How to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

child reading in bed

July 12th is National Summer Learning Day, created by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to raise awareness of summer learning loss (AKA “summer slide”). This is a phenomenon in which school children forget some (ok, maybe a lot) of what they’d learned throughout the school year during summer break. Recently expanded by the NSLA to cover the whole week of July 8-13, National Summer Learning Day invites families, education leaders, and child experts to work together and ensure kids are well-supported educationally throughout the summer so they’re ready when they return to school in the fall.

With summer vacation now in full swing, school and homework are a distant memory for children spending their days at camp, traveling, at the beach, or simply lazing about at home. Unfortunately, as much as kids rightfully deserve a break, studies show that summer learning loss puts them at a disadvantage in the fall.

The Staggering Loss of Education in Summer

Every summer, elementary school children lose on average two months of reading, and two and a half months of math skills. Considering the average school year is nine months long, this translates to a 20% decrease of learned skills in three months. Since this effect is cumulative, by middle school the typical child loses a whopping two years of education over the course of several summers.

Particularly alarming is the major discrepancy between children from low-income vs. middle-income households. Summer learning loss negatively affects children from low-income backgrounds significantly more than their middle income peers.

This learning gap is linked to accessibility of resources. Some educators refer to it as the faucet theory. During the school year, all children have access to the same resource “faucet” and receive a steady stream of education. But when school is closed for the summer, there are little to no alternative faucets for low-income children. In contrast, middle-school children continue receiving resources, albeit at a slower pace.

Low-income children don’t have access to summer camps or classes. They may not have a computer, or many books at home. They may not be able to visit museums, zoos, and other educational venues. And finally, they may not have adequate parental involvement to sustain them during the summer compared with their peers.

According to a 2015 Chalkbeat article, the cumulative effect of this gap means that by fifth grade, low-income children can be as much as three years behind middle-income children. In fact, experts argue that lagging behind peers can affect students’ chances of graduating high school or attending college.

Summer Learning Loss and Schools

Summer learning loss doesn’t just impact kids. When students return in the fall, teachers have to spend time to reteach older material. Instead of introducing new material immediately, schools spend about $1500/student per year to summarize old information. This translates to $18,000 over the standard K-12 educational trajectory, which could be invested in new curriculum for students. The drive to prevent summer learning loss can be so strong that it becomes advocacy for year-round school.

How to Beat Summer Learning Loss

The good news is parents can stave off summer learning loss without having to enroll children in expensive camps or classes. Best tips follow below, but review the end of this article for additional resource links.

  • Reading is particularly helpful in preventing summer learning loss. Encourage your kids to read every day, even if it’s just for a short amount of time.
  • Libraries tend to be very generous when it comes to children’s books and allow you to check out many at once. If you don’t have many books at home, visit the library.
  • Visit your local library and community centers (YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, etc) for free summer learning programs and events.
  • Incorporate learning in your everyday activities. At a restaurant, ask your child how much money you need to leave if you plan on tipping 20%. Help younger children practice their reading skills by having them read store signs or menus.
  • Download educational games on your child’s smart device to make learning fun for them.
  • Limit mindless screen time with Hub by Securly and do non-screen activity, indoors or outdoors.

Online Resource Links

  • Smartfeed features reviews and playlists of books, movies, apps, and TV shows created by other parents.
  • NWEA provides a list of free online resources.
  • Time4Learning is a homeschooling site that offers a summer learning curriculum.
  • The Electric Company is an online summer learning program based on the PBS TV series.
  • Grade Power Learning is a brick-and-mortar summer learning program with franchises across the country.

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