Summer Learning Gains

The value of summer.

August 14, 2013

Summer has just ended for my kids, aged 6 and 4 and a half. My daughter, the oldest, has returned to school and started Grade One. My son started what I like to call his senior year of preschool. I made certain decisions this summer to spend more time with my kids and recharge my batteries in the process. I also decided that I wasn’t going to worry that my daughter didn’t lose whatever reading skills she had developed while in Kindergarten, or that my son still didn’t know all of his letters.


This isn’t to say that early literacy skills were thrown out the window; we still read books every night before bed and whenever the kids asked. The kids went to their preschool all summer, which was less academic than during the school year, instead opting for more of an integrated curriculum (each week there was a theme to learn about and around). Over the summer, the preschool accepts the (slightly) older siblings of current students and former students. This was great for both my kids, as they worked and played alongside a wide variety of ages (2-7).


When my kids weren’t at preschool, we went swimming. My daughter can now swim all the major strokes (at least at a recognizable level) and my son is starting to get interested in actually learning the strokes (he taught himself how to swim years ago, but is more interested in doing his own thing in the water). My son also played t-ball for the first time, and my daughter attended dance “camp”; in both cases, they once again interacted with kids who weren’t all the same ages. Now that the weather is getting cooler, they are also starting to ride their bikes, with and without training wheels.


I don’t know how much learning was “lost” over the summer (although I’m sure I’ll have some standardized test scores for my daughter ASAP). I do know that my kids spent two hours upstairs in their rooms building with Legos and engaging in some pretty elaborate imaginative play yesterday. They also willingly walked the dog (yes, we got a dog, but that’s another story) a couple of short blocks to a friend’s place all by themselves. My son drew a picture for his t-ball coach and wrote his name, unprompted (this is huge for him).


I’m not sure any of this would have happened if I had decided that this summer would be an extension of the more-or-less rigid curriculum they are subjected to during the academic year. I also know that I am in a privileged position to be able to provide these opportunities to my kids, both inside the home (there are books in our home and they often see us reading) and outside (literally, in that we have a huge yard, and figuratively, in that we can afford various camps and programs). I would hate for my kids to lose out on these periods of extended, unstructured periods of exploration and maturation if we went to a year-round school schedule.


My father (who grew up on the Prairies in the late 1950s) once told me that he was disappointed in some ways that my brother and I were so heavily involved in the summer pool system we had where I grew up (and, no, it hasn’t changed at all, as I have friends whose kids are doing the same thing we were back then). The reason? We didn’t have the kind of free time and space that he had to “get into trouble” and then get ourselves out of whatever mess we created. I smiled and assured him that we got into plenty of trouble. Now, the “trouble” we got into was the very mild, good-kid suburban kind (a little like a John Hughes movie), but from a relatively young age, my brother and I rode our bikes to the pool and didn’t come home until after the pool closed. We enjoyed our freedom while also doing what we loved.


In other words, I want summers to be an opportunity for my kids to explore, experiment, mature, and mess up in a low-stakes way. I think I did that this summer, or at least worked to do that for them and with them this summer.  




Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an edupreneur. You can visit her blog at  College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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