Everything You Need to Know About Summer Learning Loss
Summer vacation! It’s a time for backyard barbeques and swimming pools, for playing with friends and spending time with family. For kids who are in the habit of reading for pleasure, summer is also a time for books. Here is a chance like no other to stay up late with a book on balmy evenings, or lean up against a tree eagerly turning pages to find out what happens next. But what about children who aren’t in the habit of reading for pleasure? These children are the ones most at risk for summer learning loss.
What is Summer Learning Loss?
Summer learning loss is a well-documented phenomenon that goes by many names, including “summer setback” and “summer slide.” Essentially, it occurs when kids don’t read or get enough practice using skills over the summer. Studies on learning loss have shown that on average kids lose two months of reading progress over the summer. That’s months of effort and educational gain simply erased in ten short weeks.
Summer learning loss is a problem for kids of all ages. Younger kids who are just learning to read are vulnerable to loss when they don’t use or practice the skills they gained during the school year. As professor of education James Kim puts it, “Things like decoding, letter knowledge, and word reading skills are very susceptible to decay without frequent practice.” These losses often increase as children get older. 3rd-5th graders lose an average of 20 percent of the reading progress they made during the previous year. Many students lose fluency and reading speed, reading 10 to 15 percent slower in the fall than they did in the preceding spring. By the time a struggling reader gets to middle school, summer learning loss can compound into a two-year lag in reading achievement.
What is COVID Slide?
Summer slide is a challenge for parents and students every year, but 2020 was anything but typical. So, how have COVID-related school closures affected kids? Educators and other experts believe many children have experienced a COVID slide. Instead of making gains, students have continued to lose learning – almost as if they had one extended summer vacation. Because of COVID slide, some estimate that students will have lost as much of 70 percent of their reading progress, compared to a normal year.
This double-whammy of summer and COVID slide means that many kids will find themselves very far behind when returning to school next fall. This has potential long-term consequences for kids’ academic performance, personal confidence, and relationship with books. For many of these students, it could take them years to catch up.
Many children have experienced a COVID slide. Instead of making gains, students have continued to lose learning – almost as if they had one extended summer vacation.
How Can Parents Prevent Summer Learning Loss?
The solution to both summer and COVID slide is simple – make sure kids read a lot and build skills over the summer. As with any skill, the way kids maintain and build progress with reading is by getting lots of practice. Simply put, the more they read, the better they get at it. Reading even 20 minutes a day has a really significant payoff. By the time they reach high school, kids who read 20 minutes a day read well over a million words more each year than those who only read five minutes or less. That difference results in a big achievement gap. Nonreaders will struggle academically while their reading peers enjoy the many benefits of being a reader – stronger comprehension, increased confidence, and better grades in all subjects.
When kids do a lot of summer reading, they set into motion a positive upward spiral. They build stronger skills, which makes reading easier and more pleasurable. They feel confident and motivated about reading. This means they do more reading, and their skills get even stronger. There are two keys to jump-starting this process:
- Make sure kids have access to great books at the right level of challenge. It’s important for children of all ages to read books they can be successful with and that really engage them. The best books have characters and themes that kids can relate to. They have exciting storylines that leave students so excited to find out what happens next that they won’t be able to put the book down. Books like these foster a habit of reading for pleasure.
- Make sure kids maintain and build reading skills over the summer, so they don’t get rusty. For younger students, that means decoding, sight words, and fluency. As they get older, kids focus on building strong comprehension, expanding their vocabulary and developing strategies for tackling nonfiction, which will be a significant part of their reading load when school starts in the fall.
Summer reading goes a long way toward keeping kids on track with learning. As a parent you can encourage the reading habit by making sure that there are plenty of books around the house that will interest your child and helping him or her carve out regular time for reading. Find opportunities to talk about books. Set up reading challenges that you both try to meet. Many parents also turn to reading programs that use research-based instruction, like programs from the Institute of Reading Development, which have been shown to be effective in maintaining and building reading skills over the summer. Whatever you do, make sure reading is a big part of your family’s summer fun.