Q&A: How to Slow the Summer Slide

Email a Friend

While the summer months generally signal a time for rest and relaxation, some parents might consider mixing in some study time for their kids. That’s because children are at risk of losing anywhere from two to three months of their math and reading skills. Known as the “summer slide,” these learning losses can accumulate year after year, resulting in some children falling behind.

Sarah Pitcock, vice president of program advancement at The National Summer Learning Association, spoke with SchoolBook about the causes and effects of summer slide, and what parents can do to keep their kids sharp over the next few months.


Q: Explain to me in your own words, what is summer slide?

A: Without practice over the summer, kids lose skills in reading and in math. And it’s not just treading water, it’s actually falling behind and losing months worth of skills that they’ve learned in the previous school year.

All kids, if they don’t practice math in the summer, they lose two to three months of those math skills that they worked really hard to learn.

What we have learned more recently is that while middle and higher income kids actually continue to make slight gains in their reading skills over the summer, low income kids lose two to three months worth of those grade level reading skills in the summer without practice.

Q: Why does this disparity between low- and high-income kids occur?

A: Low-income families might not have as many books at home, or might not have books on the appropriate reading level of kids. Kids in urban communities, often times it’s not safe for them to go outside. So maybe it’s not safe for them to walk to a library.

So they’re really in the home, and if there are not adults at home to read with them, you can see where that slide might occur.

Q: What are the long-term effects of falling behind? How does it affect college readiness and job preparedness?

A: We know that up to two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading can be attributed to unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years alone. If you look at the kids who ultimately drop out versus the kids that ultimately enter a four-year college or university, that gap is almost seven years in ninth grade, and about two-thirds of that can be attributed to summer learning loss.

Q: What can parents do at home that might help their kids avoid the summer slide?

A: Libraries are an incredible resource for families during the summer. There is also free access to multimedia tools for kids and their families.

Similarly you can cook together and use measurements, translating tablespoons into cups and ways of converting fractions. That’s math. You can also set up a store at home and think about currency conversions.

We also love the idea of family service projects or family projects. Maybe you want to plant a garden and the children can be responsible for measuring, planning and budgeting.

Q: What would you say to kids who might not be so thrilled about having to learn over the summer?

A: When I talk to kids, I always ask them who their favorite professional athlete is, and maybe they say LeBron James. Then I ask, what do you think LeBron James does during the off-season? Do you think he sits and eats potato chips? And they say, no, he works out.

And kids get that this is their off season. It’s not their chance to take a break, it’s their chance to get even better.