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Summer learning options affordable

By Camilla Benbow

(Originally printed in The Tennessean on May 18, 2012)

With the school year about to end, it is time to think about how to counter summer learning loss. During the summer, the average student loses about one month of the previous year’s learning gains. While all students lose some of what they have gained in mathematics, students from low-income families lose more — up to two months of academic learning — especially in reading.

Even worse, research suggests that summer learning loss is cumulative. By the beginning of high school, the year-to-year effects of summer learning loss account for much of the achievement gap between low-income learners and their better-off peers. In fact, affluent students whose parents enroll them in various summer enrichment activities experience learning gains.

This is why high-quality summer programs for youth are so important, and why they are particularly needed in low-income areas.

But even parents who cannot afford to send their children to a summer program can take steps to help reduce summer learning loss. There are loads of resources in our community to challenge your child.

Before school ends, talk to your child’s teachers and get their suggestions about summer study subjects. They may also know of online resources or free materials that your child can use to keep their mind active and learning over the summer.

Metro Nashville Public Schools maintains a listing of Summer Programs and Camps online at, many of which the system helps sponsor. MNPS also publishes Summer Reading Recommendations ( Check these books out from the public library, read them with your children, and return for one of the library’s many summer activities for kids.

Summer is also a great time to visit our science center and to get out in nature and reinforce some of those school science lessons. Visits to local parks to examine plants and animals, followed by research trips to the library, can bring knowledge to life while combining learning with summer fun.

Have your child help make grocery lists, do the shopping with you, and participate in cooking as a way of reinforcing math skills.

If you are planning to travel, be sure to go to the local parks, museums or cultural centers. Have your children keep a journal about the places you visit and the things that they do. Regular writing will reinforce their reading and thinking skills, too.

Faculty members in Peabody College’s Department of Teaching and Learning suggest that throughout the summer parents can support their children’s learning by encouraging them to share their journals, drawings or photographs and to talk about what they have just read or learned. Research shows that having students explain what they are learning increases their understanding.

Nor do parents need to be experts on a topic. Listening with interest and asking questions will increase children’s motivation to learn. This summer, encourage a child in your life to become an “expert” on a subject of their choosing.

Camilla P. Benbow is Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Her column on education normally appears every other Thursday in The Tennessean Local section.