Have you ever heard of the summer slide? Sadly, it has nothing to do with a water park or any park, for that matter. Instead, it has to do with the learning loss students experience during the summer months.
If you’ve ever realized in July that you can’t remember any of the facts you memorized for a final exam, you’ve experienced summer slide. If you’ve started a new school year needing a review because you've forgotten the material you learned at the end of the last year, that’s summer learning loss.
So what is summer slide? It is summer learning loss of the knowledge and progress you made during the school year. And yes, it’s very real and affects most kids from elementary school all the way through high school.
Summer learning loss statistics tell us that each summer, kids lose 2-3 months of knowledge they had gained during the school year, which is a lot! Math loss seems to be the greatest, and high school students tend to lose the most knowledge. You might have noticed that since COVID, you feel more behind than ever, so summer slide can really hurt you academically.
What Does Summer Slide Mean to You? And Why Is It a Problem?
First, it means material you previously learned has been forgotten. All those facts you memorized, all those math problems you worked, and all those grammatical mistakes you fixed were meant to teach you in the long term. But if you factor in losing 2-3 months of that learning, that’s a big chunk of material you went to all that trouble to learn, just to unlearn it over the summer.
Second, so much of what you learn is meant to build up your knowledge to learn the next thing. In all of your classes, you build on skills and knowledge you gained in previous classes. Math is a perfect example. Each year that you’ve taken a math class, you’ve learned how to work problems and find solutions. You then use those skills to move up to the next level of math. For example, you need algebra to understand geometry.
You may have a math teacher who is willing to spend the first month of school reviewing, but are you willing to take that chance? Many teachers dive right into new content, and if you’re lost from Day 1, imagine how you’ll feel a month later? Struggling at the beginning of the school year can put you behind for months. Start with a low GPA, and you’ll spend the rest of the year playing catch-up and trying to pull that GPA up.
But here’s the great news: all of this can be avoided by preventing the summer slide. You can prevent summer learning loss without ever opening a textbook or attending summer school. Instead, you can turn summer fun into opportunities to keep your brain active. Summer is the time when you can choose your own activities – things you love doing – and still learn. Let’s look at ways you can incorporate learning into your summer days.
Tips for Students to Prevent Summer Slide
Follow these tips to help you retain what you've learned and prepare for the next school year. Any one of these will help, but the more you do, the better your chances of being successful as you start a brand new year.
#1: Start With Reading
The number one skill that affects all of your other learning is reading. If you’ve ever made the statement, “I don’t have time to read!” it was probably because you were in the middle of the school year. But during the summer when there are no classes and no homework, you can always make time to read. And it doesn’t need to be Moby Dick!
Read a news site, a magazine, or a book that you select because it looks interesting. If you have a summer reading assignment for an AP class take your time and read it without any distractions. Make time to check out your local library and try something new. You may find that you really like a certain author or genre.
#2: Get to Writing
Just like reading, writing is a necessity for almost every class you take and so many of the basic life skills. Now’s the time to write about whatever you want – journal about your summer, try your hand at poetry, write a short story or lyrics to a song, vent about your brother or sister, or even write a letter to your grandmother. Try not to overthink it – just write.
#3: Visit Museums
Visit museums of every type: history, science, space, art, literature, engineering. Read about what you are seeing or listen to audio tours. Expand your horizons by delving into subjects you don’t know a lot about. And if they interest you, research them! Learn more!
#4: Explore New Places
If your family is able to travel, take advantage of the chance to learn about a completely different country, state, or city. Take pictures or videos you can post on social media, but also take notes on what you saw. What was the food like? Did you notice a different culture or attitude? How did people dress? Were there any unusual customs? What would you tell a friend to do there?
If you aren't able to take a trip away, try seeking out new or different places in your own area. Is there historical site you've never seen? Or a unique restaurant you've been meaning to try? Exploring your own surroundings more deeply can be just as rewarding as traveling further abroad.
While we're on the subject of travel, keep in mind long car or plane rides are the perfect time to read, write, play thinking games, or even...
#5: Take an SAT or ACT Practice Test
...take an ACT or SAT practice test and study the results! Most students don’t want to do this during the busy school year, so the summer is the perfect time to set aside a few hours for a practice exam. If you’re a morning person, do it then. If you’re a night owl, tell everyone you can’t be disturbed and have at it. The beauty of summertime is you can pick whatever part of the day that works best for you.
#6: Learn a New Skill
Summer is also a great time to learn a new skill or practice one you’ve started. Playing a musical instrument or taking a dance class teaches you tempo, rhythm, and meter. Learning photography teaches you composition, contrast, color, and scale. Computer programming helps you hone your skills in coding, logic, and problem solving.
If you work a summer job, push yourself to learn from it. Whether it’s people skills, timeliness, or even simple adding and subtracting, it will teach you what is called soft skills. These skills include time management and organization, for example, and are the types of skills that you will use for the rest of your life.
#7: Spend Time at College
Another option is to attend a summer learning program through a local university or organization. Many offer programs in specialized areas of interest or provide a liberal arts opportunity to help you discover what you love. You also get the chance to experience spending time on a college campus and check out a school you might be considering, even potentially meet current students and professors.
#8: Check Out Online Resources
Using online resources, such as PrepScholar, can be a great way to brush up on subjects you struggled with or to get ahead of an upcoming class. You can even study a new language – a great way to engage the brain!
In short, turn your summer experiences into learning opportunities and enjoy the break from the books!
Tips for Parents to Prevent Summer Learning Loss
There’s a lot parents can do to help their kids enjoy their summer break and keep their brains active at the same time. An active brain is one that is calling on learned material and applying it to new concepts, and you can help your kids with this.
#1: Monitor Screen Time
Ask yourself – and your child – how he is spending his time in front of a screen. Is he watching YouTube compilations of cats falling over or learning to cook the perfect egg via Tik Tok? He may be doing a little of both, but if the cat videos are his primary viewing, encourage him to explore other, more engaging, content.
#2: Get Them Up and Moving
Rather than letting kids spend hours in front of a screen, try to emphasize enrichment activities. It's important that kids are learning non-textbook material in an engaging and fun way. You know your child better than anyone. What is her favorite activity and how can you help incorporate learning into it? For example, if she enjoys the outdoors, why not get her to help you with the garden? Take that opportunity to talk about what you are growing, what you’ve learned about soil and water and how it’s affected your plants, and how the weather has affected your vegetables.
#3: Make Learning Part of Everyday Life
Likewise, incorporate learning into everyday activities, whether it’s cooking, taking a walk, or caring for a pet. Ask your kids to follow a recipe and measure out ingredients while you chop. Take the dog for a walk and try to gauge the distance you’ve walked without using a tracker. Reward the winner with that night’s choice of ice cream flavor. Try to get your kids to think things through instead of instantly reverting to technology for answers.
#4: Take Your Kids Somewhere New
If you take a vacation, point out cultural or regional differences that your kids might not notice. Talk about the history of the area, its evolution, and what it’s like today. Mention notable people of that area. Include learning activities in every way you can, such as visiting museums, aquariums, and landmarks.
#5: Teach Them About Money
Both on your travels and in your everyday life, teach financial literacy to your kids. Most don’t know the difference between debit and credit cards, let alone how and when to use them. Many don’t know how to deposit or withdraw money, or the importance of saving. Use this time to teach your kids a skill that will serve them the rest of their lives!
#6: Help Them Find Resources
Use resources to help your kids remember what they’ve been taught and maybe even get ahead. Prep Scholar has online resources and tutors who can keep previously learned material fresh and reinforce it. In just a few hours a week, your kids can avoid the summer slide and start the year with confidence.
#7: Be a Lifelong Learner Yourself!
Finally, since you are your kids’ greatest role model, show interest in learning yourself. They take your cue when it comes to deciding how important it is to stay open to learning experiences. If you keep your sense of wonder and are always curious to learn, they are much more likely to do the same.
So avoid the summer slide and have a great summer learning together!
Find more tips for parents to help your kids avoid the summer slide.
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Rebecca has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and taught high school English for over 20 years. Her students consistently earned top scores on the SAT and ACT, AP Language and AP Literature exams. She worked one-on-one with students through her own tutoring and educational coaching business and believes that individualized attention and personal connection are the keys to success. Rebecca is the author of the parenting book Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kids Succeed, which provides tips for parents on how to help their kids reach their full potential. As a content writer for Prep Scholar, she hopes to help guide students and parents through high school and make the transition into adulthood as stress-free – and informed – as possible.