Summer brain drain, better known as “summer learning loss” or “summer slide,” can cause your child to forget what they’ve learned at school over summer break. Fortunately, you can circumvent the slide by keeping your kid academically engaged with summer learning.
There are a variety of summer learning options for elementary school children that you can either do yourself or with professional help. We’re going to go over some simple ways you can prevent summer slide at home, as well as resources you can turn to if you need some assistance.
What exactly is summer slide?
Summer slide is the loss of academic knowledge in students who have long summer breaks.
Most students don’t have as much exposure to educational activities over the summer compared to what they get at school. The result is that, not only are children missing out on adding to what they already know, but also some of that knowledge is forgotten because it’s not used and reinforced.
Students affected by summer slide may need to spend the beginning of the next school year relearning the material they forgot over summer, which can put them behind other students.
Is summer slide real?
Many scientific studies show that summer slide is a real issue, though they don’t all agree on how severe it is.
For example, one recent study found that most children lose a similar degree of knowledge over the summer, while another found that summer learning loss’ severity can vary highly between different students. This variance can depend on a number of factors, such as grade level (students in elementary school tend to experience more loss than students in high school).
Regardless, the key way to avoid the summer slide is with continuing education over summer break.
How to prevent and stop summer slide
The National Summer Learning Association has found there are several factors that are important in preventing learning loss and keeping your child’s mind engaged.
First, high-quality instruction with reasonably high-performance expectations is key. This means that if you’re helping your child at home, make sure to map out the lessons in advance and let your child know what goals you expect them to meet. Providing your child with organized, well-planned instruction will maximize the effectiveness of summer learning.
If you plan to use external resources, guided learning from a professional like a tutor can smooth the path for any student, whether in small groups or privately.
Consistent learning schedule
Second, instruction should be consistent and take up at least five weeks of the summer. For parents, this means creating a schedule for summer lessons and sticking to it. If you’re getting external help, make sure your child attends their programs or lessons regularly and the combined duration of the programs lasts five weeks or more.
Helping your child at home over the summer
If you want to be part of your child’s summer learning process, there are tons of ways you can help. Elementary school age children especially can benefit from supplemental learning experiences that are engaging and creative.
There is no shortage of materials available for practicing math over the summer. Many schools offer summer math packets to students on their websites, and even if yours doesn’t there are a multitude of other resources you can turn to.
Workbooks, flashcards, and educational websites such as IXL can all provide grade-appropriate math problems for your child to practice. Websites can be especially helpful, as some of them keep track of your child’s progress so you can see how much they’re practicing, where they’re doing well, and where they may need help.
Games can also be an engaging way to help your child with math. With just a standard deck of cards you can play a number of math games to work on addition, fractions, order of operations, and more. Even if you’re playing a game where math isn’t the focus, such as Scrabble or dominoes, having your child keep score will get them to practice simple arithmetic.
For elementary school children, one of the most effective ways to combat the summer slide is to make sure they read every day. Reading is extremely important for childrens’ development as it reinforces language comprehension, expands vocabulary, strengthens visualization skills, and even improves memory.
Stock up on some good kid’s books from a book store or your local library, and set aside reading time every day. Additionally, ask your child to read things you encounter in daily life, whether it’s the weather report, a sign, or a recipe, so they’re reading all throughout the day.
Reading aloud to your child helps too, even if they’re an older elementary student in 4th or 5th grade. Reading books aloud that are a bit too advanced for your kid will help them build listening comprehension with books that are on grade level or higher, preparing them for tougher reading in the future.
For writing practice, encourage your child to start a writing project that they can work on regularly. For example, you could ask them to write a short story each week, review the books they read, or keep a summer journal. Anything that gets them excited to organize their thoughts and write them down works.
The great thing about science education at home is that it has so much opportunity to be active, hands-on, and fun.
There are summer science resources available with plenty of kid-friendly experiments and projects you can do at home using materials you likely already have. When you’re running an experiment, ask your child to write down a hypothesis for what will happen, record their observations, and come up with a conclusion.
Trips to zoos, science museums, and exploratoriums can make for fun and educational family activities, whether you attend physically or virtually. Before you go, it may be a good idea to sign up for a tour or demonstration so your child can get additional context about what they’re seeing, and to make sure there’s someone around who can answer their questions.
Besides language arts, social studies is another subject that benefits from summer reading. When you’re picking out reading material with your child, include some biographical or historical fiction books.
You can also make social studies education more personal to your child by incorporating family history and local history. Have your child interview older family members about what their lives were like growing up, visit historic sites in a nearby town or city, or give your child a project to draw maps of the local community.
Getting help from others
If you can’t participate in summer learning with your child because you work, or even if you simply aren’t keen on playing the role of tutor yourself, there are plenty of supplemental experiences you can give your kid with professional help.
Summer is an excellent time for private tutoring. The goal of any good tutor is to create self-sufficient students, and summer break lets them do that without the pressure of having to prepare students for looming exams. With a tutor, not only will your child be able to review or get ahead of their curriculum to avoid summer slide, they can also gain confidence and learn study skills that will help them in future school years.
Another big benefit of summer tutoring is that tutors can give your child the one-on-one or small group attention that you would want to give them yourself. That means their instruction will be personalized to your child’s needs, and sessions can work around your family’s schedule.
Summer tutoring can take place in-person or online, with online tutors generally costing slightly less since the tutor doesn’t have to travel. On Wyzant, the average cost of elementary school tutoring is $32/hr, and some tutors charge as low as $10/hr.
Summer reading programs
Local libraries often host summer reading activities, which can include fun events to foster literacy such as read-alouds, reading challenges, and writing prompts. These programs are typically free and centered on the local community, so all your child will need to participate is a library card.
While summer reading programs are typically done in-person, some libraries have started providing virtual programs, live streaming their events and letting kids check out ebooks remotely.
In addition to summer reading, some libraries host other educational resources such as science workshops or language learning tools. Check with your local library to see what it has to offer.
Your local public school district likely offers summer school programs in which you can enroll your child, and most of these programs are free or low cost. However, you should check to see what those programs offer to make sure they match what you’re looking for. For example, your local elementary summer schools may focus on remedial learning or alternative education styles.
If your local district’s summer school options aren’t a good fit for your kid, you can also look at summer school programs elsewhere that accept out-of-district students. These tend to be at private schools and often accept virtual applicants, so your child can even attend programs located in different states from home. Private summer schools tend to charge tuition, and the prestigious schools that get a lot of applicants may hold lotteries to choose which students get to attend.
Academic summer camps
Rather than focusing on classic outdoor activities like archery or canoeing, academic summer camps provide educational activities for kids to supplement what campers learn in school. Compared to summer school’s focus on instruction, these camps tend to balance intellectual pursuits with summer fun.
Many academic summer camps focus on one or two particular subject areas, such as STEM, languages, or visual arts. Some are highly specialized, such as camps for forensic science or entrepreneurship. For children with special interests that they’d like to pursue more, these camps can offer opportunities to explore their passion and meet other like-minded kids.
Preventing summer slide with your child
Summer slide can cause students to achieve less than what they’re fully capable of during the school year. Being prepared with constructive educational activities for your child over the summer is key to both preserving their knowledge from the previous school year and getting them ready for the next one.
For parents who want to take on their kid’s summer education, there are all kinds of projects and games that you can use to keep your child’s mind engaged.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you to devote the time required to do that, you can also find people and programs to help you. Plus, using outside assistance can give your child unique benefits beyond just preventing summer slide, such as a private tutor teaching them study habits that will help them for the rest of their academic career.
Overall, your choice should depend on your needs as a parent and what you think is the best option for your child.