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Avoiding summer slide: How to create a fun and productive summer

What parents need to know about the summer slide, why it's such a big deal, who is most at-risk, and how to overcome seasonal learning loss.

Watching your little one slowly build the confidence to try the big slide at the playground makes for an exhilarating experience. In contrast, the term ‘summer slide’ represents a challenge parents and teachers face in student learning. 

The summer slide refers to the well-documented loss of learning students experience during the summer months when traditional school calendars break for the season. 

But before you panic, let’s break down what the summer slide entails, strategies for avoiding this pitfall, and practical tips to keep your kids learning this summer.

What parents need to know about the summer slide 

Avoiding seasonal learning loss starts by understanding how it happens. Here are a few essential takeaways research tells us about the summer slide.

It’s a big deal

There are several studies showing that there is a significant decline in academic skills and abilities that happen when kids are out of school for the summer.

It’s been researched for years

Scientists have studied this well-documented learning cyclical regression for years. This study captures a meta-analysis discussing this concern dating back to 1919.

But most parents don’t know about it

Although many research articles have demonstrated the learning loss, less than half of parents know about it.

Reading and math skills are most likely to decline

Many studies show a significant loss of around 20% of the learning gains made in reading and math over the year during the summer months.

The ‘slide’ can snowball

Summer learning loss tends to have a snowball effect, as studies show more than half of students in grades one through six experience learning loss five years in a row.

Summer slide is more important than ever

The slide has compounded with the recent Covid learning loss. In fact, many studies leveraged prior summer slide research data to predict pandemic learning loss. Research has shown that the combination of ongoing summer learning loss plus Covid-induced loss can create serious learning deficits.

The bottom line is that your kids can lose 2 months of learning or more, especially in math and reading, and that deficit can add up year over year.

Some kids are more at risk than others for a summer slide

Although all children could potentially experience a summer slide, some groups are more at-risk than others. 

Learning loss risks differ by age 

Some research shows younger children are more likely to have a slide, as they are learning the critical phonetic awareness, decoding, and reading comprehension skills required for success in their entire academic career. 

3rd to 5th grades demonstrated students lost, on average, about 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of math gains during summer break.

On the other hand, other studies suggest older students are more likely to have a more noticeable summer learning decline in math.

Additional risk factors 

Low-income families are especially at risk for the summer slide. 

In fact, James S. Kim cites research stating, "more than half of the gap in 9th-grade reading comprehension scores between low-income students and their middle-income counterparts was explained by differences in summer learning that accumulated from 1st to 5th grade."

Some studies demonstrate the amplification of summer learning loss in low-income students serves as a direct cause of the widening achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers. 

Black and Hispanic students also experience a wider achievement gap and greater summer learning loss due to educational inequality.

Kids who speak English as a second language and those with reading difficulties may also experience higher rates of summer learning loss. Whether your child falls in a higher-risk category or not, understanding the risk factors is an essential piece to the puzzle of avoiding the summer slide.

Summer Slide Video Thumbnail

Watch this video to learn how to prevent summer slide.

How to help your kids avoid a summer slide

Although the summer slide is real, you can do several strategic things to curb and prevent learning loss. 

Tip #1: Gamify learning

Use the time away from the usual school schedule to dig into the subjects and activities your kids love most to boost learning. 

  • Let your kids play fun educational online games.

  • Try age-appropriate math games like these great card games.

  • Since research shows that reading six books over the breaks can help prevent the summer slide, try joining a kids’ book club to make reading even more enjoyable. Check out bestselling reading lists together with your child to pick out their next new read.

  • Motivate your little reader and unlock social reading opportunities by joining your local library’s summer reading program. Most have a gamification aspect where kids can earn prizes by reading more books.

  • Offer age-appropriate rewards for keeping up with your summer learning schedule. It could be anything from stickers and dollar store toys to their favorite dinner and treat. Older kids might be motivated by an allowance or bonus, a sleepover, or control of the TV.

Tip #2: Create real-world learning opportunities

Summer learning doesn’t have to mean sitting at a desk. Use the relaxed schedule to your advantage by creating real-life learning opportunities.

Learn about potential careers

Help your child explore potential careers to see where their education could take them. See if your kids can use their extra free time to intern, shadow, or volunteer in fields that interest them. For example, if your kid might want to be a vet, volunteering in an animal shelter is a great place to start. Ping friends and family members to see if they can provide any hands-on work or observation experiences. 

Build life skills

Help your kids learn key life skills like cooking, finance, and computer skills through an engaging online class. Even if what they learn isn’t officially ‘academic,’ knowing how to cook dinner, make a budget, and stay safe online are skills that set them up for success.

Study subjects in a new way

Encourage your teen to practice math by learning about entrepreneurship or how to save for their first car. Or when your teen comes to you with their next desperately-needed request, have them practice their persuasion and debate skills before you hand over your wallet. 

Dig into their passions 

Build cross-curricular learning units around topics that inspire your child. For example, if your kid is into robotics, you could: 

  • Check out nonfiction books from the library about robotics. It’s a great way to learn about science in a tangible, cool way.

  • Have them practice reading by going through a fiction series with a robot character (if you can’t find one, ask a librarian).

  • Get creative by making robotics art and science projects.

  • Take a build-your-own-robot robots class, or try beginner coding.

The specifics aren’t as important as the experience. Ultimately, if the activity is fun and helps your kid practice critical skills like math, reading, problem-solving, planning, and creative thinking, it’s a win.

Tip #3: Outsource learning activities for smooth summer learning

Creating a regular summer learning schedule doesn’t have to be hard. To make your summer learning simple, find convenient online classes that will keep your child learning and entertained.

  • Search for classes on a specific subject like Math and English and filter by your child’s age for targeted support in subjects prone to summer learning loss.

  • Encourage summer reading by enrolling your child in a lively online book club. Kids can discover and share books they love with their peers.

  • Enroll your kid in a virtual summer camp for exciting learning games and socialization time.

  • Mix in practical life-skills classes to boost motivation. You can find classes on a range of topics, including college admissions, survival skills, and baking.

What to do if you notice a summer slide

Despite your best efforts, you may notice your child experiencing summer learning loss. If you or your child’s teacher notice a slide in the fall, don’t panic. Here are some interventions you can try:

Read together daily

Whether you read aloud to your child, have them read to you, or read together silently, it all counts. Likewise, don’t underestimate the power of modeling reading for pleasure by letting your kids see you reading for fun. Making daily reading time a priority can bring measurable gains in reading comprehension and fluency.

Try tutoring

Choosing a convenient tutoring option your child can do from home makes tutoring more affordable and easier to maintain. Outschool offers personalized, one-on-one online tutoring your child can try from the comfort of home.

Look for free resources

See what learning options are available through your local school district and libraries.

Ask other parents what’s working for them

Connecting with other families is inspiring and can help you troubleshoot and find new solutions. 

We hope you feel empowered to find and create the education support your kids need. Here’s to a summer break where your kids are inspired to keep learning.

Catie MacDonaldCatie is a freelance writer with a passion for words and the drive to exceed expectations. As a certified Language Arts educator, she has years of experience teaching children to love reading.

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