The Case For Shorter Summer Breaks

Studies show that kids tend to lose math and reading skills during extended vacations. Is there an antidote to so-called 'brain drain'?

Photo-illustration by Laura Goode; images from Getty Images

While summer brings a much-needed reprieve from SOLs, nightly reading logs and science fair projects, those 2 ½ months off from school also present a dilemma: how to prevent kids from intellectually stalling out when all they want to do is play Fortnite, scroll through Instagram and hang out with friends?

Multiple studies indicate that all students lose some math and reading knowledge during extended school breaks, although math regression is generally more pronounced. Some parents say they struggle to strike a balance in keeping their kids academically sharp while sandwiching in time for camps, vacations or simply vegging out.

“Brain drain is a real thing,” says Arlington parent Symone Walker, a lawyer whose kids are entering seventh and eighth grade this fall. “Without reinforcement, they do slide and forget what they learned in the prior school year.”

Not wanting her kids to fall behind, Walker had one child working with a reading tutor over the summer and sent the other to an enrichment program at the University of Virginia.

Local schools also are looking for creative ways to keep students engaged in learning over the summer—in part to make back-to-school reentry more seamless for teachers, who routinely spend the first few weeks in the fall reviewing concepts from the previous academic year. But there’s a clear movement against busywork.

Symone Walker with her son and daughter, packing their bags for sleepaway cam. Photo by Michael Ventura.

Some have replaced summer math worksheets and mandatory dull reading lists with activities that are more hands-on. And forget about summer school; it’s not called that anymore. Instead, it’s “enrichment” or “remediation.”

Arlington Public Schools (APS) offers project-based summer learning for elementary school students through its school-based Summer Laureate and Global Village programs, where kids can learn everything from coding and algebraic reasoning to research skills.

In Falls Church City, middle-schoolers who didn’t pass their reading or math SOLs have the option of participating in a career-focused summer program that reinforces those disciplines. Guest speakers in fields ranging from health sciences to architecture talk about their jobs, and students engage in related team projects. In one case, students read about how the Brooklyn Bridge was designed and built, compared it to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then worked in teams to build their own model bridges. (Enrichment classes such as robotics for high-achieving students are offered, too.)

Categories: Education