THE BLOG

How to Combat Summer Learning Loss (Hint: It's Not Math Camp)

06/18/2012 03:14 pm ET | Updated Aug 18, 2012

Our kids are falling behind in their reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic and the solution, of course, is more school. Whether that takes the form of summer school or year-round school, we have come to believe that more indoor desk time is what our kids need to avoid the "summer slide."

Really, kids need just the opposite. They need more outdoor play. They need to spend their summers moving, exploring and discovering -- and not enough of them are getting a chance. Sadly, all too many children these days spend their summers sitting indoors in front of screens or getting rushed from math camp to soccer practice.

If there's one thing that No Child Left Behind has proven, it's that more academics don't make for smarter children --or even higher test scores. And yet we somehow refuse to accept this reality. During the year, our schools are busy slashing P.E. and recess to make more time for math. During the summer, we get ourselves worked into a tizzy that our children will forget their fractions.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, while summer learning loss is real, "research on nature exposure, play and informal learning has also documented the good news" -- that programs filled with outdoor play "have an opportunity to stem and even reverse summer learning loss."

Here's a question for you: Should we really care if our kids need a refresher on fractions come September? What if instead of sitting around indoors, our children spent the summer exercising their creativity and imagination, honing their social skills, developing resiliency, gaining the ability to assess risk and learning how to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts and advocate for themselves? Would you, as a parent, argue with that?

Well, those are all the benefits and skills a child gains by cloud-gazing, tree-climbing, playground-going and handstand-mastering -- in short, by engaging in that frivolous, non-academic activity we call "playing."

This summer, we need to let our kids go play and we need to stop worrying about whether or not it's going to ruin their chances of getting into college. (It won't.) They can also read, practice soccer drills and even do a few math problems, but not at the expense of a good water fight or vigorous game of tag.

As parents, we need to send our kids back to "old-fashioned" outdoor summer camps, which have been on the decline as the demand for sports and academics-based camps has risen. We need to fight budget cuts to public parks programs and resist closures of public swimming pools and playgrounds. We need to introduce ourselves to our neighbors so our kids aren't drawing hopscotch courses on the sidewalk alone.

And while we're working on all this, there's one thing we can act on now. We can set aside the laundry, put down our smartphones, turn off the TV and take our kids out to play.

Get your kids playing outdoors this summer by joining the 2012 Playground Challenge! The three top Challengers will win a trip for two to DC and all participants can win great prizes each week. Learn more and sign up here.