As the end of the school year approaches, kids are gearing up for summer fun. But the season isn’t just about soaking up the sun and staying up past bedtime. It’s actually the perfect chance for kids to explore their interests and stay ahead of the game academically.
“Summer provides a really good opportunity for kids to learn outside of the school building and the school day,” says Dr. Sara Plachta Elliott, executive director of the Youth Development Resource Center in Detroit. “It’s a chance for them to try out some new things they haven’t tried, whether that’s horseback riding or a new sport or going deeper into something that really sparks their interest, like art or theater.”
For some students, however, the season leads to gaps in learning caused by lack of access to summer opportunities that not only help students grow academically, but also can benefit their social and emotional growth.
“Kids from middle-income and upper-income families, their parents have dollars to purchase a lot of summer camps and summer opportunities,” Plachta Elliott says. “Kids from lower-income families don’t have the money or the transportation.”
While kids from higher-income families continue to build on skills during the summer months, children from lower-income families often aren’t able to – and are at an academic disadvantage when the new school year begins.
Students experience “summer slide” and end up losing two months in mathematics skills and two to three months in reading skills, experts have found. In addition, each new school year, 9 out of 10 teachers report spending at least three weeks re-teaching lessons from the previous year to students who are behind.
It’s a big problem.
Summer Spark, a recently launched website that gives families in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties access to a variety of summer programs for kids age 4-18, offers a solution for all families in southeast Michigan.
“Summer is this bite-sized period where you can have a huge impact on what is possible for kids,” says Tammie Jones, vice president of education for United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Through the Summer Spark website, she says the organization is “really starting to address summer learning loss.”
Read on for more about Summer Spark and getting the most out of summer.
Resources at your fingertips
United Way for Southeastern Michigan and the Youth Development Resource Center launched Summer Spark this April with the goal of helping to close the achievement gap between lower-income students and higher-income students.
“Researchers estimate that two-thirds of the achievement gap when kids are entering ninth grade is a result of that summer learning loss,” Jones says.
Families looking for opportunities can go to the website to search by grade, county, ZIP code, cost, focus area and specific keywords to narrow down the options in your area. While you can’t register for specific camps and programs through the website, you will receive contact information to be able to register directly with each group.
The website, Jones adds, also helps parents who work but want to be able to keep their kids active and safe.
“Without a safe place to put their kids, a lot of parents really struggle in just showing up to work,” Jones says. “This becomes important in terms of supporting employees’ attendance.”
Summer programs also give kids access to breakfast and lunch when school options are not available.
“Some of the summer opportunities will include some extra support for youth around literacy and math,” Plachta Elliott adds. Certain groups offer a more hands-on way to keep kids interested in reading, math and STEM, too.
“Summer Spark provides a clearinghouse of information for parents and caregivers and teachers,” Plachta Elliott says.
Summer learning tips
“All parents should be thinking about how to keep their kids reading during the summer, and summer is a really good time to focus that reading on things that the student is interested in,” Plachta Elliott says.
Kids can visit their local library to check out books on topics they like, whether that’s a specific sports star or artist. This gives them the opportunity to dive deeper into an area of interest.
Online tools or apps, including Ready4K and ABCmouse, are also great ways for kids to continue learning throughout the summer. You can learn more about these parent and caregiver resources the United Way for Southeastern Michigan‘s website. There
are links to these opportunities at the Summer Spark website.
Take advantage of the opportunities for family time, too, Jones suggests. Go to the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Detroit Historical Museum or take a trip to a park. Ask questions and make the day an adventure. The days are longer, so use the time wisely.
To find summer programs and resources in your area, visit the Summer Spark website.