5 ways to help prevent summer learning loss

You might hear it called the summer slide, summer learning loss or even brain drain.

These terms all describe how students can fall behind academically during long periods with no school-related tasks. As a result, teachers are often forced to start each new school year by going over more material from the previous year than planned.

Children at the beach

Analyzed, discussed and written about extensively, the phenomenon can affect students of all backgrounds, but the National Summer Learning Association says summer learning loss takes the greatest toll on economically disadvantaged children, reinforcing achievement gaps.

According to the association, low-income students with fewer learning opportunities over the summer lose the equivalent of two to three months of reading while their higher-income peers actually make modest gains.

The losses add up over time. Research indicates that by grade five, summer learning loss can leave children of low-income families up to three years behind their classmates.

While kids benefit from a little rest and relaxation during the offseason, it’s also important to keep the academic momentum going. With that in mind, here are five ways to ensure young minds stay sharp from June through August:

Volunteer in the community. 

Volunteering offers opportunities for hands-on learning and skill-building while developing a sense of community. Consider taking part in a coastal clean-up activity with your child during a beach visit, or volunteer with an animal welfare organization. You can find local opportunities to get involved at oneoc.org — and don’t forget to log volunteer hours as acts of kindness at kindness1billion.org.

Discover hobbies or interests.

Begin by having a conversation with your children about the subjects and activities that interest them. An extended break from school allows parents and children the freedom to explore topics they may not have had time for during the school year. From making videos to planting a garden, hands-on learning opportunities abound. Many card and board games provide opportunities to work on literacy and numeracy skills, too.

Use technology to reinforce skills in reading, math and writing.

There’s no shortage of educational websites and apps that can benefit a student’s literacy, numeracy and creativity. Sites like Khan Academy, which partnered with OCDE and other county offices of education, provide engaging lessons along with an effective SAT practice program for high school students thinking about college. Or help your child start a blog, which is a great way to pair technology with writing. Computers are free to use at most libraries if one isn’t available at home. Speaking of which …

Visit your local library.

We all know reading builds comprehension and vocabulary skills, and the library offers plenty of sources to dive in and learn more about those hobbies and interests we mentioned above. Seriously, libraries literally have something for everyone. Along with thousands of books and magazines, you’ll find computers, graphic novels, audio recordings — and let’s not underestimate the allure of free air-conditioning and lunches at select locations.

Enroll in a summer educational program.

Cities often offer low- or no-cost summer camps and lessons, covering a diverse array of activities from sports and the arts to coding and robotics. To explore what’s available, check your city’s parks and recreation website.

For those looking for more specialized summer learning opportunities, the leaders of OC Pathways, an initiative of the Orange County Department of Education, recommend checking out the following options:

Four-year university programs

Community College programs

Other community programs

Looking for more activities? Scholastic has published a list of Creative Summer Learning Ideas.

A version of this story originally ran in 2019.