Students, teachers, and parents work hard during the academic year to ensure learners gain the skills they need. Then comes summer break, and it is time for everyone to get a well-earned rest. However, when fall comes around, many students return with fewer skills and lose some of the academic progress they had made the previous year.
Students from some demographics are more likely to be impacted by summer learning loss, also known as the summer slide. Teachers, school administrators and parents can support continued learning over the summer to improve learning retention. Find more information and fun tips for educational activities for the summer break.
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What Is Summer Slide?
Summer slide is a term that many teachers are likely familiar with, but it may not be a part of parent and student vocabularies. Students work hard throughout the school year from September to June, but in the summer months, they get time off to unwind and have fun. Summer vacation is something many students and families look forward to, but such a long time away from school can have a negative impact on student learning. Summer slide refers to the summer learning loss that many students experience as a result of spending weeks or months at a time without any educational support. Some students may return to school in September only to find that they have fallen behind in their studies.
What Are the Impacts of Summer Learning Loss?
Although having a break in the summer is very important for students’ mental health and wellbeing, the impacts of summer learning loss can be severe. Most studies focus on students’ losses in reading and mathematics abilities, but other areas of student learning can also be impacted. Students of varying ages and in different kinds of educational programs may experience the consequences of summer slide in different ways. Ultimately, the summer slide has a greater impact on students from lower-income families who may have access to fewer educational resources, like math tutoring, over the summer months. This leads to a widening achievement gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
For Younger Learners
For younger learners, one of the biggest concerns is loss of reading ability over the summer. Some studies have suggested that up to 20 percent of reading gains can be lost over the summer for students in grades 3 through 5. Mathematics can also take a hit, with students losing up to 27 percent of math gains for the same age range. Because young learners gain so much information in their first few years at school, they may be at particularly high risk of summer learning loss. Another major potential area of loss for young students is social skills. If young children have much less interaction with their peers over the summer than they do during the school year, they may lose some of the social skills that they learned in the classroom.
For Older Learners
Older learners, especially at the high school level, may not experience summer slide as drastically as younger children do. However, they can still lose valuable skills in the summer months. Research has been mixed on just how severe summer slide is for older students, with some suggesting that students are not impacted equally and that some school subjects suffer more than others. Again, it seems to be socioeconomic status that is the primary driver of student learning retention over the summer months, as higher-income families may be better able to provide parental education and extracurricular activities for their children.
For Second-Language Learners
One group of students who may be disproportionately impacted by summer slide is students learning a second language. This includes English language learners (ELLs) as well as students in other language immersion programs. Summer often means much less time spent in the target language environment, less access to target language reading materials, and limited parental educational support, particularly if parents do not speak the target language. According to recent research, ELLs lose more over the summer than their peers do, often because of a lack of accessible academic support that is designed for non-fluent English speakers. Researchers have suggested that second-language learners need specifically designed academic programs and resources to keep them learning over the summers in order to ensure success in the fall.
The Importance of Addressing Summer Slide
Addressing summer slide is an important part of parents’ and teachers’ roles in education. Although teachers do not usually work directly with students in the summer months, helping families prepare for summer is a great way for teachers to support their students. Helping students manage summer slide is not just a way to ensure success in the upcoming school year; it is also a way to promote equity in education so that all students can enjoy the same opportunities and supports, regardless of personal background. Students who experience less summer slide are more likely to succeed in future school years, ultimately creating a student population that is ready to learn and thrive in an educational environment.
Equity in Education
The concept of equity in education refers to the practice of ensuring that students from all walks of life have the resources and supports that they need to thrive. Striving for equity is not quite the same thing as striving for equality, though the two concepts are related. Equity means that in addition to ensuring that students have access to the same opportunities, specific issues facing certain students are prioritized and addressed. Equity initiatives aim to provide meaningful support to low-income students, ELLs, students with learning differences and disabilities, and other students who may face systemic barriers in education. Equity might mean that some students get more or different support than others based on their at-home resources and their specific circumstances. The goal of equity in education is to meet each student’s needs, especially when those needs are unique.
When it comes to summer learning loss, research has established that students from low-income families lose more than other students do. To provide equity in education, teachers and schools need to develop initiatives that allow these students to access more learning opportunities in the summer months to help them keep up. Educational equity also means creating learning resources that are specifically designed to meet the learning needs of ELLs and students with learning differences and disabilities. Learning is not a one-size-fits-all system, as many teachers are aware. As a result, summer learning initiatives must also be diverse in their approach.
Helping Students Prepare for the New School Year
Each school year presents its own set of challenges for students as they grow and learn. In addition to serving as a much-needed vacation, each summer holiday is also the time when students can prepare for the upcoming educational challenges that they will soon experience. Providing students with access to educational materials as much as possible over the summer can help them feel ready to rise to the occasion in September. Some parents might balk at the idea of making their children continue schoolwork in the summer, wanting instead to give them a break. That concern is certainly warranted, as it is possible for students to be academically over-scheduled. However, there are lots of ways to make summer learning fun and effective without preventing children and teenagers from relaxing and socializing.
How Parents Can Help Prevent Summer Learning Loss
Summer learning loss can be worrying for parents who want to see their children succeed in the school system. Because most parents work over the course of the summer, it can be challenging to find time to help kids and teenagers continue their learning journeys during the vacation. Each family’s circumstances are different and, as previously noted, families with fewer resources may be the most impacted by summer slide.
The following options can help parents and their kids make the most of the summer according to their specific goals and available resources. Options for online tutoring can help students learn when it suits them with subject matter experts that may not be available locally, for example science tutors or business tutors. It is always worth looking into other programs or activities that may be unique to a local area or school district; these suggestions are just a starting point and there are many ways to improve student learning over the summer.
Engage Student Interests
Whenever possible, it is helpful for parents to remind their kids that learning can be a lot of fun. Providing students with academic resources that match their interests and skill levels is a great way to keep kids engaged during the summers. One of the simplest and most effective ways to do this is to give students access to books and to encourage reading.
Scholastic’s Summer Reading program is a great place to start, as it encourages students to find books that interest them and maintain a reading streak over the summer months. For parents, having conversations with kids and teens about their interests and finding ways to pursue those interests over the summer can also be a great help. This can keep students interested in learning even outside of the classroom and can help them find new ideas that they are passionate about.
Spend Time Outside
One of the downsides to most forms of traditional education is that students spend limited time outside, exploring the world around them. Summer can be a great opportunity to let kids and teenagers spend time in nature while also learning. Parents who choose to bring their kids on a family hike could take the opportunity to have their kids read up on and then identify plant and animal species in the local area. Working in a community garden is also a great way to help students develop ecological skills that they may not get the chance to nourish as often during the school year. While summer slide is often about loss of reading and math skills, parents should keep in mind that there are plenty of other ways to learn about the world, particularly when spending time in nature. Supporting these alternative forms of learning can help give students new skills.
Make Goals (And Stick to Them!)
School provides students with a sense of structure that they often lack in the summer months. As a parent, it can be helpful to create a daily or weekly schedule to keep students on track with their learning goals. This might mean talking to kids and teens and asking for their opinion on what goals are reasonable for the summer. Do they think they can read for two hours a day? Would they be interested in doing one self-directed project on a subject of their choice each week?
Once parents and students agree on how the summer months should be spent, it is helpful to create a daily or weekly calendar with its own rewards for completing work on time so that students have a structure to fall back on. This is especially important for younger kids or for any student who struggles with time management and motivation.
Consider Summer Camps and Classes
One option that many parents turn to in order to maintain student learning is summer camps and classes. These organized activities give kids and teens social contact while also teaching them new skills. For working parents, such classes and camps can make a big difference. However, the cost of summer camps can be prohibitive for many families.
While free summer camps are very rare, one potential low-cost option is to look at summer day camps run by local rec centers. Rec centers often offer summer programs for children and teenagers with a variety of different focuses, from nature and ecology to sports to language classes. In the absence of summer camps and classes, parents should try to give their children the opportunity to spend time with friends and others in their age group to allow them to maintain social skills and emotional wellbeing.
Check Out Your Local Library
Local libraries are an invaluable resource when it comes to combatting summer slide. They can provide students with free books on subjects that interest them, but that is just one of the potential services provided by many public libraries.
Librarians can often help direct students and their families to free or low-cost summer programs, either hosted by the library itself or hosted elsewhere in the community. Libraries often provide safe spaces for children and teenagers to spend time, and they may run reading workshops for younger students. They are often some of the most economically accessible and functional services for young people in a community and they can make a big difference to students’ summer experiences.
What Can Schools Do to Prevent Summer Slide?
While it is essential for parents to be engaged in student learning, teachers and schools also have a role to play in helping to prevent summer slide. Before, during, and after the summer months, teachers can help their students maintain their academic success. Schools and school districts can also help at an institutional level to provide programs, services, and tips that can help students and families make the most of learning opportunities over the summer.
Over the past few decades, many schools have responded to the threat of summer slide by implementing summer school programs. These programs allow students to continue their learning, either getting ahead or working on subjects that they struggled with the previous year. Some school districts offer their summer school programs for free to students who are struggling with their academics. Summer school programs can be effective in allowing students to retain the same standard of learning that they did during the school year, but they are not the right solution for everyone. Many school districts have limited summer school availability and students may resent the loss of their free time if the material is not engaging enough.
Summer Learning Goals
Schools can help their students succeed in the summer months by implementing grade-specific summer learning goals. This can take the form of reading competitions, personal essays and projects, SAT and ACT preparation, and much more. Giving students a measurable goal that encourages them to use the skills that they learned during the school year can provide a low-cost or free activity that allows all students to stay engaged over the summer. Offering prizes for completing these learning goals can further incentivize students and can help maintain continuity between grade levels. These projects should be determined based on student learning outcomes and schools should ideally consult with teachers to brainstorm appropriate learning goals for students.
Communicating with Parents and Students
Another way that teachers and schools can emphasize the importance of summer learning is to communicate clearly with both students and parents. Explaining what summer slide is and how to avoid it can raise awareness of the issue and can help students and their families be proactive about maintaining learning in the summer months. When communicating with parents and students, schools should be sure to offer actionable solutions and support whenever possible to maximize the odds of student educational engagement.
Providing Equitable Solutions
When schools and teachers provide solutions to the summer slide, they should always strive to do so from a standpoint of educational equity. Offering solutions that only benefit middle-income and higher-income students can actually widen the achievement gap, making it more difficult for lower-income students to keep up when school starts again. Many schools have tight budgets, but prioritizing student learning over the summer should be a priority whenever possible.
Even schools that cannot provide educational opportunities and childcare over the summer months can still provide low-cost options for parents and students to allow them to pursue their own educational goals prior to the start of the new school year.
Teachers have a lot of ground to cover in each new school year, so adding extra review time can be a challenge. However, taking some time to review what students learned the previous year before launching into new information can actually save time in the long run, as teachers can make sure that all students are on board and are less likely to struggle with new educational content. Assessment quizzes to see what students have retained, small assignments designed to test for summer slide, and other simple activities can give teachers a better sense of where they stand, especially if they are getting to know a new class. Starting a new school year with all students on the same page and ready to learn can make a big difference and set the tone for a successful new year of learning.
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