As the countdown reaches the final week to summer vacation, kids can only think of one thing: freedom. But too much freedom may mean a loss of learning over the summer.
Called summer setback or “summer slide,” students who don't keep challenging their brains over the long break will need from six weeks to three months after school restarts in August to bring their level of skills and knowledge back to where they were when school ended in June. The slide has the largest impact on children from low-income families, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
“Summer learning loss is not fictional,” said Mark Servais, a fourth-grade teacher at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School. “After nine months of learning skills and strategies, students are exhausted. They, like teachers, need to re-energize, and summer is exactly what is needed. However, to combat learning loss and to maintain their educational levels or to catch up, students still need some practice during the summer break.”
The Ignacio, Bayfield and Durango 9-R school districts all recommend that if parents do nothing else, they should encourage their children to read at least 30 minutes each day during the summer. District 9-R schools all offer reading lists and other activities parents can do with their children or encourage them to do. Parents who are stumped about what books might appeal to their kids can fill out the Durango Public Library's personalized reading list or search the Database of Award-winning Children's Literature.
“Staying on top of academic skills is kind of like working out,” said Darren Choppa, an English Language Learning and interventionist teacher at Riverview Elementary School. “It's a lot easier to maintain your academic fitness than to try and start from scratch. The key to maintaining this academic fitness during the summer is to create short, daily learning opportunities for your kiddo.”
Even old-fashioned summertime fun such as a lemonade stand or garage sale can offer kids a chance to work on math skills, and encouraging students to do something as simple as writing out the grocery shopping list or keeping a travel journal on the family's summer trip can support writing skills.
“Summer's a really important time for kids to have a lot of different things to do,” said Sandy Irwin, director of the Durango Public Library, which offers a number of free activities for kids over the summer. “Reading prevents summer slide, it helps kids keep knowledge and be better prepared for the fall.”
In addition to providing weekly programs for kids 0-12 and 13-17, kids will be rewarded for spending at least part of their summer with their nose in a book. After 10 hours of reading, the younger group will get a free book and a day pass to the Durango Community Recreation Center, while the older group needs to read 20 hours to qualify for the freebies. The more they read, the more entries kids in both age groups get for the grand-prize drawings – two $50 gift cards for each age group to Maria's Bookshop.
Weekly performances will add to the fun, and now that the library has its own Minecraft server, students can compete against each other or form teams on Thursday game days, Irwin said.
The Pine River Library is also getting into the reading-program fun, library director Shelley Walchak said. With categories for toddlers, elementary-school age kids and teens, participants fill out a “bingo” card that includes reading good books, eating good food and doing something nice for others. Teens will expand their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, art and math with two-hour camps Monday through Wednesday, which will be organized in themes such as robotics, pollination printing and mad science. And the Ignacio Community Library, not to be left out of the fun, has its own reading program kicking off June 1.
The Powerhouse's two Harry Potter Camps – complete with wands, potion making and quidditch – sold out so fast, another section has been offered in August. Camps are also being offered at Animas High School and the Kiva Montessori School in Cortez, and the Powerhouse itself is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except for Tuesdays for families who want to add some hands-on learning to a summer day.
In addition to its camps, the Durango Nature Studies Nature Center near Bondad Hill is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays during the summer, offering learning opportunities for the whole family.
Summer is also a time to stretch creative muscles. Students can study visual or performing arts at the Durango Arts Center, learn music at the Stillwater Foundation camps and classes, keep toes tapping at Durango Dance and learn from professional musicians and fellow students at Music in the Mountains.
Being active and learning new sports and skills is also important in the summer. The city of Durango's Parks and Recreation Department offers a plethora of possibilities, from swimming, tennis and sandlot baseball to kayaking, and Ultimate Frisbee competitions. Young people between the ages of 11 and 15 who want to make some money over the summer can also take baby-sitter training.
Durango Devo offers bike camps at Purgatory Resort and two Pow-Sci Bike Camps for different age groups. Kids will explore mountain bike trails in the morning before heading over to the Powerhouse to explore the science of biking through anatomy, physics, nutrition and engineering. Durango BMX offers clinics, practices and events throughout the summer.
And for parents who need a full-day, safe place for their children along with the learning and creativity experience, the Boys and Girls Club of La Plata County, Durango Day Camp and Purgatory Adventure Camp for Kids will meet those needs.
“Summer is a time to engage students in different types of learning, using different parts of their brain,” said Lynn Mather, chief academic officer for District 9-R. “Reading for pleasure, writing for pleasure, art projects, musical activities, engaging the mind through games and puzzles, physical and mental activities that stretch and use the brain all help to grow students' brains when school is not in session and to prepare them for the upcoming school year.”