The short answer is YES! With nothing resembling education, they lose the momentum they gained week over week all through the school year. But, we don’t have to rain on their parade in order to maintain their academic success.
Like every parent out there, I want my kids to have a really fun summer. Like every parent out there, I want my kids to get a great education. NWEA testing at my son’s school a few years ago showed that students gained 1.7 years of educational growth during the school year, and lost 1 year over summer break! As someone who works with students in remedial reading, I can tell you that my typical student loses 1 to 3 reading levels in just 2 months of summer break. This is something that plagues the hearts and minds of every educator I know.
Much to my dismay, I can’t make my students exercise their brains over the summer, but I have begun to take a look at my own children. I could just enforce a certain amount of time they must spend reading a book every day. That goes a long way to helping maintain their educational progress, so I’m not slinging mud a that! If my students’ grown-up(s) would just do that I’d be on cloud nine! I have to reign on my own kids like a Spring storm all summer long to make daily reading happen. So if that’s what I have to do anyway, this year I’m trying something a little different.
I gave the boys a few weeks to relax while I furiously wrote four really intense papers on cognitive development in order to finish up my own college term after my last day of work. I told the boys to read something every day; I watched to see what they would do without me riding them. They didn’t pick up a book; not once. So, today I assigned a research project to each of them. One child laughed at me; the other one cried.
I’ll tell you a little secret; there are things kids think they hate but once you get them to start doing it, you can’t get them to stop. PowerPoint is a fun program. It has progressed to the point that it is pretty easy to use. And you can make things spin, wobble, fly around, and explode complete with sound effects. Kids like that. Kids LOVE that. And it’s an extremely valuable skill for a vast array of jobs!
So, my 9th grader is researching political parties. His goal is to find out how and when they started, what they believe, who leads them, a few famous (or infamous!) members, what they use as their symbol and why. By the time he enters college, it is imperative that he know the difference between education and indoctrination. High school is his opportunity to ask questions and build on this foundation, so he needs to know what questions to ask.
My 6th grader is gathering all of the base data on every US President since 1960. I have given him a list of what I want him to find out about them; it isn’t brain surgery and it’s easy to find. I want to know: their name, the names of their wives and children, date of birth/death, dates in office, President # i.e. Obama is our 44th President, political party, and one or two things that we remember about their Presidency. He has to include a picture of each of them.
Let me repeat, there are things that kids think they hate until they start doing it; then you can’t get them to stop. Whenever I assign my students a Venn Diagram they moan and groan and the mentors look at me like I’m nuts. Then they start comparing and contrasting. When class is over I can’t pry them away from the thing. “OK, Mrs. W, hold on. I just remembered that this is different and I don’t have it on here. Can I take this with me?! Can we do this again tomorrow? PLEEEEEASE??” Everyone is laughing and communicating and comparing and contrasting and learning. The kids don’t hate me anymore. The mentors stop to thank me on their way out the door for making the time so fun. It’s all in how you set up a task.
So my sons have to give this one hour per day, only on the week days. All of their research can be done on the internet. Do you know how fast an hour goes when you’re Googling and scanning for facts? Do you know how many skills and brain activities are being used and developed here? Their final presentation is to be in PowerPoint which they both LOVE. I expect to see things floating and flying, sizzling and spinning. They have to create one artifact that is tangible. It can be anything that relates to their topic–something they draw, or cut out, or glue together, or find somewhere. This project is due the day before I go back to work (July 29th), so they have plenty of time.
Last night they reluctantly started their research. Guess what. They found facts! They came to me with lists and they were proud of what they had. They had questions! When a kid has questions, they’re interested. So they don’t hate me anymore, they’re not laughing at me, and they’re not crying. Best of all, they’re thinking. One of them just came to where I’m sitting and writing this with news on in the background, and started asking me intelligent questions about the public figure being interviewed on the TV. It’s someone he recognizes as a former Vice Presidential candidate.
I believe that this summer project will wind up being interesting for them, and will help maintain their education level, while not sucking all of the fun out of their summer.