Parents, worried about winter learning loss? This is for you

As kids get ready to take off a few weeks for winter break, families are figuring out their game plan for activities.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Winter break is just around the corner -- it starts on Dec. 21 in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

That means that kids will be at home or traveling for at least a week, far away from teachers, classrooms and textbooks. So should parents worry about keeping their children engaged in learning?

Over summer break, kids’ brains can lose what they’ve learned over the previous school year, a phenomenon researchers dub the “summer slide.”


But what about chilling out in winter?

In summer, most children lose about two months’ worth of math skills, research shows. Low-income students also tend to lose some reading skills during the summer, even as their peers from higher-income families gain in reading. The key to countering the emptiness of off-time is to fill it with learning experiences.

“The real issue comes when young people don’t have any access” to enriching activities, says John Rogers, a professor of education at UCLA whose focus is on the achievement gap in education.

Despite the notable impact of summer in terms of brain drain, a brief two or three weeks is not quite the same as three long months. But that might not stop parents from worrying.

Rogers said that, while he doesn’t know any conclusive research on it, short breaks aren’t likely to contribute to the same kind of seasonal academic “slide.”

In fact, “there are potential benefits of being around family and participating in cultural traditions,” Rogers says. Learning “can happen in all sorts of ways.”

Among the free possibilities for creating educational opportunities: Involve kids in the busyness of the holiday season. If you’re cooking or baking, have them do the measuring and mixing -- that’s a dash of math and science. Share tales of family traditions and have them retell the stories -- a little history and comprehension.

One other key suggestion Rogers offers about keeping kids learning during school breaks: Parents, chill out a bit.

“It’s important not simply to think of education and development in terms of some kind of race,” said Rogers, a father himself. Make the interactions diverse and meaningful, “respectful and affirming” of the individual child, he said.

For parents who still want -- or need -- to find organized learning opportunities during the winter break, the good news is that there are several opportunities and seasonal programs and camps for kids across the L.A. region. Here’s a sampling:

  • Natural History Museum: The “Mummies & More” winter day camp runs Jan. 4-8 for kids in 1st through 6th grades. It’s $300 with a discount for members. Extended care is available for extra.
  • LACMA: The museum offers art camp for children ages 6 to 13 from Dec. 28-31. (The section for tweens and teens, however, has sold out for this session.) The cost is $330 for NexGen members and $355 for the general public. No extended care is available.
  • Los Angeles Zoo: Winter Zoo Camp goes from Dec. 28 through Jan. 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with extended care available for a fee. The programs are available for children ages 4 to 9, with many of the offerings for younger children already booked up. The cost is $65 a day for non-members, with a discount for members.
  • Griffith Park Boys’ Camp: Boys ages 6 to 14 can participate in this day camp Jan. 4-8 through the city of L.A.’s Department of Recreation and Parks. It runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for $350 and includes group activities and a field trip to Knott’s Berry Farm.
  • City of Pasadena: There are a number of camps offered throughout the city for kids ages 5 to 18 during the period of Dec. 21-Jan. 7. Check the site for details.
  • Aquarium of the Pacific: There are two parent-free morning camps for kids, exploring marine life and environments. The first, for ages 5 and 6, runs Dec. 21-23 for $115 per child. The second, for ages 7 to 12, runs Dec. 28-30 for $150 a child. Members get a discount.
  • STAR Camps: This nonprofit offers camps across the Los Angeles region, starting on Dec. 22 and running through Jan. 9, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with extended care available.
  • The Living Desert: For desert dwellers or visitors, there’s ZooCamp for kids ages 4 to 12. The two-day sessions run from Dec. 20 through Dec. 31 from 8 a.m. to noon. The cost is $100, with a discount for members.
  • YMCA: There’s a variety of camps across the L.A. area. Check with your local YMCA for details.

Los Angeles is replete with cool camp options, and some are still open for registration. Check MomsLA, JKidLA and Mommy Poppins, which all highlight a selection of winter camp offerings across the region.

How are your kids keeping active this holiday season? Tweet me: @mmaltaisla