Beating the Summer Slide: Why You Should Care, and Proven Strategies to Prevent Learning Loss

As a parent or guardian, you most likely received the recommended summer reading list from your child's teacher to help combat the “summer slide”. But you might be wondering, what is the summer slide and how important is it really for my child to read this summer? 

The “summer slide” isn't a fun trip to the park, rather it's a term educators use to describe the learning loss that occurs when students are not engaged in educational activities during the summer months 1. The "summer slide" can set our children back by not just a few weeks, but by years. This slow start in the new school year can lead to struggles to catch up, especially for children who are already struggling academically.

On average, kids can have up to a 7-month learning delay at the onset of the school year. Over several summers, this accumulates to a staggering 2-3 year delay by the time they reach middle school2.

The cumulative effect of this annual decline can have long-term consequences on a child's overall academic performance and future success. The good news is parents can play a crucial role in preventing the summer slide and ensuring their child's reading success through daily reading and summer learning plans.

By taking steps to reduce the summer slide, we're not just preserving our children's learning, we're propelling them ahead of the average2.

Dive in with us as we explore the pitfalls of this seasonal regression, and arm you with practical tips and tools to keep your child's learning on track during the sun-soaked days of summer.

The Link Between Summer Slide and Reading Loss: Short and Long-Term Effects

There are both short-term and long-term effects from the summer slide and it's a direct link to reading loss. Immediate short-term effects can be seen as soon as children head back to school in the fall. Studies show that students perform poorer on standardized tests at the beginning of the academic year compared to the end of the previous school year 3. In addition, it takes students weeks to several months to re-learn skills that were taught in the previous year 4. That's a lot of ground to make up!

Long-term, the cumulative effect of consecutive summers of reading loss can significantly widen the achievement gap 5. This means the more summers a student experiences without engaging in learning activities, the more their reading skills may decline. 

The Power of Parental Engagement: How You Can Make a Difference

Parents play a crucial role in preventing the summer slide and ensuring their child's reading success. Studies show that children who read at home with their parents perform better academically. This means that the effort you put in, year-round, as a parent does make a difference. Before we dive into the strategies to prevent the summer slide, it's crucial to understand your child's potential for reading issues and the increased risk due to the summer slide is essential before exploring prevention strategies. A tool like Sharpen Early Advantage Assessment can be vital for this risk assessment.

Proven Strategies to Prevent the summer slide

Thankfully, there are several effective strategies to prevent and combat the summer slide6. These strategies range from promoting reading for pleasure to leveraging technology and outdoor activities for learning throughout the summer months.

  • Encourage Reading for Pleasure
    One of the most effective ways to prevent summer reading loss is to encourage children to read books on topics that interest them. For example, new and emerging readers might enjoy beginning-level reading books with supporting images from favorite cartoon characters. At the same time, older kids could be motivated by topics around a favorite sport or activity. When children choose their reading materials and read for enjoyment, they improve their reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing style.

  • Participate in Summer Reading Programs and Study Plans
    There are many online and offline structured reading programs designed to combat the summer slide. These programs gamify reading, making it an exciting activity with rewards for achieving certain reading goals. This approach motivates students to read more and helps them develop a lifelong love for reading.
    Check in with your public library for summer camps or online for apps that offer travel-friendly, flexible, and engaging ways to practice reading over the summer. Online summer school or tutoring can be a flexible and accessible way to keep kids engaged and learning during the summer. Programs like Sharpen Reading offer a reading placement assessment to determine your child’s reading level and offer easy-to-use and accessible online reading and writing curriculum at home or on the go!

  • Transform Summer Experiences Into Learning Opportunities
    Anticipated summer experiences can be turned into fun learning opportunities. For instance, if you plan to visit a new city, find books set in that city and share them with your children. Or, if you're visiting a museum, encourage your children to research the exhibits beforehand.

  • Encourage Writing Practice
    Encourage children in first grade and older to keep a summer journal, write letters to family or friends, or create their own stories and plays that they can read aloud. This not only helps maintain their writing skills but also boosts their creativity.

  • Foster a Love for Learning
    Fostering a love for learning can be the most effective strategy against the summer slide. When children are curious and interested in learning, they are more likely to seek learning opportunities, even during the summer. You can build a supportive reading environment that encourages questions, exploration, and discovery by providing great light, ample space, and plenty of comforts, while of course, keeping the book rotations fresh and relevant while at home and traveling.

  • The Need for Continued Learning During Summer
    While the summer slide can be a concern, it's important to remember that summer is also a time for children to relax, explore, and enjoy their free time. Incorporating learning into summer activities doesn't mean taking away the fun. Instead, it's about finding creative and enjoyable ways to keep the mind engaged. With the right strategies, we can ensure that our children head back to school in the fall ready to continue their learning journey at the same level or beyond2.

Here at Sharpen, we are dedicated to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to read at grade level. That’s why we built Sharpen Reading, an evidence-based, highly effective digital reading program that's fun, engaging, and convenient for both you and your child over summer and beyond.

Download our free parent guide to learn more about how the Sharpen family of products can work to support your child’s summer reading journey and prevent the summer slide.

Free Sharpen Parent Guide

Download our free parent guide to learn more about how the Sharpen family of products can work to support your child’s reading journey every step of the way.

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1: Alexander, K., Pitcock, S., & Boulay, M. C. (Eds.). (2016). The summer slide: What we know and can do about summer learning loss. Teachers College Press.

2: Allington, R. L., & McGill-Franzen, A. (Eds.). (2018).
Summer reading: Closing the rich/poor reading achievement gap. Teachers College Press.

3: Quinn, D., & Polikoff, M. (2017). Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it.
Brookings Institution.

4: Summer by the Numbers: The achievement gap what happens to children during the summer? (2019) National Summer Learning Association:

5: Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American sociological review, 72(2), 167-180.

6: Kim, J. S., & Quinn, D. M. (2013). The effects of summer reading on low-income children’s literacy achievement from kindergarten to grade 8: A meta-analysis of classroom and home interventions. Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 386-431