By Jim Roope, CNN
(CNN) –Some call it "the summer slide." Some call it "the summer brain drain." Whatever you call it, summer learning loss is a real phenomenon that has plagued students since summer vacations began.
Fourth-grade teacher Marian Valdez said much of what students learned in 3rd grade they forgot over the summer.
“We spend the first couple of months, especially in math, reviewing, going back over the facts, time tests, those kinds of things,” said Valdez who teaches at Washington Elementary in Los Angeles.
The first known report about summer learning loss came in a 1906 New York Times article by William Allen. He tested students in math before and after their summer recess and found that they had lost math skills during that break. For more than a hundred years, educators have been trying to stop the summer knowledge leak.
A 2007 Johns Hopkins study shows that summer learning loss can be tied to economic status. During the school year, the academic skills of lower income children in Kindergarten through 4th grade improve at close to the same rate as their more advantaged peers. But over the summer, the skills of children from middle- and upper-income families continue to improve while the skills of lower income children do not.
“And that’s cumulative,” said Ron Fairchild, President and CEO of Maryland-based Smarter Learning Group. “Summer after summer, low income kids lose roughly two months' worth of learned skills which accounts for a huge and significant learning gap over the course of the elementary school years,” Fairchild said.
“Part of it is access to resources,” said Regino Chavez, Director of Evaluation for L.A.’s Best, an after school and summer enrichment program.
He said summer enrichment programs are few and far between in low-income neighborhoods. And the programs that do exist have limited enrollment. Chavez said however there doesn’t have to be a formal program.
“Take the kids to the library. Let them get a library card and check out books,” said Chavez. “Play games at the grocery store. See who can tally up the groceries on the list fastest and correct. Point out geometric shapes on signs and billboards,” he said.
“Even the kids can do it on their own,” said teacher Valdez. “There are so many websites, for example with math. So instead of playing a video game they can be doing a math game and they can keep up on their skills that way.”
She does say that kids do have to rest and have fun in the summer. But keeping up the academic skills takes just a few minutes a day and goes a long way in creating a pattern of learning that will last them well into their college years.
The National Summer Learning Association has several links to help parents keep their kids academically sharp while they're out of school for the summer:
Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge
This free summer-long literacy program is designed to motivate children to read four or more books. The Summer Challenge site also features resources for educators and parents.
Active Bodies Active Minds
This site provides summer reading and fitness challenges designed by Summer Bridge Activities and Major League Soccer to help kids stay sharp and fit over the summer.
Reading Is Fundamental
RIF's Summer Reading Guide has tips, book ideas and a daily calendar of summer reading activities.
Read Write Think
This site has a range of summer activities that promote "Learning Beyond the Classroom" for K-12 children and youth.
Freshbrain.org offers an online summer camp focused on multimedia development and production including application development, graphic design, music mixing and robotics.
Exploratorium is a virtual science center with exhibits, interactive tools and modules, as well as science projects.
American Library Association
The ALA has tips on making the most of the trip to the library.