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Strategies for Reversing the Summer Slump

January 6, 2014 All Articles, Nonprofits and Communities Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

While many students and parents look forward to their annual summer break from learning, the reality is that the summer break can lead to a significant loss in reading and math skills. This effect is especially pronounced among low-income students, who have less access to summer learning programs.


Research by the National Summer Learning Association, the nation’s leading advocate for transforming summer programs, shows that while many students fall an average of 2.6 months behind on math instruction, losses for disadvantaged students are more pronounced. This gap is even wider with reading skills, as low-income students frequently fall behind in reading ability while their middle-class peers make slight gains.

For parents and teachers, keeping kids up-to-speed on their studies during the summer break is taking on new importance.  With this in mind, we asked Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association to discuss some of the ways schools – and parents – can help students gain a head start when they return to school in the fall.

For schools and nonprofits

Target specific improvements:

“I encourage school districts and nonprofits to target one or two things that you can do really well for a specific kind of child in the summer. First, programs need to develop the profile of the student that they want to support: where does that child go to school, how old is he or she, what are the test scores, neighborhood and family indicators? Then, by using that information, you can develop a focused, targeted goal to work toward.”

Serve children over multiple years:

“Try to serve the same kids for multiple years. You really get better with each year, and a child will do much better in the long term if they have that kind of consistent support.”

For parents and families

Take on a family project:

“I think project-based learning is the best way for parents to bring math into the summer. That could mean something like having a family “store” where kids are buying or selling things in the family with currency exchanges or even the conversion of currencies. Planning, measuring and planting a garden is another possibility.”

Always keep reading

“The main challenge is making sure that kids are reading a book that’s really just on their reading level, not too easy and not too hard. It’s also important for parents to make sure the kids understand what they’re reading. There’s a lot of research that says checks for comprehension are the most powerful thing to actually improving reading ability, so parents should ask questions before, during and after to ensure that.”

As more schools and communities take steps to combat summer learning loss, Pitcock said it’s up to parents to assume their role as the first line of defense in fighting back the summer slump. For more tips on how to keep students engaged with learning during the summer break, particularly through summer reading, check out the NSLA report, How to Make Summer Reading Effective.

Also, learn more about establishing a successful summer program by checking out the recent nFocus-led panel, “Taking Quality and Performance to Scale,” presented during the NSLA Summer Changes Everything conference. For a complete recap of the panel, which featured expert panelists from national-level summer learning campaigns, click here.

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