Summer slide: It sounds great, like a scene from our own childhoods. It sounds reminiscent of an endless succession of long, sunlit days on leafy playgrounds, and no schoolwork in sight for months. But in fact, while it may sound like a load of fun, the summer learning loss is no joke.
The summer slide is a catchier way of describing summer learning loss — that is, the tendency school-aged kids have to forget a bunch of what they learned over the previous school year during their summer vacation.
Schoolchildren in the U.S. typically get three months’ off during the summer. While these three months can be the best part of a child’s year, they certainly don’t do any favors in terms of learning. And, that’s not a good thing.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Summer Learning reports that students perform worse on standardized tests given in September than they do on ones given in June. This assessment comes in the wake of dozens of studies of the effect of the summer learning loss.
Experts estimate the net average amount of summer learning loss is the equivalent of one full month of schooling in all subjects. For some kids, particularly ones from lower-income families, this loss will be much higher because it’s less likely they’ll receive summer learning enrichment. And children from every income level seem to be more prone to a summer slide in their math and computational skills, likely because it’s more difficult to find fun ways to keep kids interested in math over the summer.
Do countries with shorter summers have the same problem?
The U.S.-standard 180-day academic year is something of an anomaly. It’s frequently attributed to the bygone days when children were taken out of school for different periods of the year to help their parents with seasonal labors like crop harvesting. But, as it turns out, it actually came about primarily because of good old-fashioned cost-saving measures. Simply put, it’s cheaper to keep school closed for more days of the year.
In contrast to the long-summered American model, Japanese schools keep kids in classes for 243 days a year. That’s over two months’ longer in school. Students in Japan have fewer days off, and shorter periods of off time spread throughout the year. And Japan continually swamps the United States when it comes to international standardized tests.
One school district in the States has realized how impactful the summer learning loss can be, and has taken action. Balsz Elementary School District, a district in Phoenix, is a district where 91% of its students qualify for federally subsidized lunches. It had two failing schools.
So Balsz shortened its summer break down to 6 weeks, giving its students 20 more school days per year than the typical Arizona student.
The results? Well, Balsz’ failing schools, and low district ratings are no more. The Arizona Department of Education has now awarded it a B rating. "With a six-week summer, students pick up the pace at the start of the school year much more quickly," said Balsz Superintendent Jeff Smith.
Summer Slide Alternatives
One movement that’s gaining momentum across North America is year-round schooling, which cuts the summer break down to five weeks’ long and spreads out the remaining time off over other parts of the school year. The goal is to head off the summer slide by keeping the breaks short enough to avoid learning loss.
There are currently around 100 schools in Canada that operate on a year-round basis. In the U.S., year-round schools have existed since the 1800s; and though they’re by no means the mainstream, a growing number of non-profit groups and think tanks are advocating for this learning model.
3 Ways to Counter Math Learning Loss
- Hit up the public library: Public libraries in pretty much any city have summer enrichment programs for children. These are usually available for free or for a very low cost, meaning that even students from lower-income families can get access.
- Gamify: Look, we think kids deserve a break in summer too. A school year is full of hard work, long school days, and loads of learning. A summer break should be fun, no doubt about it. To avoid learning loss, learning can be gamified. For the high-tech savvy, there are tons of apps that feature both fun and learning (see our guide on what to look for in a learning game) — just for example, our math game Zorbit’s Math Adventure is pretty great at keeping kids interested in the key concepts. For more information on the subject, check out our blog post 3 Reasons Why Math is Better with Game-Based Learning.
- Explore: Keeping kids learning can be as simple as encouraging some good old-fashioned curiosity. One of the big advantages of summertime is the spectacular weather. It was made for spending time outdoors! There are tons of ways to relate learning concepts to an outing, whether it’s playing I Spy, or counting how many different types of wildflowers you can spot while on a hike.
These are just a few suggestions, but we’re always looking for more ways to fight summer learning loss. Let us know how you keep your kids engaged in the summer months in the comments down below!