August 18, 2011 Kerala Taylor

The antidote to summer learning loss? Reading and outdoor play

Much ado has been made lately about summer learning loss—and many assume that the antidote is more school. Whether that takes the form of summer school, year-round school, or computer camp, we have come to believe that more indoor desk time is what our kids need to avoid the "summer slide."

But the beauty of summer for children is freedom—freedom to move, freedom to explore, and freedom to choose how to spend a lazy afternoon. Summer is a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, and devour novels on a front-porch hammock.

Sadly, all too many children these days spend their summers sitting indoors in front of screens, or getting rushed from math camp to soccer practice. They are missing out. A summer filled with unstructured outdoor play, complemented by a healthy dose of reading, can not only prevent summer learning loss but can challenge, exercise, and open children’s minds in new ways. Outdoor play promotes creativity, hones life skills, and enhances physical health; meanwhile, as noted by Let’s Read. Let’s Move., reading just five books over the summer can go a long way toward prevent learning loss.

In this day and age, providing the right environment for kids to play and read may take a bit of legwork on the parents’ part. Most kids these days won’t pick up a jump rope or book if they’re not conditioned to do so. It’s up to the parents to limit screen time and make books and unplugged play equipment—think sidewalk chalk, Frisbees, and even cardboard boxes—readily available.

These efforts will bear fruit. Kids who view reading as a chore will find it easier and more enjoyable the more they do it. (In fact, once they find a story that hooks them, it might be hard to get them to stop!) Likewise, in the right environment, kids who are afraid of “being bored” without electronic distractions will eventually find creative ways to spend their time.  As our Park-A-Day Challenger Angie Six has aptly pointed out:

“I think many of our children don't really identify with the feeling of being bored. They rarely have the opportunity to be bored, and so when they're faced with nothing to do and nowhere to go, it's uncomfortable.

Some of the things [my children] have come up with when bored? Face painting, building block towns for their cars, unique Lego/K'nex creations, playing ‘summer camp’ in the yard, and my favorite: forming their own band, writing a song, and performing on our very-deserted-at-2 p.m.-on-a-Wednesday street corner.”

Kids also learn by example, so if you want them to read and play, set aside some time to do it yourself. Go to the park, set up lawn chairs in front of your house, or take an urban hike. Bring books on family outings so that everyone can enjoy some downtime resting and reading together.   

Let’s give our children the freedom to explore the worlds that exist beyond classroom walls. There is so much out there to learn! 

A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared on the National Service Blog. We're excited to support the Corporation for National and Community Service's Let's Read. Let's Move. campaign—get involved by accessing their toolkit and starting a reading service project here.

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