As May breaks into June, our talented teachers start to get excited about the rest and relaxation these hard-working individuals sorely deserve. Summer is a wonderful time for teachers, but there is one nagging caveat that can keep them up at night. The dreaded summer slide! Teachers cringe at the thought of having to spend three to four weeks in September teaching math and literacy skills that their new students learned in the previous school year, but were forgotten over the summer.

We did a little research on how to curb the effects of the abhorrent summer slide. Over the course of the past decade, The Wallace Foundation and The RAND Corporation have been researching the effects of summer programming and how it affects skill and knowledge retention during the summer break. They found that after one summer of educational programming, the attending students performed significantly better than their classmates who did not attend. After a second summer of programming, the benefits were “equivalent to 20-25 percent of a year’s learning in math and ELA.” Pretty amazing, right? It sounds like the cure for the summer slide is summer schooling – problem solved!

Not so fast! These findings are great, but Occam’s Razor will not quite cut it here. There are some glaring problems when it comes to summer school and summer programs.

  1. Not all students have access to summer educational programs. This may be caused by geographic or socio-economic factors.
  2. These findings were only prevalent for students who attended 20 days or more of their six-week summer program. This is a heavy time commitment for many families who wish to go on vacation or simply spend some quality time together.
  3. Convincing a child to attend summer school is a hard sell. There are motivational issues (what child wants to go to school when they could be playing outside?), and summer school carries with it a stigma that attendees are under-performers.

With the benefits of summer learning being clear, let’s address each of these issues in an effort to make summer learning more accessible and investigate alternatives to summer school.

1. Rural, remote, and low-income learners

Summer education does not need to be a formal program in a brick-and-mortar location. One of the most pervasive criticisms about formal schooling is that it can be disconnected from the real-world – so why not use real-world settings as an opportunity to learn and reinforce skills?

In a previous blog post, Avoiding the Dreaded Summer Slide: Stop Kids from Forgetting the Math, we recommended leveraging a child’s natural curiosity to relate summer experiences with learning concepts covered in school. Playing games like I Spy on a road trip, or counting the red houses on the way to the park can make a mundane activity fun and reinforce concepts they would otherwise forget over the summer.

Furthermore, public libraries rarely charge anything for a membership and often have digital libraries for readers in remote locations. Not only is this a great free and accessible educational resource, but research shows that children who have access to books over the summer go back to school as more advanced readers than when they left.

2. Busy learners

We would never insist that children give up what precious little vacation time they have to spend with their families over the summer. However, there are many educational resources that can keep kids learning all year without disrupting travel plans. Load up devices with educational games, digital copies of books, and fun activities that can go with them on family excursions. Stop to read trail signs aloud and get them involved in reading the maps. Exploring the world, spending time with family, and learning don’t need to be mutually exclusive activities.

3. Kids just wanna have fun 

Telling a child they need to learn over their summer vacation is like telling them they have to eat broccoli for breakfast every day – it’s not going to be well-received. There are, however, many ways to make summer learning fun. Zorbit’s Math Adventure, for example, is a great tool to keep kids learning and developing their math skills all summer long. The game incorporates mathematical thinking and numeracy into the gameplay itself which makes it as educational as it is fun to play.

It should be obvious that the cure to the summer slide is summer learning, and there are a million ways that summer learning can be achieved. Formalized programs offered by school districts and third-party organizers are great, but are not the catch-all solution. Get creative! Identify as many learning opportunities as you can and send students back to school ready to start the next grade – not to relearn the previous one.

If you’re looking for activities your students or child can play at home over the summer, click below to download 5 printable math resources for your early learners.

Written By: Matt Murphy

Written By: Matt Murphy

Matt Murphy is the Educational Designer for Zorbit’s Math Adventure, a K-3 game-based learning platform for the classroom. Matt has a Masters degree in Curriculum Design from the University of New Brunswick and has over five years of experience working in educational technology as an Instructional Designer, and Gamification/Game-Based Learning Consultant.



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