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Keeping Kids Academically Sharp During Summer

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By Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager, Family and Community Engagement, National PTA

It's impossible to overestimate the role that parents can play in their children's education. In addition to being their children's first teachers, parents are also their children's teachers year after year. While a student moves from classroom to classroom, parents and families stay the same. In fact, nobody else knows my children and the struggles they face from year to year better than I do.

That consistency is one reason why parents are so vital to their children's education. More importantly, it's the reason parents must work to maintain a learning environment at home over the summer and during extended breaks. Research proves that the home-school partnership plays a critical role in student academic achievement. As Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp noted in "A New Wave of Evidence," when families are involved in their children's learning, children earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs, have higher graduation rates and are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education.

Research also shows that the biggest impact on student academic achievement is made when families engage in learning activities that reflect the work children do in school. The summer break is an excellent opportunity for parents to reinforce their children's learning and help prepare them for the year ahead.

Summer breaks are a time when students typically stop doing academic work and enjoy vacations with their families. Unfortunately, all students experience a loss of academic skill during this break, and the loss is more significant for families who have a lower socioeconomic status, according to research. In fact, one study, "Summer Learning and the Home Environment," found that the achievement gap in reading and language for 66% of high school students can be traced to summer learning loss as far back as primary school.

Families can help minimize learning loss over the summer months by staying engaged in their children's learning. Most public libraries have summer reading programs that are free and families can take advantage of other free library resources even if they don't participate. National PTA also provides several valuable tools:

PTA's Parents' Guide to Student Success includes key items that children should be learning in English language arts and mathematics in each grade based on the Common Core State Standards. The guides also have activities that parents can do at home to support their child's learning and methods for helping parents build stronger relationships with their child's teacher.

PTA's literacy resources include a parent tip sheet for helping children with reading and a list of fun family activities that promote learning.

The Countdown to School Success Guide, with tips from the Department of Education and National PTA, can help parents prepare for the upcoming school year.

Schools can help parents understand the role they can play by sharing information with families about how they can work together and by connecting families to resources and other community organizations. Schools can provide opportunities for local service providers to distribute information to families and host information fairs to introduce families to their services.

Families play a critical role in educating children. The summer break is an exceptional time for parents to stop learning loss and get their children a step ahead for the coming year.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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