Summer can scorch kids' educational skills

For the Taylor family, a typical summer evening consists of relaxing playtime together -- after a summer day of staying smart.

"We have some simple flash cards that we review the alphabet, or just writing the alphabet on paper and having the kids trace it," mother Maria Taylor said.

It's a small activity with a big payoff. Studies show that without regular practice during the summer, elementary kids lose two months worth of math skills. Regular practice can be difficult when video games and TV are a major distraction.

"We try not to do TV, but it's really hard to not play the Wii and watch TV 24/7. We try not to do that," Taylor said.

Statistics get worse for kids of lower income families -- who also lose over two months of reading skills during the summer. Taylor says summer education doesn't have to cost you a fortune.

"A set of letters is like a dollar at the dollar store for letters on the fridge. Really cheap stuff," Taylor said.

Perhaps it doesn't have to cost you anything at all.

"One day I told the kids to go and find five cool things outside, so they found seeds and rocks and flowers and things they thought were interesting. It was exploring and fun, but it wasn't in a classroom," Taylor said.

Summer learning programs, such as "Y I Like Math" through the Family YMCA of the Desert, can help keep kids sharp.

"We have an instructor that comes in four days a week, 10 hours a week he comes in and spends with the kids, and they can log onto the computer and do math and reading and science and social studies and it tracks their progress throughout the summer," Family YMCA of the Desert programs coordinator Alisa Rutherford said.

By the time kids of low income families reach fifth grade, they're two years behind in reading because of the impact of summer. Experts urge parents to find ways to keep their kids' minds busy.

"Get creative, look around you. There's always something you can do with your kids, you just kind of got to think about it. It doesn't have to cost money," Taylor said.

That lesson might even end up being a little fun.

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