How to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

Get the facts on summer learning loss and help your child thrive over the break. In this article, we’ll highlight easy and engaging activities that support learning all summer long

Natalia Oliver

Teacher and Copywriter

There’s nothing quite like the first few weeks of summer. Your family has already accomplished one of the biggest milestones: finishing your child’s school year. After plenty of hustle, it’s time to relax. 

But final report cards, family vacations and the start of camps all come with a big question: Should my child be doing any school work this summer? In this post, we’ll give you the facts on summer learning loss and share different activities you can do with your child to help prevent learning loss.

What is Summer Learning Loss?

You've likely heard whispers of ‘summer learning loss’ or the ‘summer slide’ that may have been accompanied by some worrisome statistics. But what do these terms mean, exactly, and how accurate is the science? 

Summer learning loss describes the weakening of children’s academic skills over a period of time when they are out of a formal learning environment. Because the longest gap for the majority of students happens during the summer months, the general term used is ‘summer learning loss.’

In general, research on learning loss usually refers to math and reading skills. Studies suggest as much as two and a half months worth of math skills and two months of reading skills can be lost over the summer. While the extent of backsliding varies, teachers often spend as much as six weeks reteaching material before being able to move on to grade-level learning.

How Much Truth Is There to Summer Learning Loss?

Do a quick search on the internet, and you’ll find even more distressing figures about learning loss. But how much truth is there to the claims?

The reality is that the research is mixed. Summer learning loss is real, but it’s important not to make sweeping conclusions. Remember that studies vary by age, sample size, subject areas and also include factors like socioeconomic status. 

Experts have found that learning loss affects age groups differently. Summer learning loss gaps tend to increase in higher grades. After all, a kindergartener and a child leaving middle school are working on very different skills. So, while it’s true that children can lose a portion of what they learned, the percentage of younger children affected is as small as 7 percent.

Skills in mathematics tend to diminish the most (when compared to reading and writing). Experts from the Harvard Graduate School of Education say “...many parents – and their children – don’t think about math as existing outside of the classroom.” 

How to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

We know that kids have the potential to lose a lot of the knowledge they’ve built up over a school year. But how can we help prevent this without forcing kids to learn or making them feel like they have assignments. Rest and rejuvenation are important for everyone, children included. 

The good news is there are many ways to keep your child engaged without keeping them at a desk. We’ve compiled a list of simple ideas for mathematics, literacy and life skills below: 

Make Reading Consistent

Adding even a short burst of reading time to your daily routine has incredible results. The world’s most extensive annual study on children’s reading habits found that the difference in reading ability between struggling and confident readers amounted to only an extra 6 minutes a day. By focusing on consistency rather than long stretches of one-off reading marathons, you’ll be helping your child maintain their current literacy skill level and teaching them about the power of habits.

Begin by finding reading time every day, preferably at the same time. Adding little things to your reading time can make the routine feel special. Is there a specific place in your home that your child can associate with reading? Creating an at-home reading nook can be as easy as adding cushions and pillows for an extra snuggly spot. Feel free to add a favorite blanket or stuffed animal for comfort. 

For extra fun, think of turning each book you read into a scavenger hunt. As you and your child read, look for letters of the alphabet or sight words they are practicing. For older children, try finding the paragraph or sentence that signals the rising action in the story. Don’t forget to encourage talking about stories throughout your day. You may even want to consider starting a family book club.

Make Writing Part of Every Day Routines

The term ‘writing practice’ may conjure up images of your child seated at a desk, grudgingly trying to pen a few sentences about their summer break — but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

One activity that is fun for everyone is a family scrapbook. Instead of only focusing on photographs, ask all family members to write a bit about their favorite part of a vacation or summer memory. Treating this as a collective family activity will have your child eager to contribute and share their own experiences.

Opportunities abound in every day life as well. At school, children learn that writing is such an essential skill because it’s something they'll use their whole life. What makes writing fun is when it matters. Leaving the house to run errands? Ask your child to leave a note for the rest of the family to say you’re out. Sure, it might read “at grosree stor”, but kid-spelling is always celebrated.

If there’s one key takeaway when it comes to writing, it’s to encourage risk-taking. Putting pencil to paper and sounding out new words without a guarantee they'll be correct takes courage. You can model writing in small ways everywhere. For example, ask your little one to add bananas to the grocery list by writing the sounds they hear when they say the word aloud. 

Sticky notes are also a treasure chest for writing games. Scatter blank notes around the home and make it your child’s job to label what’s below with the word or sounds they know. Start a silly sentence for your child to complete that rotates on the kitchen fridge all summer. And don’t forget how playful writing signs around the home can become. Encourage your child to write signs for the home like Don’t forget to keep the window closed, or Beware of the cat, he’s in a mood today!

Keeping Math Fun in the Summer 

Practicing math doesn’t have to mean worksheets and memorizing. Like writing, we encourage you to try and make math activities part of your child’s regular routine as opposed to something that’s ‘extra work’. Here are a few ways to do this: 

Most board games require counting or problem solving. Both are skills that keep your child’s mind sharp. You can also introduce a few card games this summer, too, from go fish to crazy eights.

Math and literacy go hand-in-hand, so why not have tackle two different subject areas with one activity? For example, children’s picture books are great prompts for counting and talking about math concepts. Steven Jenkins’ picture book, Actual Size, takes readers through imaginative ways of thinking about shapes and size. For more challenging concepts, Kate Hosford’s Infinity and Me is an excellent spark for thinking about how math connects to our world.

Playing with math in everyday life is one of the easiest ways to inspire math thinking. Allow your child the chance to feel important when you give them a meaningful math task. Asking them to help you count the change needed to pay at the counter is a simple task with a big payoff. Another idea is asking kids to help keep time when you’re cooking something in the kitchen. This is again a hybrid approach — you’re practising a life skill (meal preparation) but also infusing it with elements of math (keeping an eye on the time, measurements) with the potential to add more (having to follow recipe instructions helps with literacy). 

Keep Learning Hands-On

Educational activities for often focus on literacy and math, but all learning is good learning. For toddlers, activities that promote sensory play and motor development are easy to add to plans. Try digging for buried seashells at the beach or grabbing toys that float in water. To add more of a challenge, introduce tongs, spoons, or forks to pick up items to hone in on fine motor skills. 

For children of all ages, focus on the activities you can’t easily do all year round. Gardening is a wonderful way to let your child’s hands get dirty and explore the life cycle of plants. Projects in the backyard have the potential to turn your child into an engineer, mathematician or artist, all at the same time.


We hope this article helped you realize how math and literacy can easily fit into summer break. Often it’s simply a matter of recalling that our surroundings are rich in learning moments and that educational opportunities are never constrained to formalized learning environments.

Meet the Author

Natalia Oliver

Natalia is a classroom educator turned copywriter and content writer. With a passion for teaching and writing, she happily splits her time between the classroom and the keyboard in the spectacular Pacific Northwest in Vancouver, Canada.

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