Summer Learning Loss Is Real

How to keep the kids sharp and stop the "summer slide"

One hundred years of research has revealed that over the course of the summer, kids tend to forget what they learned during the academic year. Today, the phenomenon has a catchy name: “the summer slide.“

“Summer learning loss is a significant contributor to the achievement gap,” says Katie Willse, chief program officer at the National Summer Learning Association, referring to the difference in academic achievement between low-income kids and their higher-income peers. Students start school each year a little farther behind than where they ended the previous spring, she explains. Because academic losses are cumulative, by the end of 3rd grade, four out of five low-income children fail to read proficiently. 

Christy Middlecamp, center director of Sylvan Learning Center in Marlton, NJ, reports that the biggest influx of new tutoring requests occurs each October and November. Once school swings back into full action, parents get blindsided by just how much their children regressed over the summer. 

That was the case for MetroKids reader Wanda Hightower. “I got tired of watching the grades fall at the beginning of the year,” says the Phoenixville, PA mom, now raising five grandchildren, ages 6 to 13. To combat the slide, she asked teachers and scoured websites for advice. She now keeps the kids “structured and busy in the summer.” Light academic work in the morning is typically followed by trips to the library, museums or the beach.

Where to find summer learning programs

Summer doesn’t have to be 10 weeks lost to boredom and academic inactivity. The Delaware Valley plays host to a wide range of activities designed to keep kids’ minds engaged in enjoyable ways. Organizations with summer programs include: 

  • school districts
  • libraries
  • museums 
  • community colleges
  • faith-based organizations
  • community centers
  • nonprofit organizations
  • tutoring centers 

Balance summer learning with fun

For some students, the thought of learning in the summer equates to the loss of a hard-earned break. “The key is making it fun,” says Paul T. Morris Jr., assistant vice president for workforce development and community education at Delaware Technical Community College in Stanton, which offers a variety of summer enrichment options. “This helps keep the balance between academic rigor and summer relaxation.” 

The Tyler Arboretum in Media, PA, for example, structures its summer programs in an experiential way, so kids may not even realize they’re learning. “This is not a sit-at-your-desk-and-raise-your-hand experience,” says Amy Mawby, director of public programs. The difference between reading about nature and experiencing it firsthand through stewardship projects, games and hikes is immense. “Outside — that’s where the real lightbulb goes off,” she says. 

“Dosage matters,” says Willse. To “really start to see some impact,” she recommends kids put in 120 to 150 hours of academics over the summer. The approach has worked in Wanda Hightower’s house. “I definitely see the difference,” she reports, “in their grades and their attitude. They’re more confident now.” 

Next page: Info on summer school, home-based reading and links to our archive of summer learning stories

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.


Summer school

Most school districts offer inviting summer programs for students, both free and fee-based. “We really think about summer school in a different way,” says Willse, “so it doesn’t feel like school the rest of the year.”

The summer program in New Castle, DE’s Colonial School District is so popular, the waiting list was up to 150 by the end of April. Whether the subject is STEM, culinary experiences or Kindergarten camp, the emphasis is on fun learning, says Pete Leida, director of schools: “We don’t want it to feel heavily academic, though it is.” 

Home-based summer learning

Do something every day, advises Willse. “There are a lot of online materials to support learning at home.” She recommends the websites You Make it Go ( and Sprout ( for games and activities.

MetroKids' Summer Learning Archive

Math Games Encourage Summer Learning: Summer math activities and enrichment games help preschool and elementary school kids maintain academic skills at home.

Fun Summer Learning Ideas: To prevent brain drain, create specific summer learning goals. If your child’s schedule allows it, set aside a specific day of the week as a learning day.

Camps Add Summer Learning Programs: Kids' summer camps are putting academic literacy programs on the sun-and-fun schedule.

Secrets of Summer Learning Fun: You can help your kids avoid brain drain while having a good time. All it takes is a focus on how children learn.

Summer Classes: How summer classes in Philadelphia, the 'burbs, South Jersey and Delaware, help kids avoid the summer slump and get a jump on school.

Help Your Little One Stay Sharp: During the summer, even preschoolers can lose 20% of what they learned

Summer Programs Keep Skills Sharp: An array of summer academic programs can close learning gaps, keep skills sharp or give kids a taste of college.

Artists Enrich Summer Programs: Kids in summer camps and programs learn creative skills and gain confidence through special art days and programs.

Academic Camps: A Smart Choice: Today's learning-oriented camps put a positive spin on "summer school," incorporating fun throughout their programs.

5 Academic Camp Considerations: If you're considering an enrichment camp for your child this summer, these criteria can guide your choice.

Bored Kids? Good! A parenting expert explains why summer boredom’s such a good things for kids.

Play, Learn, Observe: 3 distinct yard areas can give children all-year outdoor enrichment.

Plant an easy-care vegetable, herb or flower container garden with the kids’ help.:

Categories: Education Features