Some call it 'the summer slide.' Some call it 'the summer brain drain.' But whatever you call it, summer learning loss is a real phenomenon that has plagued students since summer vacations began.
Fourth-grade teacher Marian Valdez says that much of what kids learned in the 3rd grade they seem to forget over the summer.
"We spend the first couple of months, especially in math, reviewing, going back over the facts, time tests, those kinds of things," said Valdez, who teaches at Washington Elementary in Los Angeles.
The first known report about summer learning loss came in a 1906 New York Times article by William White. He tested students in math before and after the summer and a found loss of skills. So for more than a hundred years, we've been trying to stop the summer knowledge leak.
A 2007 study by Johns Hopkins researchers shows that today summer learning loss can be tied to economic status. During the school year lower income children's academic skills in Kindergarten through 4th grade improve at close to the same rate as those of their more advantaged peers. But over the summer, middle-and-upper income children's skills continue to improve while lower income children's do not.
"And that's cumulative," said Ron Fairchild, President and CEO of Maryland-based Smarter Learning Group. "Summer after summer, low income kids lose roughly two months' worth of learned skills which accounts for a huge and significant learning gap over the course of the elementary school years," Fairchild said.
"Part of it is access to resources," said Regino Chavez, Director of Evaluation for L.A.'s Best, an after school and summer enrichment program.
He said summer enrichment programs are few and far between in low-income neighborhoods. And the programs that do exist have limited enrollment. Chavez said however there doesn't have to be a formal program.
"Take the kids to the library. Let them get a library card and check out books," said Chavez. "Play games at the grocery store. See who can tally up the groceries on the list fastest and correct. Point out geometric shapes on signs and billboards," he said.
"Even the kids can do it on their own," said teacher Valdez. "There are so many websites, for example with math. So instead of playing a video game they can be doing a math game and they can keep up on their skills that way."
She does say that kids do have to rest and have fun in the summer. But keeping up the academic skills take just a few minutes a day and go a long way in creating a pattern of learning that will take them well into their college years.