Nothing is quite like summer vacation. As young students, we counted down the dwindling days of the school year in anticipation of our big breaks. Now, as parents, we contemplate what exactly to do with our children now that they are out of school. It is looking more and more important that we find something educational to occupy their time if we want them to stay competitive with their classmates.

The ordinary nine-month school year is an antiquated idea. Two factors contributed to its inception. First, the percentage of families that had agricultural backgrounds was high when public schools were in their infancy. A summer break was needed so that those students who needed to help on the farm could do so. Also, air conditioning is a relatively modern invention. In the days prior to its existence, schools couldn’t provide a climate-controlled environment for the students. In the summer months, the heat could be too much for classroom instruction.

A lot has changed. Most families have no ties to agricultural work, and air conditioning is standard in every school. The reasons for the nine-month schedule have changed but the schedule remains. That can be a problem because studies show that students lose some of what they’ve learned when they take a prolonged break from school.

A meta-analysis of studies about summer learning loss showed that students can lose about one month of education instruction over the long break. The effect on math skills was particularly pronounced. Also, it appears that the learning loss in reading for low-income students is greater than it is for their better-off peers.

The effects of summer learning loss can be devastating. For instance, students from well off families may receive additional instruction over the summer while lower class students do not. This can leave lower income students at a disadvantage when the school year begins anew – a disadvantage that they may never recover from. Also, it is just a major setback for school systems when they essentially waste a month’s worth of instruction thanks to summer break.

Many school districts are taking steps to fix this problem. Year-round school has become more common, for one thing. Two other possible solutions are summer school and extended school years. But if you are a parent whose school system doesn’t provide any easy solutions, you may have to take it upon yourself to give your children extra education opportunities over the summer.

Check out this article from education.com to get more details about summer learning loss and the origin of our modern school calendar.

And go to education.com’s section on summer learning to find links to other helpful articles that can provide ideas and activities for summer education opportunities.

Refer to an earlier Tri-Ed blog to get some more ideas of how you can work learning into everyday activities.