Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Children Benefit from Summertime Learning, Participation 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday,  July 10 / 10

Zack Gross

The sweet freedom that comes with the end of the school year often transforms into the “I’m bored!” syndrome a few days later. 

While many children may spend an active summer, continuing to grow through sports, travel, camping, learning and other pursuits, others actually lose ground over the summer.  Whether because of a lack of funds, parents who must work or who are not around, or distance from the centre of activities, summer can be an idle time. 

When this happens, kids may return to school less able and less healthy than they were at the end of June.

The US National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) has been surveying students for thirty years, following them from grade school right into adulthood.  Their research shows that during the school year, all students progress academically and socially at about the same rate, with individual differences taken into account.  However, during the summer, disadvantaged kids “tread water” or fall behind, while more advantaged students (not just economically, but “programmatically”) leap ahead.  That is, children involved in organized sports, family travel, or visits to museums and libraries come back to school with a distinct lead over their less active peers.

Parents often pinpoint summertime as the most difficult time to ensure their children are engaged in productive activities. 

The achievement gap grows year by year, amounting to a situation, say NSLA researchers, by Grade 9, where you can see that the active summer kids will reach post-secondary learning, while a noticeable proportion of the others will not. 

Indeed, not only is retaining and increasing learning at risk to the idle student, but NSLA findings show that youth facing risk factors, such as obesity, also suffer at this time of year.

Part of the issue is the cost of summer activities.  However, there has been a growth in programs available to children and families to cover or defray these costs – for example, through KidSport, as well as traditional groups such as the YMCA and YWCA.  There is also an issue in some parents’ minds of “just letting kids be kids” for the summer, a feeling that children are over-programmed and over-organized in our society. 

For those facing financial, timetable, supervision or philosophical problems with their children’s activities, there are many easy-to-do, low-cost routes they can take to keep their kids stimulated and active.

•   The outdoors is one big environmental experience.  Take your kids on a hike or bike-ride or consider a backyard camping experience.  You don’t need to go far to make an experience special.  Check out the walk that you are going to take beforehand and then make a list of things that you want the kids to identify, like a scavenger hunt or a game of I-Spy.

•    Set up an Olympic course in your backyard, for a day or longer, and challenge your kids to toss water balloons, do the egg-on-spoon run, blow bubbles, juggle, hula hoop, cartwheel or do the limbo, with small prizes to the competitors.

•    Have a jigsaw puzzle or board game night.  These “old-fashioned” activities might also get them away from the TV or video games for a while.

•    Do some baking or crafts with your kids.

•    Take them to visit an animal shelter, seniors home, u-pick, or other destination where they can have fun, do some good and get some healthy food, a large part of what motivates kids!

•    Consider visiting a community near yours to see what it is like.  We often go great distances when just down the road are cafes, stores, theatres, beaches and other venues we’ve never been to.

•     Attend a community sports or cultural event – they are cheap to get into and fun to watch.  Sometimes the best baseball game is played and the best concert is delivered by local kids or amateurs.

Children around the world are negatively affected by lost opportunities to play, learn and interact.  What we imagine as childhood in Western Society is not always available to children, depending on their economic status, in developing countries.  They often have to contribute to the family labour pool and may have neither “free” time nor even school time. 

This impacts most on girl children. 

For lack of funds, children can only go so far if they do get to school, and few make it to technical colleges and universities.  This not only holds back and frustrates individuals, but slows the progress of their community and their country.

In our society, it takes a little bit of energy and leadership to ensure that our children have a productive and memorable summer.  It is an investment in our youth that will pay off in their future success and happiness.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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