Fighting summer “slide”

Note: On June 21, 2011, The Courier-Journal, the daily newspaper for the Louisville, KY, metropolitan area, ran the following editorial from NCFL Vice President Emily Kirkpatrick. The entire editorial is below.

Study after study shows that children suffer from the summer slide when school is not in session. But the answer doesn’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — contained only within the four walls of a formal education setting. And, given the severe budget cuts that schools are facing, it can’t be the answer.

It also doesn’t just mean another summer reading program.

Family fun can be the way to truly ignite a love of learning that lasts a lifetime. Parents just need a little help and expertise to fuel the spark.

A study released last week by the RAND Corp., a highly respected nonprofit research institution, found that students experience the most benefits when the summer programs include individualized instruction, parental involvement and small class sizes. “Making Summer Count” states that high-quality summer learning programs, though challenging to develop, are a promising path forward.

An earlier study by Harris Cooper, then a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri and currently with Duke University, estimated that summer loss for all students equals about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale. Low-income students are documented to experience even higher levels of loss.

To lessen this potential loss, Cooper suggests parents work with children during the summer months by engaging in small, individualized programs. Children spend five times as much time outside school as they do in the classroom — most heavily concentrated in the summer — so parents are the best ones to solve summer learning loss if they have the tools they need.

The common solution in both studies is parents. With those recommendations in mind, the National Center for Family Literacy is taking the guesswork out of summer programming by building summer learning around a campfire — virtually. But the results will be very real.

NCFL, the pioneer in multigenerational learning, is putting a new twist on an old tradition this summer with the launch of Camp What-A-Wonder. Created to combat summer learning loss, NCFL’s Camp What-A-Wonder, hosted on®, is a free virtual program to engage families in learning while school is not in session.

The camp is the first of its kind and uses an online series to offer exploration, adventure and discovery, which can be shared by parents and children without having to leave home or pay to attend camp.

The virtual camp will convene each Thursday from June 23 through Aug. 11, when transforms into a camp environment with experiences such as building skills for the great outdoors, experiencing campfire cooking, creating spooky stories and learning about nature through the wonders of a night hike. Parents also will enjoy reliving memories of summer camp from their childhoods.

And, because parents are our children’s most important teachers, there will be weekly Campfire Sessions for parents to gather online and discuss related topics with a facilitator.

Summer means fun-in-the-sun staycations, trips to the beach and picnics, but overpriced trips and learning loss don’t have to be part of those traditions. There are free, enjoyable ways for families to explore learning opportunities and enjoy time together.

Make summer fun filled with wonder by incorporating a family genealogy project into a trip to see the grandparents. Learn how streets get their names at and challenge your family to create its own neighborhood on your next road trip. Tie a book or educational program to a trip to the zoo or park, so your child will connect real life to learning.

Parents can play critical roles in ensuring children maintain their academic skills in reading and other subjects over the summer. The key is to associate learning with fun activities.

By joining Camp What-A-Wonder, families will create new education traditions that will last a lifetime.

Emily Kirkpatrick is vice president of the National Center for Family Literacy, which is headquartered in Louisville. For more information on how parents and teachers can ignite lifelong learning, visit