ATLANTA — This summer, 6-year-old Hailey Samuel will spend a minimum of 20 minutes each day reading. She also will write a book report, answer practice standardized test questions and shore up her spelling and math skills.
If that seems like overkill for the rising first-grader, her mother, Dana Samuel, won’t disagree with you. She believes the assignments from Wynebrook Theme School in Stone Mountain, Ga., are a bit much.
“I’m a very involved mom, but I believe children have to be children,” her mother said. “She will do the work but without compromising our ‘we’ time.”
Once reserved for ambitious Advanced Placement kids, summer assignments have gradually spilled over to the rest of the student body, putting a damper on family vacations and, as Samuel put it, “we” time.
Assignments vary by school, school district, subject and grade level.
Many educators believe that summer assignments reinforce students’ reading skills and better prepare them for the upcoming school year. They say children learn best when instruction is continuous, and summer vacations disrupt the rhythm of instruction, requiring reviews of old material when students return to school in the fall.
Tarsha Bowie was all too happy to comply with her son, Waymon’s, first-grade reading assignment from Wynbrooke.
“I want to provide a solid foundation for my son,” Bowie said. “The reading program will groom him for first grade.”
Summer assignments, however, don’t sit well with Vivian Williams, whose daughter is a rising ninth-grader at Dunwoody High School. She has to complete several assignments this summer, including reading George Orwell’s “1984,” preparing a PowerPoint presentation and reading a Spanish newspaper, even though she has yet to meet her teachers.
“In the past, she had been required to read a book or two, but I thought this was excessive,” Williams said.
Gary Huggins, CEO of the nonprofit National Summer Learning Association in Baltimore, said most children lose about two months of math skills each summer, and low-income children lose an additional two to three months of reading skills. And that loss can have a cumulative effect.
By ninth grade, Huggins said, low-income youths are more than three years behind middle-income peers in reading, due largely to summer learning loss.
“We invest so many resources in helping kids achieve during the school year that it just doesn’t make sense to let any part of that investment slip away,” Huggins said.
Although some parents believe summer should be reserved for having fun, Huggins argues there’s no reason to sacrifice fun for learning. He suggests parents view summer as an opportunity for children to learn in a different way than they do during the school year.
“Why not plan a family garden,” he said, “and in the process have your kids calculate the necessary area and perimeter for planting, research which plants, vegetables or flowers will thrive in your garden spot, and work with a budget to practice both math and the skill of making tough choices?”
Citing a 2011 study by Rand Corp., a nonprofit devoted to improving public policy, Huggins said high-quality summer learning programs, along with informal learning approaches, not only help students avoid summer brain drain but boost achievement in some cases.