Today is the first day of summer, and by now I’m sure you and your kids have been enjoying all sorts of summer activities. I think it’s on every mom’s mind to maximize summer’s potential with fun activities, enriching experiences, and family vacations. But have you made a plan for minimizing summer learning loss and beating the summer slide?
This post is a little different than my usual posts. We’re diving deep into some research today (don’t worry — it’s not boring!) to talk about an issue you’ll want to know about if you have school-aged kids.
I don’t yet have kids in school (Aidan starts preschool in the fall! Eek!), but during my library school days, I studied summer learning loss as it pertained to summer reading programs. Plus, I grew up with a teacher for a mom, so education is kind of in my blood.
Read on to learn about what summer learning loss is, why you should care, and how you can beat the summer slide in your own family.
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WHAT IS SUMMER LEARNING LOSS?
According to The Glossary of Education Reform, “the term learning loss refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.”
In this case, the learning loss is due to the three-month summer vacation. This phenomenon is also referred to as the “summer slide.”
HOW BAD IS IT?
Just how bad is this summer slide? The extent of learning loss that takes place during summer vacation appears to depend on who you ask.
The consensus among many educational researchers is that on average, students lose approximately two months of reading skills and up to three months of math skills over the summer. Upon returning to school in the fall, teachers have to spend weeks of precious class time making up for that loss.
- “Summer Math Loss” | Harvard Graduate School of Education
- “Summer Learning Loss Statistics (And Tips to Promote Learning All Summer Long” | Oxford Learning
Other organizations, such as the school in this article, argue against that 2-3 month figure, saying that there’s no actual “loss” of skills. The skills simply get rusty over the long break.
The educator in the article also argues that the so-called backward slide is actually not a slide at all. She contends that what appears to be a loss in some kids’ skills is merely the result of them not progressing as much as their peers during the break.
Regardless of the name you want to put on it, the fact remains that some kids fall behind during the summer. And that’s a real problem.
According to Oxford Learning, by the end of grade six, the accumulated years of summer learning loss can potentially put students an average of two years behind their peers.
And a brief from the National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment states that summer learning loss in the elementary school years accounts for at least half of the ninth-grade reading achievement gap,
And the truly unfortunate part is that it disproportionately affects kids from lower income families. Oxford Learning found that the summer slide accounts for a whopping 2/3 of the overall income achievement gap by the start of high school.
WHICH SUBJECT AREAS SEE THE MOST LOSS?
Most experts agree that the biggest “losses” appear in math, reading, and spelling (which makes sense — if kids are not reading over the summer, they’re not seeing words spelled out to them).
However, while there are many initiatives aimed at summer reading loss, it is actually math that takes the hardest hits. (“Summer Learning Loss: The Problem and Some Solutions”, ericdigests.org)
This is likely because parents are less inclined to incorporate math into their summertime routines. Many families think to work on reading, but it doesn’t occur to them to work on math. And sadly, many don’t recognize the math in everyday activities.
WHO IS MOST AFFECTED?
Here’s where it really gets interesting (and sad). The kids who are most affected by summer learning loss are, unfortunately, the ones who are already given a tough hand to begin with — those among lower socioeconomic statuses (SES) and those with reading disabilities.
Interestingly enough, the losses in math are roughly the same across all SES (likely due to the fact that parents across the board tend not to work on math during the summer).
Reading losses, however, are highly skewed towards those in lower SES.
And when it comes to kids with reading disabilities, an article from Educate Iowa says this:
“Families of students with reading disabilities often think of summer as the time to give their children a break from something that is difficult, but doing that validates for children that reading is something they should choose to avoid whenever possible.”
It goes on to say,
“If we want students to think of themselves as readers, we need to help them see how reading is a part of their lives and not just what they endure during school. We don’t want the summer experiences to feel like a punishment. The key is to present reading as an enjoyable activity.”
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT SUMMER LEARNING LOSS?
I certainly don’t want to scare you with any of these statistics. That’s not my intention! If you’re reading this post, you obviously care about and take an active role in your children’s education. So I don’t want you to panic, worrying that your kids are going to fall behind.
I simply want you to be aware of the issue. A report from Scholastic states that only 48% of parents have ever even heard of summer learning loss, so I want to raise awareness.
Here’s why it’s important:
- Accumulates over the years
Summer learning loss accumulates every year, and if it’s not mitigated, students will only fall further and further behind.
- Affects feelings about school
I’ve never seen a kid who felt behind in school who didn’t grow to hate school. Students’ summer learning loss relative to their peers will, therefore, shape how they think and feel about school.
- Lowers their motivation to succeed in school
Those feelings about school, in turn, affect their motivation to succeed. Kids who hate school often eventually stop trying.
- Damages their self-esteem
How students feel about themselves as students affects how they think about themselves in general. Certainly, summer learning loss isn’t the only source of struggle in school, but it can be a contributing factor.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PREVENT SUMMER LEARNING LOSS?
Now that I’ve shown that summer learning loss (aka the summer slide) is a real phenomenon and why you should care, here are a number of ways you can prevent it (or, at the very least, lessen its effects):
- Have your child read 2-3 hours per week
- Read at home
- Read together
- Set a good example — let them see you reading!
- Encourage reading for pleasure — let them choose books that are appropriate in level and subject matter but that interest them
- Talk about what they’ve read — ask questions and ask them to summarize (but not as formal book reports — remember, keep it fun!)
- Participate in summer reading programs at your local library
- Highlight the math in everyday activities, such as shopping or cooking
- Play math games like Yahtzee, Rack-o, or Monopoly
- Download fun math game apps to your iPad or computer
- Read math books together (yes, they exist!)
Some general notes:
- Don’t make it feel like homework
- Point out and discuss the math and reading (as well as other subjects) in our everyday lives
- As much as possible, practice with real-world applications
- Talk to your kids! Don’t leave it all up to computer programs, apps, and worksheets
One final interesting note — Oxford Learning found that regular physical activity can increase concentration abilities, so make sure you’re incorporating plenty of that in their day, as well!
- 8 Resources to Prevent Summer Learning Loss
- Top 10 Easy Summer Learning Tips for Parents
- Summer Math Loss
- Succeed in Math All Summer Long!
I’m sure most of you by now have planned out your vacations, made a bucket list of summer activities, and/or thought about how to make this summer spectacular for your kids. And all those things are, indeed, wonderful ways to be intentional with the season.
But I’d like to add one more item to your summer plans — setting your children up for a successful school year by beating the summer slide.
SHARE WITH US: Had you heard of the summer slide before? If so, what do you do to beat it? If not, what are you going to do?
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