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Fighting Summer "Brain Drain," One Child at a Time

PHOTO: Outdoor adventure programs in the summer months help reinforce skills such as math and reading, as kids apply what they've learned in the classroom. Photo credit: Lew K. Miller/iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Outdoor adventure programs in the summer months help reinforce skills such as math and reading, as kids apply what they've learned in the classroom. Photo credit: Lew K. Miller/iStockphoto.com.
June 20, 2014

YAKIMA, Wash. - It's National Summer Learning Day, calling attention to creative ways to prevent brain drain during the summer.

The phrase "use it or lose it" applies to kids' reading and math skills, which researchers say erode measurably when they're not in school. A new survey of more than 1,000 parents found six out of 10 aren't convinced of that, and half said their kids spend more than twice as much time online or watching television as they do with books.

Sarah Pitcock, chief executive of the National Summer Learning Association, said being online may involve reading - but it just isn't the same.

"You're jumping around a lot, from page to page, article to article, with a simple tap of the finger," she said. "Books are really great for giving some of that sort of longevity and continuity in reading that enables students to really focus."

Longer-form reading is better to build comprehension, she said. In the survey, from the group "Reading Is Fundamental," 83 percent of parents said that when their children read, they still prefer books to computer tablets or e-readers.

In Yakima, this year's summer learning focus is "Outdoor Adventure," from nature hikes to campfire cooking and camping trips. Kids use math in recipes and to calculate distances on maps, and research the plants and animals they encounter. They've also figured out how technology can play a role, said Melanie Willis, coordinator for 21st Century Learning programs at the Northwest Community Action Center.

"We have them taking pictures or recording what they're doing, making videos, editing their work," she said, "so you're taking it outdoors, then you bring it back into the classroom, and they really enjoy having that technology in their hand."

Pitcock said the best summer programs allow kids to pick something they're interested in and pursue knowledge about it, reinforcing skills such as reading and math along the way. She said even those weeks spent at home aren't wasted time for parents who encourage children to read.

"Just reading a book is not nearly as powerful as reading a book and having somebody to talk about it with," she said. "So, parents can play a really critical role in reading comprehension that pays dividends, in terms of reading skill growth."

Many of this year's National Summer Learning Day events highlight the need for support and programs for middle-school and high-school kids.

The "Reading Is Fundamental" survey is online at scribd.com.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA