How parents can ensure their kids are still learning over the summer

Keeping kids academically engaged in the summer months (Ann Dolin with WTOP's Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard)

With summer vacation, youngsters get that welcome break from regular homework, tests and teachers’ disapproving glances.

And while even the youngest minds need rest, gains made during the school year can actually erode during summer vacation, according to one education expert.

Maintaining any momentum into another successful school year means maintaining a balance, said Ann Dolin, president of Educational Connections Tutoring and author of “Homework Made Simple.”

“You certainly don’t want a summer where kids aren’t involved in any learning at all, and that’s because they can lose up to two months of progress,” she said. “But you don’t want to go overboard, either.”

According to researchers, kids can eliminate that summer learning slide in language arts if they read four books over the summer. Dolin recommends getting kids involved in a summer reading program at the local library to help them hit this benchmark.

“They’re still out there, and they’re a great way to motivate kids — and they keep them accountable,” she told WTOP’s Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard.

Some of the age-appropriate titles she recommends include the following.

For elementary schoolers: The “Dog Man” series by Dav Pilkey, a graphic novel about a half-dog, half-man cop. The series touches on such positive themes as empathy and persistence.

For high schoolers: “Five Feet Apart” is a story about two lovesick teens who also have serious illnesses. The story has already inspired a recent film adaptation.

In addition, local museums offer opportunities for kids to keep their minds engaged during the summer months.

Some Smithsonian Institution museums, for instance — the Museum of American History, the Museum of Natural History, the Portrait Gallery and the Udvar-Hazy Center — have hosted sleepovers, she said.

Screen time is a near certainty during the summer, of course, and Dolin suggested a few apps that mix education with fun: The foreign language app Duolingo, for example, is the most downloaded learning app for kids. And with the SkyView app, users can point their mobile device at the sky and identify stars and constellations.

“It’s a really fun way to bring astronomy to life,” Dolin said.

Such activities might be the only work they get over the summer, as schools have of late been pulling back summer assignments such as math packets or required reading. Dolin recommends that parents check with their schools, then set up a plan if they do indeed have a summer assignment.

“If something feels onerous, chances are, your child is going to put it off,” she said.

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