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Is Summer Ruining your Child’s Chances of College? How to Help your Child Combat Summer Learning Loss

Susanna Sisson's picture
Summer Learning for College

Most parents and certainly children look forward to summer break, sleeping in, and vacations. But, are summer breaks hurting your child academically? Scientists and data say the answer is a definitive “yes”!


Standardized testing is the norm for school children in the USA and began about 100 years ago [1] with 6,500 children being tested with the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. What research has consistently found is that test results taken at the beginning of an academic year versus the testing before summer break take a major downhill slide, and those affected most are low-income and at risk [2] students. Researchers attribute the lower scores to a lengthy summer break and for that reason many educators are pushing for shorter breaks and year round school. Other countries such as Japan and Brazil have longer school weeks and shorter but more frequent breaks.

What your child loses over summer break

Standardized test scores reflect losses at all income levels with poorer children suffering the biggest losses in learning skills. [3]

• Math – When it comes to test scores, math scores drop the most overall. It is estimated that students lose about 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematics, about the length of summer break.
• Spelling – The second greatest drop in scores is reflected in spelling with students in all income levels losing about a month’s spelling learning skills.
• Reading – Usually reading scores among middle income students show a rise. However, lower income students lose 2 or more months of reading achievement.

Research shows that teachers spend approximately 6 weeks re-teaching skills lost over summer break.

What these losses mean for your child

Overall, kids from lower income families test scores are lower in all areas, but there are losses across all income levels. These learning losses are cumulative and can follow your child for a lifetime. Dropout rates increase after the 8th grade, many students find their test scores affect the ability to enter colleges and fewer attend college, and certainly these facts affect employability and future income.

How can you help your child?

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In lieu of ditching summer break in favor of year round school, which many educators are leaning toward and some school districts have done [4], there are things you can do to improve your child’s learning loss and even get ahead.

• Summer camps geared toward learning – Even if your child isn’t interested in chess, math or space camp, other summer camps offer a multitude of learning opportunity. The Girls and Boy Scouts have a long tradition of excellence but of course these camps usually require membership, but they do allow non-scouts to attend camp by paying the yearly membership fee. Camp experiences include art, archery, astronomy and much more. Some camps even offer equestrian experience. The Girl Scouts do allow non-members to attend camp for an additional $15 fee plus regular camp fees. As a parent or grandparent, you might consider starting a group or at least finding one for your child. Some summer camps are week long but there are many day camp opportunities in most areas. Look into camps provided by schools, churches, colleges, activity centers, and the YMCA. If you live in the New York area, look into the Fresh Air Fund and consider hosting a child.

• Visit your local library – Every kid needs a library card. It’s a rite of passage; a sign of growing up, of being responsible, and it’s certainly less expensive than buying books. Most libraries have reading programs and some allow both adults and kids to come and read to younger kids. Many libraries have art or writing classes, poetry events and free online sources for things like music and books. I was surprised to find a plethora of services online and in library services for children and teens available at our local library.

• Engage your child in learning opportunities – Even if you live in a small town there are probably learning opportunities you may not have considered. Rural areas usually have 4-H programs for kids that encourage learning that can even lead to income opportunities but now most cities have 4-H Clubs as well. My nieces raised and showed sheep when they were young and were able to make money for college. 4-H isn’t just about agriculture and now includes hands on opportunities to learn about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), healthy living and citizenship.

• Look for free learning opportunities or invent your own – When my kids were children I used every outing from art museums and concerts to camping, canoeing, hiking and traveling as a learning opportunity. Once a week we went to the local art museum. I took my kids as well as their friends camping and canoeing. When we traveled I bought books about where we were going and taught them about birds, fish or plants of the area. All it takes is a little effort and inventiveness. So, find a nature center or take your kids on an adventure.

• Team up with other parents – One of the great things about kids is their friends. When mine were young I got together with other parents and did kid swaps. That way the kid got double the experiences. Some of my friends DEPLORE camping but that’s my thing so their kids still got to go on overnight camping trips. My kids went places I wasn’t fond of going like sporting events. Each and every new experience is an opportunity for broadening one’s horizons.

• Volunteer – While it may be difficult to tear your child away from the TV or Xbox, volunteering is an excellent way to keep your kids out of trouble and put skills learned during the school year to practice. Habitat for Humanity is always looking for volunteers and kids 16 and up can work on construction sites. There is even opportunity for travel to other countries with Habitat International. Some volunteer opportunities such as Americorp can equate to awards which can be used to pay for education. Another amazing opportunity for kids to experience hands on learning is your local community garden. Urban gardening is reaching never before heard of popularity. Eating healthy is the basis for living a healthy lifestyle.

• Free college courses – If you have a genius you’re probably not worried about the summer slide. In that case or if you have older children you can encourage them to get a jumpstart on higher education through edx.org. Signing up and enrolling is easy and courses offered are from the best schools in the world including MIT, Harvard and Yale. Passing requires a grade of 70% and most are done at the students own pace. Most courses offer certification (for a nominal fee) and a few offer college credit. There are a wide range of subjects from computers and chemistry to solar energy and water purification. Edx offers courses in just about anything that would pique someone’s interest.

• Outward Bound – Because not all learning comes from a book programs like Outward Bound can engage your child mentally, physically and spiritually and they can even arrange for high school credit for the experience.

Children are our future and as parents we need to take every opportunity to help them succeed. Summer doesn’t have to dumb down our kids so instead of allowing them to take the summer slide help them reach for the stars.