Every year during summer break, too many children lose more than baby teeth, frisbees and beach toys. They lose two to three months of progress in reading and math skills.
This is what is known as the “summer slide.” And these losses add up. By fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave many students two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers.
Think of summer slide in terms of a point system. A child ends the school year with 100 points of knowledge, new things they’ve learned over several months of instruction. If they aren’t engaged with learning over the summer, they can quickly forget some of the important skills they learned during the year.
Say this student loses the equivalent of 30 points over the summer. This means that they gained only 70 points of knowledge, rather than the full 100, for the previous school year.
The amount of summer learning loss varies by child, but younger children and children living in poverty tending to experience more significant effects. Across ages and income levels, summer is a vital period in a child’s academic development. Active family engagement can mean the difference between your child learning and forgetting, achieving and falling behind.
What You Can Do
As a parent, you’re in an ideal position to help your child stride forward during the summer months. You know your child best and can help turn their interests into powerful learning moments.
However, we know it isn’t easy to keep kids engaged during the break, especially for busy working parents. Be sure to ask your child’s teacher about summer program scholarships, resources and other informal enrichment opportunities that might be a good fit.
Here are five simple actions parents can take to keep learning going all summer long.
1. See the big picture. This is an important time to find out how prepared your child is for the next grade. Take a moment to look at your child’s grades, teacher feedback, your observations and your child’s annual state test results, which you’ll receive this summer. Compare this information to see where your child is doing well and where more support is needed. By doing this now, you’ll be prepared to share this insight with your child’s new teacher once school begins again.
2. Have fun! One of the best parts of summer is having a little extra family time. This is a chance to have fun, explore your child’s interests and make learning part of your everyday routine. For example, if your child loves soccer, start a family tradition of figuring out the percentage of goals blocked or passes completed (there’s a lot of math in every sport)! If your child has a special collection of something they’re interested in (whether it be rocks or dolls), ask your child to compare the differences and similarities of each item.
3. Discover what your community has to offer. Take advantage of free community or library programs that have academic support and activities for children. Visit a zoo or museum to explore new interests. Many have free resources or discount days. Plan a day trip to a nearby park or historical place you’ve never been. Even a short road trip adventure—whether by car, bus or train—can be an exciting way to learn and bond as a family.
4. Support life skills. Encourage life skills that help your child thrive in school and the real-world. For example, promote a ‘growth mindset,’ which means making sure your child understand that they can learn more through hard work. This will help your child take on challenges with confidence—whether it’s trying a new hobby or working on a specific skill like reading.
5. Let them see you learning, too! Kids mimic what they see, including habits and attitudes related to lifelong learning. Allow your child to see you learning and working hard to achieve your goals, especially when it’s tough. Whether you are reading the news and talking about what’s happening in the world or looking up information on a new topic—you are modeling how learning is an amazing part of life!
Through actions like these, parents and children can make big strides during summer break and enter the new school year ready to succeed.
For more information on summer learning and resources for parents, visit SummerLearning.org and BeALearningHero.org. You can also share your summer learning tips, and get ideas from other parents on Twitter by using #BeALearningHero.
Don’t forget to join the National Summer Learning Day celebration on July 13 by using #KeepKidsLearning.
Matthew Boulay, PhD is the National Summer Learning Association founder and the author of “Summers Matter: 10 Things Every Parent, Teacher, & Principal Should Know About June, July, & August.”
Bibb Hubbard is the founder and president of Learning Heroes.