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Tips to Minimize Summer Learning Loss

For the past two decades I have been helping students learn, first as a teacher and recently as a private tutor. One thing that has been clear to me since my second year in the classroom, if kids don’t do meaningful work during the summer months, they lose! It’s that simple.


Summer learning loss is real. Not only does common sense support this notion, but vast amounts of academic research validates summer learning loss. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that students lost two full months of reading achievement during the summer. During the summer students aren’t just losing what they learned, but they’re missing a great opportunity to get ahead. Sadly, it can take the first several weeks of a new school year for students to get back into the mindset of learning once they return to classes in the fall.


In the past, summer school was thought of as something a student attended if they failed. Yet, the affluent or enlightened (or both) realize that the summer offers the best opportunity to help their children get ahead of the pack. It’s a chance to provide your child a substantial edge.


Many policy makers have focused educational reform efforts on problems during the school year. Yet, the government provides little support to combat the massive lack of opportunities that many students face in the summer. Many parents still have to work and just want to ensure that they have childcare in place; educational enrichment opportunities are generally an afterthought. And, not all parents know what’s available or how to put an individual study program together for their children or how to provide their kids with motivation to work hard. Also, some parents believe that the summer is solely a time of rest and play for kids. Early 19th and 20th century thinkers contended that the brain was a muscle and needed rest from a significant amount of work, when in truth the exact opposite is the case. The brain is, contrarily, not a muscle, and is highly malleable and needs to continue to take in new information and use previously learned information for retention purposes.


Why do we have a summer break to begin with?


Most assume that the reason for the summer break from school has to do with early agriculture and the need for families to have children assist them in planting and tending crops during these months. Yet, it’s much more likely that a combination of factors led to this notion of kids taking a break from school during the summer months. Obviously, in urban areas, buildings became hot without air conditioning and it seemed only natural for kids to be outside during these hot days. In addition, the colleges and universities observed breaks, for the most part, during summer months. For the middle and upper class living in the sweltering cities during the summer, it became a time of heading to the country and getting a reprieve from the summer temperatures.  


There are definitely the haves and have nots of summertime!


Let’s face it. Folks with means make sure their children are engaged in enriching activities during the summer. Whether these be summer camps, day programs, 1:1 tutoring, they usually make sure there is something meaningful for their children to do during this time. Even if the activity is not directly aligned with personal curricular goals for a child, there is still information transfer that occurs, especially when students are in social settings that are language-rich environments. Also, many students who attend private schools are supplied with summer learning packets that have a comprehensive review of materials presented during the previous year as well as meaningful suggestions for summer reading that often require papers to be written and presented upon arrival back to school. Finally, the more wealthy families travel more during the summer months, and traveling means exposure to novel and oftentimes enriching environments that could offer cultural and historical context and knowledge to a child’s mind.


But what happens to students whose parents are simply trying to earn a living and arrange for childcare provided by family members, friends, or a summer babysitter? What do they spend their days doing? Now, we can likely assume that kids spend an extraordinary amount of time in front of screens watching Disney channel, Nickelodeon, or playing mind-numbing games. Of course, we know not all media is harmful and there are games that do have something to offer to students, but without a significant amount of guidance we can safely assume that these sorts of summer activity are not the most enriching use of a child’s time, especially when moderation is not considered and meaningful context is unavailable.


Overall, a well-balanced approach of relaxation, fun/play with some academic enrichment can not only mitigate, or at the very least minimize, summer learning loss,it can also lead to a confidence boost and a stronger foundation going into the next school year.


So, how do you ensure that your child is fully enriched during the summer?


Take time to map out the summer. Determine what plans will benefit and add to your child’s knowledge base. Consider what opportunities there are in your area that will help enrich your child’s life.


Here are some suggested tips and advice:  


  1. Summer Reading: Make sure your child has 4-6 novels to read during the summer. There are many summer reading lists that separate novels by grade level, so using this as a guide can be helpful. Every selection does not have to be a great literary classic, but make sure the novels are at the appropriate grade level for the reader and at an interest level so as to motivate him/her to want to read. In addition to reading, provide the youngster with incentive to keep a reading journal where they can reflect on the novel and keep a vocabulary list of words that are new to them.


  1. Day Trips: Arrange for trips to enriching environments such as zoos, museums, and playgrounds where open-ended play is encouraged. Having other kids join you can also add to the language of the endeavor, making the activity even more enriching.


  1. Physical Activity: Keep your child moving during the summer. Walking and hiking have been proven to boost active working memory, and movement helps the brain in general. Swimming, running, and playing other gross motor activities promote brain development.


  1. Math Practice: Research shows students lose up to two months of math progress during the summer months. There are several ways to prevent this. For example, one can arrange weekly tutoring sessions, or take a more homeschool approach and provide a child with workbooks and/or worksheets that have guided examples as well as answer keys. It’s as important to check the work as it is to do the work. Retaining information, especially in math, is all about practice, practice, practice— repetition, repetition, repetition. There are also some excellent math websites to keep a student on track, though some of these are difficult to navigate and knowing which activities a child should do can also pose a challenge.


  1. Tutoring (online or in-person): Tutoring is not just for kids who are behind. It’s a great way to give a child the 1:1 attention that can truly make a difference. And now, accessing 1:1 tutoring has never been easier and more affordable. Depending on the region you live, in-person tutors can charge from $60 per hour all the way up into the hundreds. If budget allows, you can consider in-person tutoring, or seek online tutoring, which is often a fraction of the cost.


Overall, parents and caretakers should consider the summer not just as a time for rest and relaxation, but also as a tremendous opportunity to better prepare their children and provide them with some confidence going into the next school year. In the education biz, we call this front-loading, which simply means providing a student with a glimpse of what is to come so that elements of the curriculum feel somewhat familiar and not completely foreign.

Article by Alan Cashdollar.


Cashdollar has been a high school English teacher and learning specialist for over 12 years. He holds a Masters’ degree in education and serves as the Vice President of Education at