When I was young, summer didn’t mean vacation. To me, it meant arguing with my parents for more time at home. In case you are wondering, I lost that argument every year. As soon as school was out my schedule was busy with swim lessons, tennis lessons, babysitting and let’s not forget camp. My schedule was way more hectic in the summer, and I was sure my parents didn’t understand that this was my vacation time — time to relax — which to me meant vegging in the air conditioning, napping and watching TV.
What I know now that I didn’t know then is my parents were smarter than I gave them credit for. You see, there is this thing called the Summer Slide, an actual study that proves a two- to three-month loss in reading and other knowledge skills with children who aren’t engaged in the summer. Many experts say reading is the key to maintaining and increasing knowledge over the summer, while other studies show being engaged in non-formal youth development opportunities will also help stop this back slide.
What is great about non-formal youth development opportunities is that kids are having fun and learning at the same time. For example, let’s look at our recent 4-H Jr. Chef Day Camp. Our youth were learning how to cook, and gained knife handling skills and knowledge about farm-to-fork movements. Essentially, they had fun working in the kitchen making their own snacks, practicing math and reading skills by reading and calculating recipes for different numbers of people than the recipe was intended. At the end, our youth evaluate the program. Did you know while they were having “the most fun ever” that 100% of the youth increased their knowledge in the kitchen? Also, 100% of our youth reported that they tried a food new to them. What is even more important is what they plan or aspire to do, and 100% of our day campers feel they have the skills to cook for themselves or cook for others, like their family. They are confident in these skills and excited to practice at home with their parents. This is the part my parents always knew: The kids sitting at home in front of a TV did not learn these, or any other skills.
These skills may not seem like they will help with school work or tests, but they do help in a less direct manner. The youth are practicing their math and reading skills. They are applying these skills to a necessary part of life — eating. They also gained information on nutrition and healthy cooking, and made choices demonstrating that they understood this information. They gained self confidence that they know this information, that they can contribute to their families with these skills and that they can apply the skills for a future job if they need to. That means the excitement, confidence and willingness to learn will transfer to the classroom and essentially break the summer slide. Our youth are the future, that’s why they deserve to have us keep them off the slide this summer.
Shea Ann DeJarnette is the 4-H Youth Development agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at 910-671-3276, by email at [email protected], or visit the Extension website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/.