This Independence day, focus on the value of independent learning!
It’s scary, but it makes sense: Extended time away from school can lead to “summer learning loss,” a phenomenon documented by education expert Harris Cooper at Duke University. Through a study conducted in 2009, Cooper found that over the ten-week summer vacation period, students of all backgrounds can lose about a month of math skills on average, while low-income kids can lose up to three months of reading comprehension on average. If you add up those numbers over 12 summers, you’re looking at a lot of backslide.
The good news is that most summer learning loss is preventable. According to Cooper, most summer learning loss occurs when kids spend their ten weeks in a state of mental idleness. But how can you make sure your children are getting mentally challenged? The key is to teach them how to think independently of adult supervision early on. Summer is the best time to start!
Here are five easy ways your child can beat the brain drain on his or her own:
1. Take an online class
Now that online courses are getting offered in practically every subject you can dream up, from differential calculus to art history, there is an endless list of archives in which to take these classes. Try Khan Academy or MOOCs, “massive open online courses” which are offered through major American universities such as Stanford and Yale. These classes extremely accessible, plus, when else can you go to class while lying in bed?
2. Keep a journal
Think scribbling to yourself is a waste of time? Think again. According to a study featured by the Wall Street Journal, writing by hand is one of the most effective ways to learn about something–even baby boomers benefit! If you’re not taking classes, what’s better than learning about yourself and your surroundings? Clear, effective prose is enormously helpful for any student or professional to have in his toolkit, and a daily writing habit certainly couldn’t hurt – nor could a little introspection.
3. Start a garage band
Don’t yell at your kids for shredding chords in the basement with friends–they might be working on that corpus callosum. In 2009, the International Symposium on Performance Science conducted a study in which a group of young subjects took a rigorous music course and then was individually tested spatial and numerical reasoning. The study concluded that these kids improved both their spatial and numerical reasoning, regardless of musical background. This study, along with other studies, has found that learning music enhances creativity, improves motor skills, and can even increase levels of serotonin, the depression-battling neurotransmitter. So crank up the amp, dig up some instruments, and call up your musical friends!
4. Watch TED talks
If you’re starting to feel lazy in the summer heat, pour yourself some lemonade and click on over to the TED Talks website. On the TED Talks website and even on Netflix, you’ll find an online repository for compelling speeches by pretty much any influential modern thinker or doer– from Melinda Gates on what nonprofits can learn to Coca-Cola to 12-year-old iPhone app developer Thomas Suarez. Most of the speeches generally run from 5 to 20 minutes and provide a lot of inspiration in a small chunk of time. Here are two of my favorites.
5. Read…a lot
In Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon’s character once said, “You blew 150k on an education you could have gotten in $1.50 in late fees from the library.” Although Damon’s character may have been exaggerating a little bit, he was right about one thing: Reading is the most efficient way to inhale and digest information. A fun, low-key reading idea would be to reread your favorite children’s books! Rereading your favorite children’s books can bring out layers you never knew even existed. I remember the second time I picked up Madeline L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I realized how cool it was that little kids were reading about heady scientific concepts like mitochondrial cells or the tesseract. Additionally, now that I had taken biology and geometry classes, I could finally different concepts in a deeper way!
Summer has always been a great time to relax from the rigor and structure of school. Summer is also a time to start figuring out how to learn outside the classroom! Learning outside the classroom can be an incredible leg-up skill once your children get to college and find themselves underneath mountains of reading. So, this independence day, don’t only relax, but also focus on the value of independent learning!