Skip to main content

Summer of fun need not preclude learning

By Camilla Benbow

(Originally printed in The Tennessean on May 8, 2013)

With school ending in a couple of weeks, parents are again confronted with the challenge of how best to occupy their children’s summer vacation time. Educators, too, worry about the gap between the end of one academic year and the start of the next.

Students can lose a fair amount of the knowledge gained over the school year during the summer. Children from low-income families are particularly at risk, and they lose more of what they have gained in subjects such as reading and math than do their peers. Educators call the phenomenon summer learning loss.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ balanced calendar is one attempt on the part of our local educators to narrow the interval between this year and next — with students returning on Aug. 1 — and thus to reduce the amount of knowledge that evaporates over the summer. For students in middle school, MNPS also is offering summer academies at Bailey STEM Magnet Middle School and Margaret Allen Middle School with coursework in math, science, reading and writing. Priority enrollment is given first to Bailey STEM and Margaret Allen students, but after that it’s open.

For high school and eighth-grade students, Metro’s Virtual School is offering 20 classes across a range of topics. Classes are taken mostly online; if transportation is a problem, this can be a help.

Many parents — and even more students — rightly will feel that summer is a time for play, relaxation and types of stimulation that occur outside of the regular classroom. Even so, travel, outdoor adventure, family gatherings or cultural enrichment can further children’s learning and arouse their curiosity. Keeping travel diaries can help your child’s writing abilities. Collecting and identifying specimens of plants, rocks or insects will strengthen interest in the natural sciences. (Your child’s cell phone camera also can work for this purpose.) Video recording the memories of family members during visits will tie in with history and social studies. Participation in arts programs will build your child’s creativity, confidence and abilities for self-expression.

Above all, the extra freedom of summer provides ample time for children to learn by reading. They needn’t travel farther than the local library to be transported to other worlds and times. Plan on having your children read every day, and reinforce what they are learning by talking with them about what they read. A little parental interest is all that may be required to open children to sharing their excitement about a story, a person, a place or an event. MNPS has lists of recommended summer reading on its website. And the Nashville Public Library has a summer reading program with downloadable reading logs.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a trip to the beach. Just be sure to bring some books, including a book with math puzzles, along with the sunblock.

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