If you have school-age children, you’ve likely heard about this so-called summer slide (or summer learning loss). It is very real, and it’s hitting students especially hard in the current school year. As both a parent and an educator, I see the effects of the summer slide every year. It can seem even more prominent for those of us who teach the same kids two years in a row.
At the beginning of each school year, a number of thoughts pop into my head regarding summer learning loss. Often, I find myself thinking, “Didn’t I teach them this last year?” It’s as if a huge portion of what they learned the previous year slipped right out of their minds. Not only is it discouraging to see all your hard work go to waste, but it’s also disheartening for the students to have to relearn last year’s skills and concepts.
Whether you’re familiar with the summer slide or just now hearing about it, we hope this article can help you keep your school-aged children engaged year-round and prevent summer learning loss.
What is the summer slide?
In general, summer slide, or summer learning loss, is a term describing a decline in reading ability and other academic skills that occurs when students are out of school for the summer. The summer break is a great thing as it’s usually a time filled with fun and relaxation after all the hard work during the school year. However, no matter how brief the time away from school may seem, it greatly affects students academically, especially if they don’t engage in any reading or additional learning over this break.
According to a study done by the American Educational Research Association, during the summer, students lose almost 40% on average of what they learn during the school year. Due to the pandemic and the resulting cancellation of in-person instruction in many states, the gap in student learning is especially prominent this year. The author of the study likened the period students were in last year as an “unusually long summer.”
One of the first studies on summer slide was published in 1996, showing that students lose a significant amount of their learning during the summer specifically in reading and math. The learning loss that many students experience then carries into the next school year and all the subsequent years as the process starts over again.
Can the summer slide be avoided?
As a parent, you already have so much on your plate. Whether you’re a working or a stay-at-home parent, trying to keep your child on track with their education can feel like one task too many. I often feel the same way when I see suggested enrichment activities for my child outside of the classroom. Yes, we read together and learn together, but sometimes the idea of being intentional about what my child is learning outside of school feels like too much.
You might have even asked yourself at times, “Isn’t this their teacher’s job?” The answer is yes. Many teachers, myself included, dedicate so much of their time to educating your child. However, you are your kid’s first teacher and the one who sets the greatest example for them. Moreover, your child’s teacher will likely be with them only for one year before they move on to another classroom. You are the most consistent teacher in their life.
There are many factors we can’t control when it comes to summer learning loss but also many ways to fight it. Enrichment activities and learning opportunities designed to prevent the summer slide don’t require you to be a certified teacher. Some of the simplest learning tasks can also make a difference.
Activities to prevent the summer slide
The good news about the summer slide is that there are ways to prevent it regardless of the student’s background. The key to this is summer learning. Even though most schools are not year-round, learning can be.
There is nothing to be intimidated about; you don’t have to be a certified teacher to understand Shakespeare or really good at math to help prevent the summer slide in your school-age children. There are some activities every parent can do with their child to ensure no summer learning loss occurs and to foster a learning environment at home.
- Read with your kids. Reading is the best and the easiest way to prevent summer learning loss. Depending on the age of your child, this may be an activity that you do together, or it may simply be setting aside time every day for your child to read independently. They may have a summer reading assignment for school, but before it’s time to get started on that, let them choose some books for themselves.
- Let playtime be educational. Learning doesn’t always have to involve practicing math skills or reading a textbook. Simply gearing some of your child’s playtime activities towards something more educational can be beneficial for their learning. Try some puzzles or games that you can work on together.
- Encourage writing activities. Writing is another area where a lot of learning loss occurs over the summer. Encouraging your child to write can be a great way to foster creativity and stimulate their imagination while also helping them avoid the summer slide. For younger children, this may be just practicing letters or writing simple sentences. For older children, you might consider a daily creative writing prompt,a sentence starter they can use to finish a story, or even some haiku.
- Practice math skills. Since reading and math skills are the most affected by the summer slide, practicing math is an important part of preventing summer learning loss. It doesn’t always have to include practicing multiplication tables. Mixing it up can be a great way to help your child enjoy math and see how crucial it is in daily life. When you go to the grocery store, have your child count the change for you, or look for numbers along the way. Bake a cake with your little one and talk to them about fractions and measurements. Show your kids that math is all around us.
- Learn something new. Any learning during the summer will be beneficial for your child, even if it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what they’re learning in school. You might choose to work on a practical skill that you don’t normally have time to teach your child, such as tying their shoes or riding a bike. You could even choose to teach them something just for fun. Learning something new, such as how to fish or write in calligraphy, keeps their brain active and will help encourage learning in other areas as well.
Tips for summer learning
Summer learning can happen in many different ways, and preventing the summer slide in math and reading doesn’t always mean you have to stay home. Getting your kids out and teaching them through experience is a great way to prevent summer learning loss. Here are some tips for getting your kids excited about learning:
- Visit your local library. Reading is one of the best ways to prevent a decline in reading skills over the summer. The goal should be for children to read 20-30 minutes a day.
- Use a home-based summer reading program. If you don’t know where to start, home-based summer reading can be helpful for your child. Studies have shown that summer reading programs can be effective in keeping elementary school students on track.
- Review important concepts. Part of helping students retain the knowledge they gained during the school year is reviewing over the summer. If they don’t review or use any of the knowledge they acquired, they’ll lose it. Flashcards can be a great way for your kids to review, and you can even make it into a game to keep it light and fun.
- Engage in conversations with your child to boost their vocabulary. Reading isn’t the only effective way to build a child’s vocabulary. Simply engaging with them in meaningful conversations and using words they may not have learned yet is another way to build their vocabulary.
- Listen to audiobooks in the car. One of the trickiest parts of monitoring summer learning is figuring out what to do when you’re on vacation, especially when a lot of time is spent in the car. Listening to audiobooks is a good alternative to simply watching videos while driving, and it will keep your child learning even on the road. If you are planning a car trip, you might want to sign up for a 30 day free trial of Audible to use while you are on the road.
The summer break should be a time for students to relax and have fun, but it should also be a time when they continue learning. In order for them to retain the knowledge acquired during the school year, it’s crucial that they keep learning and reviewing important concepts over the summer.
The summer slide is a reality for a lot of students, and if left unattended, it can stop many of them from reaching their full potential. As you help your child learn during the summer break, remember this: you don’t need to be a perfect parent or a professional teacher to support their fight against the summer slide.