Summer Learning Loss: Stemming the Tide

Summer Learning

The phenomenon of measurably lower academic abilities in school kids in September compared to their performance in the previous June is so well known that there is a name for it: summer learning loss. As noted in an article by Rebecca Klein in the Huffington Post, education professionals have studied summer learning loss from several angles, and have concluded that it happens at all grade levels. Loss in literacy skills tends to be more pronounced in students from lower-income families and it contributes to the achievement gap.

Conversely, significant loss in mathematical proficiency over the summer months knows no social class or economic boundaries. Everyone loses, and loses alike. With this grim prediction in mind, I respectfully submit the following multidisciplinary summer academic skill retention lesson plan, modeled loosely on the New York State standards.

This is going to be so much fun that even child-free people will borrow the neighborhood kids just to try it!

Learning Unit: Shopping at the Co-op

Grade Level: K-8

Subjects: Math, Earth Science, English Language Arts (ELA), Geography

Soft Skills: Cooperation, communication

Materials: Recipe books, paper, pencils and pens, calculators, smart phones with Internet capability, containers with calibration markings, shopping bags, scales (available at the Co-op).

The Big Question: How can we shop at the Co-op with students on summer hiatus, and maximize value in order to get food and other products we want to use, while stemming the summer loss of learning?

LESSON 1: The shopping list (math, ELA)

Objective: Students (your child or children) will consider their nutritional needs for a three-day period and work together to write a shopping list reflecting their needs.

The Guiding Questions: What will we eat in the next three days? What ingredients will we need for recipes we will make, and in what quantities? How can we make a list of the foods we need in a way that will guide our grocery shopping?

Procedures and Activities: (all ages and ability levels) Discussion of what we like to eat and how much of it we eat in three days’ time. How many meals will we eat? How many people will be eating? How many breakfast servings do we need? Have students use pens, paper, and calculators (optional) to figure out how many servings they need. Have them use recipe books to determine ingredients and quantities. This gives older children opportunities to work with fractions, ounces, proportions, and multiplication. Ask them to work together to make a list of all of the foods they need, categorizing the ingredients by department where they will be found in the store. Suggest and model ways for older children to include younger children in the process.

Formative Assessment: Check their work and offer academic intervention for any shortcomings. If they have miscalculated, for example, help them to get it right.

Enrichment: Ask older and more advanced students to predict how much money they will need and discuss pricing (per pound, per piece). Discuss packaging as a cost factor now and later (in the trash). Consider other hidden costs.

Closure Activity: Admire the list and put it in a safe place where it will be ready to take to the store.

LESSON 2: Going to the Co-op (geography, math, ELA, science, social studies)

Objective: Students (your child or children) will do the grocery shopping. Really.

The Guiding Question: What will we do at the Co-op to get the things we need? How will we find, choose, measure, pack, pay, and carry the things we need?

Procedures and Activities: Find the shopping list from the last lesson. Bring jars and bags. For the youngest children, create an amended list and ask them to find the items in the store. Assign the items that require measuring to the older children. Make your way through the store, checking off the list. For the more advanced students, ask them to determine the best value for each item. For example, ask them to determine how much money they can save by shopping in the Bulk Department. Create opportunities for counting, weighing, measuring, reading (labels and recipes), and naming. For older students, ask them to choose ingredients for regional dishes associated with different geographic origins. Ask the children to read the monitor at the checkout. Allow them to count the money and the change. Discuss thermal transfer, as you pack the bags.

Formative assessment: Did they buy the right things in the right amount? Offer intervention where needed.

Closure Activity: Have students help carry boxes and bags to the car. Ask students to notice how good it is to have plenty of tasty food that is also nutritious!

LESSON 3: What did we buy? (phys ed)

Objective: Get some help carrying and storing the groceries.

The Guiding Question: How do we take care of our food?

Procedures and Activities: Ask the children to carry in the food and put it away. Have them double-check the list as they put items away. Discuss what goes in the refrigerator and why, and how to store various foods. Then make yourself a cup of tea or a martini, as you wish, and sit down in the other room, no matter what they do.

Formative Assessment: Ask the older kids if their younger brothers and sisters helped and if the vegetables are put away.

Closure Activity: Send all of the kids outside to play.

LESSON 4: What can we prepare for supper?

Three little chefs making bread in the kitchenObjective: Have the kids plan and cook their own supper for once. It’s about time.

Procedures and Activities: Wait until they are hungry and tell them to cook the meal. Mention knife safety and don’t let the little ones use the stove, either.

Formative Assessment: Check to see that nobody got hurt.

Closure Activity: Order a pizza. Make martinis for the adults (optional).


Hand your car keys and your credit card to your oldest child (or your favorite child). If they don’t have a license to drive yet, consider giving them a lift to the Co-op. Tell him/her that you are hungry and ask him/her to take care of things.

Evaluating the Experience

There are a few options here:

    1. Have the kids journal about it and share. The littlest ones can draw pictures and write, using their best attempts at invented spelling. (Interview them and write the correct words under theirs). Older children can summarize and write about their reactions and what they learned. Save all documents for option #2 below.
    2. Bring all documents to the family counselor for his/her opinion, diagnosis, and therapy.
    3. Consider the ruling of the Family Court judge.

Disclaimer: This is not a real lesson plan and I do not advocate irresponsible parenting. I hope that it inspires you to create some summer fun and learning in addition to the regular daily joy of family, and that it gives you at least one new idea for involving children in the Co-op experience.

Happy Summer!

PLEASE NOTE: For a less tongue-in-cheek approach to shopping with children, please read Shopping at the Co-op With Kids by Meghan Breen.

Karla Guererri has been a Co-op Member-Owner for several years. She works in the field of education and lives in Troy.