Summer learning loss occurs only when kids are forced to absorb the system’s agenda and curriculum. Research shows that students regress and lose about one month of school instruction during a long summer holiday, and a study from Ohio State University found that test scores were no different for students on a year-round calendar. Year- round schools have only four weeks of summer vacation, and longer breaks during the fall, Christmas, and spring holidays. (Cuthbertson, 2012) Reading comprehension and math skills take the biggest hit. The research tells us that children lose progress in content retention, but it does not test whether they were engaged or bored with the content. Children retain knowledge in areas they are keenly interested in; my children could recite all 150 Pokemon over the summer, but not the math times tables. Summer learning loss occurs only in the areas that children are forced to learn from the school and government agenda; but not in areas they want to learn such as their own agenda. They may learn many new things that are of interest to them.
In terms of brain development, this makes sense. Brains cement the pathways between neurons in areas that are well used, and prune unused pathways. The brain is always “filing” information into useful short- or long-term storage, based on need. If a child doesn’t need multiplication facts over the summer, it gets dumped in favor of useful information—such as the Pokemon stats for card game playing sessions!
Much of what children learn is invisible to us. How much knowledge they absorb and retain is directly related to their level of interest in a topic. When left to their own devices, children learn the new information and skills needed to accomplish a particular task or goal. And summer is for play. Children learn through play.
If you want your children to develop initiative, cooperation, and a passion for learning, you cannot foster that development by shoving worksheets at them. Instead, encourage their interests; listen to their questions and help them look for the answers. That’s what unschoolers do.
“The brain does not have ‘open’ and ‘closed’ hours. It takes in information, sorts it, draws correlations, makes connections and stores 24 hours a day and 365 days per year.” (Tracy R, 2002)
We found that summer learning far exceeded winter-month learning. I didn’t have to work in the summer and had much more time to facilitate their interests. All the most- desired books and videos were available in the library because schools had checked them back in. We spent many long, unstructured hours reading because most homeschooling classes, activities, and programs were closed for the summer. Summer was the most unstructured time of the year, and the most productive. My children’s reading progress flourished.
Indeed, unschooling in the summer produces abundant learning. When learning is continuous, there is no summer-slide learning loss.