| By Adam Wilkenfeld
CWK West Coast Bureau Chief
can learn, and at the same time enjoy, then that’s what
we’re after. Just the pleasure of learning."
-Silvia Lucero, a mother-
| For the Lucero boys, learning is year-round.
When the school year ends, their father uses next year’s
text to teach them math lessons at home.
“And he’d give us like maybe three-page tests
on those, with like maybe 75 questions,” says Orlando,
And during the summer, their mother gives them assigned reading
and asks them to give written or oral book reports.
“It can be a hassle sometimes, but during school, it
pays off on tests and everything,” 14-year-old Vidal
These boys won’t fall behind this summer, but many
of their classmates and other students around the country
According to a study from the University of Missouri, many
kids forget some of what they’ve learned, and by the
end of summer, they lose, “over two and one-half months
of grade-level equivalency in mathematics,” says Fran
Chamberlain, director of an after-school program called KidsLit.
“Teachers are spending easily up to six weeks trying
to review what had happened in previous years,” says
David Payne, a former principal.
Payne, now the CEO of an after-school program called the
Extreme Learning Center, says reading skills also lag. He
tells parents to actually go to school and talk to the their
children’s teacher before the end of classes. Ask the
teacher what skills could your children benefit from practicing
this summer, and find out what books might they read now that
could keep them sharp and help them prepare for next year.
“A parent who knows that their child might be interested
in a certain topic but reading a different grade level than
the rest of the class can go find a book and engage their
student over the summer and make great progress,” Payne
He also says that the key is to make learning fun, especially
during the summer. The Lucero boys, for example, write out
math problems on the dining room table … with
Their father, Frank Lucero, came up with that idea.
“I’ll take a look at the books, I’ll read
through the chapters, pick out the particular problems and
actually spend some time in analyzing how am I going to make
this fun for the boys? What are we going to do this time?
How do I keep it different?” he says.
This summer, the boys will have time for basketball and skateboarding,
but only when the homework is done. Come fall, Orlando and
Vidal will be ready.
“Everyone’s asking me, like, how do you do this,
how do you do that? Like on the bus. And they practically
have to relearn it all over again,” Vidal says.
Consider the following
research collected by Ron Fairchild, executive director of
the Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning:
- All young people experience learning
losses when they do not engage in educational activities
during the summer. Research shows that students typically
score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation
than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer
vacation (Cooper, 1996).
- On average, students lose approximately
2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation
skills over the summer months. Studies reveal that
the greatest areas of summer loss for all students, regardless
of socioeconomic status, are in factual or procedural knowledge
- Low-income children and youth
experience greater summer learning losses than their higher
income peers. On average, middle-income students
experience slight gains in reading performance over the
summer months. Low-income students experience an average
summer learning loss in reading achievement of over two
months (Cooper, 1996).
- Summer learning loss contributes
to the achievement gap in reading performance between lower
and higher income children and youth. Research demonstrates
that while student achievement for both middle and lower
income students improves at similar rates during the school
year, low-income students experience cumulative summer learning
losses over the elementary school grades (Alexander &
- Large numbers of students who
qualify for federally subsidized meals do not have the same
level of access to nutritious meals during the summer as
they do during the school year. Only one in five
(21.1 per 100) of the 15.3 million children who receive
free or reduced priced school lunches on a typical day during
the regular school year participate in federal nutrition
programs during the summer (Food Research and Action Center,
- Studies show that out-of-school
time is a dangerous time for unsupervised children and teens.
They are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and tobacco,
engage in criminal and other high-risk behaviors, receive
poor grades and drop out of school than those who have the
opportunity to benefit from constructive activities supervised
by responsible adults (Carnegie Council, 1994).
According to a study
from the University of Missouri, during the summer break many
students forget some of what they have learned throughout
the school year. In fact, many lose “over two and one-half
months of grade level equivalency in mathematics,” says
Fran Chamberlain of the Developmental Studies Center.
As a parent, it is important for you to help your child retain
the knowledge he or she has learned each year. Whether homework
is assigned during the school year or as a “summer bridge”
between grades, you can help your child get it done. In fact,
the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says parents can
help their children academically, even if homework is not
assigned. The AFT describes home as “a child’s
first school.” The organization recommends spending
a little time each day on reading, writing and math activities.
Parents Need to Know
The American Medical Association has some
specific suggestions on ways you can help your child with
- Help your child get organized.
It can be hard to schedule homework time into your child's
busy life, but that is exactly what you must do. Prioritizing
homework tells your child that learning, reading and studying
are important. If you need to, post a weekly calendar with
slots for daily homework time.
- Help your child find the right
workspace. Where your child should do homework depends
largely on his or her age. The workspace should be well
lighted and supplied with pencils, paper, rulers and books
so your child doesn't waste time hunting for tools. The
kitchen or dining room table is the most popular workspace
for young children.
- Let your child do the work. Young
children in particular are accustomed to being helped with
many tasks, so they naturally look to parents for help with
homework. Remember that a primary goal of homework is to
build responsibility. Here, yours is a supporting role as
a parent - encouraging your child to think, evaluate and
- Help your child understand instructions,
but then step back and let him or her work independently.
It is important that you do not actually do the work because
this denies your child an essential sense of achievement.
Praise should be focused on your child's effort rather than
on "correct" or "incorrect."
- Be a parent, not a teacher.
The most important role you can play is as a parent. It
is important not to become the teacher at home. You can
scan the assignment first to become familiar with it. That
way, if your child has trouble finding the answer, you can
offer a clue and then let your child find the answer. This
approach helps build your child's confidence that he or
she can, indeed, do the work on his or her own. You should
be ready with praise when the assignment is completed.
- Make a final homework check before
assignments are submitted. This not only gives you
an indication of your child's ability, but it also keeps
you up-to-date on what he or she is studying. If you do
find errors, don't criticize. If your child is really struggling,
send a note to the teacher pointing out the difficulties
your child had with that assignment. By going over homework
with your child, you can see whether there are any problems
that need to be addressed.
The AFT also recommends that you reward your child for work
well done or for trying hard, even when he or she makes mistakes.
The rewards don’t have to cost money. A hug, or a smile
and some words of praise can mean more than candy or a toy.
Federation of Teachers
University Center for Summer Learning