Mary Jew, Head of Keystone Academy’s Primary School, explains how parents can prevent their children losing learning over the long holidays
Now that the school year is coming to an end, many parents might be at a loss when it comes to how to plan their kids’ summer schedules. As seen in Beijing’s varied summer program and camp offerings (pages 8-11), there are two very different philosophies: allowing kids to just be kids via play and summer fun, or signing children up for full day enhancement or enrichment classes to improve their existing skills or build their knowledge in preparation for fall.
Should summer be a vacation from studying for kids, or should parts of it still be utilized for learning? The answer lies in the research behind “summer fall back”, sometimes referred to as “summer slide”, “summer brain drain”, or just “summer learning loss”.
We talk to Keystone Academy’s Primary School Head, Mary Jew, about the meaning of the term “summer fall back”, how it might apply to your child in Beijing’s diverse international environment, and how you can help prevent summer fall back in your child—possibly even overcoming it with summer improvement!
What is summer fall back?
The term summer fall back refers to how students “lose” some of their academic knowledge over the summer. Research shows that students generally forget about two months worth of learning, especially in mathematics, due to a lack of use and practice. Reading skills can also suffer, particularly in lower-income students who do not engage in reading or learning activities throughout the summer. As a result, teachers have confirmed that the first few months of the fall semester are generally spent on review and reacquisition.
In Beijing, Jew believes summer fall back is especially prominent with students enrolled in bilingual immersion programs, as there is always one language that has regressed with lack of use. Unless the home environment is also bilingual, the student will likely face a lack of practice and exposure to their target language (e.g. English for Chinese natives, Chinese for English natives), which will then be reflected in the fall when they return to their bilingual school environment.
How do we prevent language regression?
Preventing language regression is more about finding a mix of enhancement and enrichment. Support or enhancement classes serve much like tutoring lessons, where a child’s weaknesses, as identified during the school year, are addressed in personalized programs. Such a methodology would be especially useful for second language learners, as they might not receive individual attention in a school classroom environment.
Enrichment classes, on the other hand, tend to be more about learning a new skill or knowledge, such as the art of Chinese calligraphy, or the history of the industrial revolution in Europe. Taking enrichment classes in the target language will provide variety in instruction, topic and theme, as well as assignments, and will hopefully prove to be more interesting than enhancement lessons. Children learn best when they are immersed, so parents should allow their kids to decide for themselves which enrichment programs they prefer. Whether your child should sign up for enhancement or enrichment programs depends on his or her individual needs, according to Jew. Many summer programs include both support and learning, with a variety of fun choices for students to select from.
Finding a summer camp that focuses more on language enhancement will be helpful for second language learners hoping to maintain the language. Parents can consider hosting study groups with native speakers, such as your child’s classmates, or hiring a native-speaking tutor or au pair to enhance the home language environment. Younger children need play dates with native speakers several times a week in order to have enough opportunities to use their second language effectively.
If face-to-face native language immersion is not convenient or other language exchange opportunities not possible, parents can also guide children to use free online resources for English or Chinese learning, such as educational Youtube videos or websites similar to IQ Chinese (see Resources below). However, Jew reminds our readers that adults must supervise children’s use of the internet for learning, and should not leave children alone to search or surf the internet.
How do we prevent overall learning loss?
As with preventing language regression, Jew recommends fun summer camps and programs to engage children in learning activities during the summer. Not only do these programs provide social interaction, and foster communication with native speakers of the target language, but they also give a framework for a structured and organized summer so that children do not become lethargic from too much freedom or boredom. Even without enrolling your child in a summer program, parents can create a routine via a summer schedule, ensuring that kids are eating on time and sleeping early, and won’t struggle in the fall when they have to prepare to return to school.
One of the most important ways parents can assist in preventing summer learning loss is by being actively involved in your kids’ learning. One of the reasons why children of lower-income families tend to perform more poorly and lose more knowledge is because the parents are too busy with work to engage them or supervise their learning. This is why Jew reminds parents not to leave your kids with grandparents, or the Ayi or nanny, without planned activities, or risk your child facing a higher summer fall back than other children.
How can you be more involved in your child’s learning?
Read books to your kids and encourage them to read on their own if they can. Most schools provide students with reading lists for the summer, and Jew recommends having children read in every language of proficiency even if you have to find a book list on the internet. Finally, don’t forget to model good reading habits by reading for yourself, and talk to your kids about what you have read or learned from reading, whether it’s a good book, a newspaper article, or an informational WeChat post.
To motivate your children to stick to their summer schedules and perform well, it’s a good idea to set daily, weekly, and monthly goals with your child and reward them accordingly.
If you’re traveling with your family during the summer, pack wisely. Take books from the reading list with you. Have a variety of options for long commutes and boring wait times, such as audio books, interactive e-books, educational apps and games, or even videos in the target language. Always find opportunities for teachable moments, and engage your child in the target language or activity by asking useful math questions, for example (if dinner was USD83, the state tax is 10 percent, and we are giving a 15 percent tip, how much should Daddy be paying the restaurant?)
Finally, Jew reminds parents that simply having children spend a portion of their day engaged in learning activities, rather than allowing them to indulge in completely unsupervised play, will result in significant changes in the fall and possibly even gains in their oral language abilities. Research shows that students generally forget about two months worth of learning, especially in mathematics
BrainPOP, BrainPOP Jr. T
he Brainpop and Brainpop Jr websites are popular choices for educators to use in class, as many schools have purchased paid subscriptions. The website covers a wide variety of topics, from English ESOL to literature to math and sciences, which are presented in fun Flash videos with music, sound effects, and even quizzes to test for understanding. The interface is easy to use, and the movies can now be more conveniently watched on an iOS device via the app: BrainPOP Jr. Movie of the Week. www.brainpop.com, www.jr.brainpop.com
Reading A-Z is one of the many websites educators rely on to teach engaging leveled reading. The site is specifically for reading, but has sister sites, such as Science A-Z and Writing A-Z, which are all under the overall Learning A-Z umbrella. The Reading A-Z website has come top in polls of teachers and offers many free resources for parents who would like to try out the service before subscription. The site provides reading assessments, a large variety of targeted reading assignments, and reading comprehension questions, as well as other forms of assignments. www.readinga-z.com
IQ Chinese has a selection of products for purchase, including multimedia courseware, textbooks and workbooks (Go! Chinese), software tools, online practice systems, and even teacher training services. Perhaps the most child-friendly of all their products is the iGo Chinese iOS apps, volume 1 of which won the 2013 Parent’s Choice Approved Award. The apps are leveled, and promise to teach children “more vocabulary than they can use in their daily lives”. www.iqchinese.com
Learn Chinese (Mandarin) iOS App
MindSnack’s Mandarin learning app has a total of eight games, of which the first one is free. The app was awarded best educational app of the year by Apple, and begins with the basics of tone and pinyin to teach the essentials of conversation skills, moving on to more vocabulary and characters in later levels. www.mindsnacks.com/subjects/mandarin
Talking Learn (Chinese)
Talking Learn is a free Chinese learning website that offers audio for learning basic phrases (situational dialogue), Chinese e- books for children, and video clips of popular movies (e.g. Frozen) in Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles. www.talkinglearn.com
This article originally appeared on pages 48-49 of the 2016 June-July Issue of beijingkids magazine. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Keystone and