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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

June 19, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Leave no book behind: How to fight summer learning loss

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

Summer vacation begins this week for many Seattle-area children and with it, a drain on knowledge and skills that researchers have dubbed the “summer slide.”

“By the end of summer, students perform, on average, one month behind where they left off in the spring,” according to research summarized in a 2011 report by the Rand Corporation.

The summer learning loss accumulates over time and, while all kids lose some math skills over the long break, low-income kids lose more ground in reading than wealthier peers, who sometimes even make gains over the summer. The upshot is a widening of the achievement gap.

Research has shown that high quality summer reading programs can halt the slide and even boost achievement with effects that last for at least two years after the student participated, according to Rand.

That’s why First Lady Michelle Obama is helping to celebrate “National Summer Learning Day” on Friday at the National Summer Learning Day Fair in Washington, D.C.

She’ll have tough competition from TV and video games, according to an online survey by the Reading is Fundamental organization and Macy’s.

Parents of children age 5 to 11 who responded to the survey said on average their child reads for six hours a week, but spends about three times as many hours playing video games and watching TV.

It takes more than just slipping a book into a child’s hands for summer reading to be effective, however.

Children who get guidance from adults on picking books that aren’t too easy and aren’t too difficult gain more from summer reading than children who don’t get that help, according to research from Harvard summarized by the National Summer Learning Association.

The five-finger test is a quick way to decide if a book’s too hard: have the child read 100 words and hold up a finger for every word that’s too difficult to figure out. If they reach five, it’s probably too hard.

But parents don’t have it to do it all on their own.

The King County Library System is launching several reading programs this summer for three different age groups — zero to five, kindergarten through sixth grade, and teens — under the umbrella heading “Thinkology: The Study of Fun.”

| More in News | Topics: achievement gap, reading, summer learning loss

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