, the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the summer, affects millions of kids each year. According to the National Summer Learning Association, about nine out of 10 teachers will spend as much as the first three weeks of an academic year reviewing previously covered material because of summer learning loss. This means that when students return to school in the late summer and early fall, many of them will start the academic year with achievement levels lower than where they were at the beginning of summer break.

In the nation’s capital — where we have access to tremendous free opportunities and resources that are sure to spark creativity, curiosity and learning — we have more than enough at our disposal to keep students engaged all year round. We all know that learning happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. It happens in homes, in out-of-school programs, at museums, in libraries and places of worship. Furthermore, the learning that happens out of school has a tremendous impact on children because it reinforces concepts learned in the classroom.

For families and communities in D.C., a lot can be done to prevent summer learning loss. Here are a few:

Read. D.C. has 26 locations that make up the D.C. Public Library system. Students can visit any location (for free!) or start a book club with friends. Parents can also read books aloud and together with their children. Librarians are great resources to keep students in books they love.

Explore. D.C. is home to a diverse collection of museums and monuments. Students can visit the National Museum of Natural History, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Gallery of Art — all for free — during the summer.

If museums aren’t your thing, students can visit over two dozen monuments and memorials to learn about past presidents, civil rights leaders and pioneers. The National Parks Service has a great junior ranger program that encourages students to earn badges as they explore.

Play. There is a great deal of research about the power of structured and unstructured play in learning. Play can provide children with opportunities to forge lasting friendships, develop healthy independence and autonomy, and demonstrate choice, self-direction and creativity.

Write. Another easy way students can keep learning this summer is to keep writing. Writing is a powerful way for students to express themselves, to grapple with new ideas, to create, and to persuade others about issues about which they care deeply. Keeping a journal of their daily activities during the summer can help students improve their memory and strengthen their writing and problem-solving skills.

Camp. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has provided camp and recreational activities for the District’s youth for over 30 years. DPR partners with the DC Free Summer Meals Program to provide free nutritious breakfasts and lunches at many of its summer camps. Parents and students can visit the DPR website to sign up for summer camps.

So, parents and caregivers, make the most of what D.C. has to offer and make sure your child has an awesome summer and is ready to hit the ground running when they return to school!

Susan Toth is the chief academic officer for KIPP DC.

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