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Summer Learning Loss Is Not Just for Kids

Carol François mage
Carol François

When I was a classroom teacher, it seemed right around March and April, students' minds began wandering to visions of blissful summer vacations. Spring Break exacerbated the problem since the week off fueled their desire to be rid of school for a more extended period of time, free of schoolbooks and teachers' dirty looks as the children's rhyme taunted.

Little did my students know we teachers also longed for summer almost as much as they did. Having a few weeks of unscheduled time to refresh, renew, and reinvigorate ourselves was considered a welcome treat. Little did we teachers, as well as our students, realize our coveted summer vacation unintentionally might be creating a serious problem. We now know that long summer breaks without opportunities for learning and cognitive growth contribute to significant learning loss.

In research cited by the National Summer Learning Association, "All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years 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 the summer." But that's not all. The association also notes that, "Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children — particularly children at high risk of obesity — gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break."

What a disappointment to learn the sobering truth about summer — it's a double whammy — brain loss and weight gain! Seriously though, the research is plain: Failing to fill summer months with meaningful mental stimulation can cause kids to suffer stagnation at best and regression at worst. And the same is true for adult learners. If we fail to fill teachers' summer months with challenging mental exercise, they, too, will return to school less able to function at their highest levels at the time their students need them at their best. The Wallace Foundation has studied this extensively and wrote an article offering tips for addressing teacher learning.

As professional learning leaders, we have a charge to advocate for and design high-quality summer learning options for the educators we serve. Just as students experience summer learning loss, so do adults. In my next blog, I'll talk about some of the ways to plan and support summer learning that keeps educators at their peak and ready to start a fresh new year.

Carol François
Director of Learning, Learning Forward

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