Beat the Summer Slide

FACT: Two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.

The end of the school year has arrived, and summer fun is on everyone's mind. To students, this means vacation and a break from learning, but to teachers it means an uphill battle with the "summer slide"  lots of catch-up in the fall. According to a study by the John Hopkins’ Center for Summer Learning, without summer educational programs, the average student falls two months behind in his reading skills.


Parents can help reverse the slide and make informal summer learning lots of fun. Simple, low-cost steps like turning off the TV and visiting the local public library or nature center can introduce children to new ideas and interests that will keep their minds active and engaged when they away from the classroom.

Did You Know?


  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).

  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).

  • More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).

  • Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children—particularly children at high risk of obesity—gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break (Von Hippel et al, 2007).

  • Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do.


Get summer reading tips from the NEA

Research shows teachers spend a good deal of time at the beginning of the school year re- teaching skills that were lost during the summer. Students fall an average of almost 2.6 months behind in math skills, but for low-income children, the slide in reading is particularly harmful. Many students fall behind an average of two months in reading while their middle- income peers tend to make slight gains. By fifth grade, low-income children can be as much as 2.5 years behind in reading. And a recent study of Baltimore students by Johns Hopkins researchers showed that 65 percent of the achievement gap between poor and affluent children can be explained by unequal summer learning experiences during the elementary school years.

Follow these tips to make the most of your child's summer vacation with the following suggestions:

  • Explore summer camp. There are many high-quality camps and programs that focus on specific skills and talents such as art and music. Camps offered by schools, recreation centers, universities, and community-based organizations often have an educational or enrichment focus.
  • Visit your neighborhood public library. Find out what interests your child and select books on that subject. Participate in free library summer programs and make time to read every day.
  • Find out what your child will be learning during the next school year by talking with teachers at that grade level. Preview concepts and materials over the summer.
  • Take educational trips, which can be low-cost visits to parks, museums, zoos and nature centers. When planning vacations, consider those with educational themes. You may be able to provide real-life exposure to the subject matter that your child will learn next year.
  • Practice math every day. A trip to the grocery store is an opportunity to review math skills. Cooking is a chance to learn fractions. Measure items around the house or yard, track daily temperatures. Every day experiences can be fun and interesting, while giving kids opportunities to learn the skills they need.
  • Get outside and play. Intense physical activity programs have positive effects on academic achievement, including increased concentration; improved mathematics, reading, and writing test scores; and reduced disruptive behavior.
  • Perform good deeds. Students learn better and "act out" less when they engage in activities that aid in their social- emotional development, such as community service.
  • Keep a schedule over the summer and help kids stay in daily routines.
  • Limit time with TV and video games, just as you do during the school year. It always makes sense to provide structure and limits. The key is providing a balance and keeping kids engaged.

The information above was adapted from the Center for Summer Learning at The Johns Hopkins University.

About the Center for Summer Learning:

Founded in 1992, the Center for Summer Learning develops, evaluates and promotes summer learning programs that improve student achievement and support healthy youth development. Over the past 15 years, the center has grown from operating a local program serving 50 children to becoming the only national organization focused exclusively on summer learning. Last year, the center helped generate more than $12 million in public investment in summer learning programs that reached more than 25,000 children and youth. The center also trained more than 2,000 summer program providers in 20 states, serving a total of more than 1 million youngsters.

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