Moving Beyond Traditional Summer Packets, Part 1

When I was in elementary school, the end of the school year was always a happy time for me. I could not wait to get my report card to find out who my teacher would be for the next year. I also could not wait for our yearly summer packet. Every student in the school received this packet. I may have been one of the few students who was excited to receive it and possibly one of the few who completed the packet by September.

As a student, I was not aware of summer learning loss. In fact, studies about this phenomenon were just gaining momentum during the late 1970’s when I was in elementary school. All I knew was that I loved learning, and I loved that summer homework packet!

As a teacher, I sent home a summer packet when I taught second grade. I used assignments from teacher resource websites that reviewed math concepts and included writing prompts. I even included word Sudokus for some of my students. Parents could download the papers from my website along with leveled reading lists. Just in the few years since I sent home that summer packet, the Common Core Curriculum has arrived and the push towards using technology has become greater. I started to wonder if there was a still a place for summer packets. 

Has Summer Learning Evolved?

The dynamics of family life have changed since the late 1970’s, yet summer learning loss is still a concern for teachers and parents. So, it is not surprising that summer packets are still one of the resources that we use to address this issue.

We have more access on the Internet to research about summer learning loss and resources to help students to retain valuable skills. Have teachers changed summer packets  to reflect what we have learned from current research?

According to Alfie Kohn,

…in evaluating the nature and extent of [summer learning loss], it is important to keep in mind that virtually all of the research…is limited to what shows up on standardized tests.

If we are just referring to basic reading and math skills that are measured by standardized tests, then most summer packets address those skills adequately and quickly. Many have the same format as the packets I received when I was a kid. They give students the repetition and practice they need to become fluent in those areas.

I believe that practice is valuable because students still need to know basic computation and language arts skills. However based on the research, I have a few questions: 

  • What about the learning that is not measured by standardized test scores? How can we address the critical thinking skills that students need to succeed with the Common Core curriculum during the summer?
  • Should teachers provide more than the standard summer packet?
  • Should we move away from the traditional summer packet and focus on summer reading lists and digital activities?

What are your thoughts? Do you think teachers need to change the way they design summer packets? 

In Moving Beyond Traditional Summer Packets, Part 2, I will explore activities that can be used to enhance traditional summer packets.  

(First published June 2015)
Lowering the Temperature on Summer Learning Loss by Alfie Kohn, Valerie Strauss,