School students slip in reading ability over summer holidays
School children can lose between three to six months of learning over the summer break, and an education expert says the issue is not being treated seriously enough.
Research carried out in New Zealand and internationally shows children, at primary and secondary level, can go backwards in their reading ability over the summer break, in what's been dubbed the "summer slide".
It was possible parents weren't aware of the phenomenon, professor of literacy education Tom Nicholson, of Massey University, said.
"Families go away to the beach and have a lot of fun, and don't do any school stuff, and reading can be seen as school stuff.
"If you don't keep up ... you lose some of that skill."
The slide applied not just to reading but to maths and writing. Children who struggled with reading were most at risk of losing ground, and not making it back up, as were children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
The issue was not being taken seriously enough in New Zealand, Nicholson said.
"Even good readers can lose ground over summer, it affects things across the spectrum."
Some researchers had found the loss was cumulative, so over a child's time at school they might lose years of growth.
Nicholson suggested a shorter summer break might help reduce the slip in learning, and said more research needed to be done to work out how to keep children at the same standard of reading they had achieved by the end of the school year.
Parents could do their bit by asking children to read to them, and by taking them to the library. Often libraries had holiday programmes on offer.
Principals in Wellington were aware of the "summer slide", but Mt Cook School principal Sandra McCallum said it was not something that set students back for life.
Literacy programmes kicked off as soon as children got back after the summer break.
"Most kids read up again, the brain kicks in, and they get back to speed really quickly. Prior to holidays we encourage kids to take out school library books home."
The school noticed it particularly with children for whom English was a second language, because during the holidays they spoke their first language.
The slide was not a major problem, but the school was always prepared for it, McCallum said.
At Naenae's Rata St School a special programme had been put in place, after teachers had noticed a slip in writing, principal Dave Appleyard said.
The change in school and teacher practices had made a huge impact on making sure kids were keeping up and making progress on their writing.
The school also now had two or three teachers who opened classrooms up early, the week before school started, so students could come along and get a kick-start for the new year.
AVOID THE "SUMMER SLIDE":
Professor Tom Nicholson says with three weeks left of the summer break there is still plenty of time for parents to help kids avoid the slide.
* Take your child to the library – let them choose what book they want
* Show you are interested – ask them to read to you each day, discuss the characters and plot
* Encourage them to keep a reading log
* Give a reward if they read 10 books – such as a movie voucher
* Encourage them to write down new words they come across in their books and Google their meanings