Reflections on “Summer Slide” – 6 Easy Tips to Avoid It

by On June 20, 2013 in General

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Will your child visit a library this summer?

Will your child visit a library this summer? Photo credit: Anita Peppers

Today was the year-end school picnic for our daughter’s elementary school. Children played while the parents discussed three hot topics: 1) summer camp scheduling; 2) vacation dreams; and 3) the “summer slide” (and what, if anything, to do about it).

The concept of the “summer slide” — or summer learning loss — stems from research showing that, in summer:

  • The average student falls 2 months behind in reading skills and 2.6 months behind in math skills
  • Students from low-income families are hardest hit; by fifth grade, they may be as much as 2.5 years behind in reading.
  • Unequal summer learning experiences during elementary school years are estimated to contribute to 65% of the achievement gap between poor and affluent children.

Teachers may feel the effects of summer slide in fall, devoting weeks to review or “catch up” lessons.

Among my parent circles, there are definitely some critiques of the “summer slide” concept. Some are rooted in a nostalgia for summers past, as with this mom who commented:

“I don’t remember hearing this term when we were kids. We spent summers playing outside, riding bikes and playing ball and somehow managed to return to school without failing classes!”

Other parents I spoke with feel the summer slide issue reflects larger problems with our education system. As one dad said in a note to me:

“If there is a problem with summer slide, it derives from how stultifying public schooling has become, the perpetual cost-cutting, ongoing program elimination and endless testing — not from kids losing smarts in the summer sunshine.”

In contrast, I hear plenty of parents comment that the summer slide is real — they see it in their own children — and needs addressing. This can mean anything from summer library visits or book clubs to year-round school or academically focused summer camp schedules.

In our home, we’re torn. We watched our kindergarten daughter struggle constantly with reading challenges and ADHD issues this year. Any gains she had were hard won. We wonder: how do we offer our daughter the joys of summer and time to be a kid while also pursuing the learning continuity she clearly needs?

Both researchers and parents have offered some practical, fun and diverse approaches to countering the summer slide:
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  1. Look into free summer reading programs in your community
  2. Learn outside the classroom in museums, zoos, historic landmarks, and parks (look for family/student discounts)
  3. Gift your child a summer writing journal to write whatever they feel like writing
  4. Ask teachers about curricular themes covered the next school year, then find pleasure books or summer activities on these themes
  5. Play word-based games in the car/on vacation
  6. Explore learning concepts in daily life (cooking, shopping, studying sports scores, measuring things, studying maps, etc.)
  7. Get outside and hike, swim, play! ?Exercise improves concentration and physical health, helping kids prepare for the school year ahead.

Finally, consider a Bookboard summer challenge! Perhaps whoever reads the most books earns the parent-approved summertime perk, prize or destination?



Diana is a sociologist, freelance writer and mom, though rarely in that order. Her writing spans topics from parenting joys and challenges to prevention education. She writes a monthly parenting blog for Yahoo and has published feature articles on adoption, family rituals and the childcare industry for parenting publications. Diana earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These days find her hanging with her husband and book-loving six year old in the San Francisco Bay Area, while happily blogging and serving as a reading advocate for Bookboard.


  1. tara greco

    June 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Diana,

    Yes, summer slide seems to be a bigger issue today. My son participates in rich curriculum programs in the summer – both out of interest and effort.

    Here are some fun (additional) literacy suggestions for this summer :

  2. Diana

    June 21, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Hi Tara! Thanks so much for the link with additional ideas; I love the idea of picnic books and the book swap idea. The pen pal idea really made me smile and feel nostalgic, too. Glad to hear your son is participating in the rich curriculum programs out of both interest and effort. Thanks again for the fun tips!

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