The end of the school year offers a final opportunity to communicate with parents and reflect on the past year. It can also be a great time to provide parents with recommendations and advice to help their children retain what they’ve learned and prepare for learning that lies ahead next year.
We might begin our end-of-year communication – whether in a formal letter, email, video, or by other means – by sharing our gratitude with parents for sharing their children with us for the past year. Children are the center of parents’ lives, and their trust in and support for us is a crucial contributor to learning success. Our message can reinforce the importance of this relationship and encourage parents to make a similar investment in teachers with whom their children will learn in the future. Our communication also might include a brief recounting of the year’s highlights and shared special experiences. Reflecting on the year can be a good way to bring closure and remind parents of the important role they play in their children’s learning.
Our observation about the important role parents play in learning can serve as a transition to reminding parents of the crucial role they’ll play in retention of their children’s learning during the summer months. For example, we might share with parents that without ongoing stimulation and reinforcement of learning, students can lose a full month or more of school year learning over the summer. Consequently, students may enter school in the fall with their learning having fallen back from where it was in the spring and necessitate time consuming reteaching and stressful catch-up. Spread over multiple summers, lost learning can accumulate to as much as a full year.
Of course, we need to share formal summer learning opportunities offered by the school or in the community that parents can access for their children. These opportunities can serve as valuable counter forces to learning loss. However, there are many other opportunities of which parents can take advantage beyond or, in some cases, in place of formal summer learning experiences. Here are four strategies we can share with parents to counter summer learning loss and help their children be prepared when school resumes in the fall.
First, parents can look for everyday opportunities to make connections and discuss applications of learning. Not all summer learning must be planned and formal. Parents can seek out connections in everyday experiences. Routine events can offer rich opportunities for children and young people to apply concepts and skills they’ve learned during the year. Common tasks and projects can provide opportunities to apply math skills or observe scientific phenomenon. News events can be starting places to make geographic connections and explore historical contexts.
Second, parents can make it a practice to read to, read with, and read to share with their children. For young children, listening to someone read can increase vocabulary, stimulate imagination, and build motivation to become a reader. For older children and even adolescents, reading aloud or listening to recorded reading can keep reading skills sharp and provide enjoyable shared family experiences. For example, on long car trips consider having one person read as others listen and then discuss what was read. Also, parents might consider having each family member select something they’d like to read and then have family members share what they’re reading, how they’re reacting, and what they’re learning.
Third, parents might seek out fun events that also offer learning opportunities. Visits to museums, libraries, historical sites and exhibits, attendance at cultural events, and even nature and neighborhood hikes can offer valuable opportunities to reinforce and extend learning. During and after the experiences, parents can help children and young people to place the experience in context and make connections. Equally important, parents need to pay attention to questions their children ask and take time to explore implications and reinforce aspects of significance.
Fourth, parents can use summer opportunities to preview key skills and concepts students will learn in the coming year. Our communication might preview highlights of the next year’s curriculum to help parents become aware of what lies ahead. We can offer ideas and examples of how parents can expose students to key concepts and skills. The idea isn’t to have parents pre-teach, rather they can look for opportunities to expose students to and discuss what they’ll be learning. We know the more background knowledge students bring to new learning, the easier and more successful learning becomes.
Certainly, as we reflect on a sincere end-of-year message to share with parents, we understand parents want their children to have a relaxing, fun-filled summer, especially in the aftermath of the past three years. Fortunately, summer learning doesn’t necessarily have to be time-consuming or drudging work. When combined with family activities and shared experiences, summer learning can be a great antidote for learning loss – and it can be fun.