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Don’t let summertime turn kids’ brains to mush

SHARE Don’t let summertime turn kids’ brains to mush

Harris Cooper knows what plenty of parents and teachers have long suspected: Summer vacation may be great for kids, but it's not so good for students.

Cooper has found that children tend to lose something, academically, over the summer months.Cooper, a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri at Columbia, reviewed 39 studies that compared achievement scores from tests children took in the spring to scores on tests they took in the fall. The children were entering grades from 2 to 9.

Over the summer, the scores declined by one to three months, Cooper found.

Math scores were affected more than reading scores. "All children lose some of their math knowledge over summer," Cooper said. But while some children held their own in reading, or even gained over the summer months, others declined in those scores, too.

In other words, during the summer a kid is a lot more likely to pick up a book and read for fun than to call a friend and say, "Hey, want to come over and do some arithmetic?"

But these declines are not etched in stone. Parents can help minimize summer vacation losses without ruining summer vacation itself. Cooper has some suggestions for how to help:

- Go to the library. Keep books available. Discuss books. Read to your children and let them read to you. Make sure your kids see you read yourself. If you can bring yourself to read a math book, you're in the running for parent of the year.

- Consider summer school. "Summer school does work," said Cooper, who recently completed a study looking at summer school effectiveness. Remember that summer school programs are different from regular school; they usually don't last all day, and may not last all summer. There's still plenty of vacation time. But a little extra help can go a long way.

- Look at other programs that, though they are not in an academic setting, keep learning going in a fun way. Museums, libraries, zoos and other institutions may offer programs that would appeal to your child's special interests. Make some phone calls.

- Talk to the teacher your child will have next year, or to a teacher at that grade level in the same school. Find out what math skills and reading skills your child should have to get the year off to a good start. Ask for some suggestions for summer reading.

- If you are taking any summer vacation time, consider trips that will have learning benefits: historical sites, nature preserves, interesting geological formations. Even if you aren't going any place, look close to home for fun summer activities that provide enrichment, too.

- Do not allow summer to turn into a television festival. There is a "negative correlation" between the amount of time spent watching TV and achievement test scores, Cooper said. In other words, the more, the less.

- Pay attention to your child's stress level. Summer vacation should be a break from the pressures of the school year; children need that "down time." This is not the time to load up with so many "opportunities" that the child has a killer schedule to contend with.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)