Summer vacation offers kids and families a chance to unwind and enjoy a much-needed break from the demands of school-time schedules and routines. But, as sweet as summertime is, there is also a potential downside to less structured plans and more free time: summer learning loss.

Summer learning loss, also known as the “summer slide,” refers to the loss of academic skills that children experience over summer vacation due to a lack of educational stimuli. The phenomenon leads to children often starting the fall school year at a lower instructional level than they finished the previous year. 

Research shows that, on average, most children lose one month of learning over the summer break, and children from lower-income families may experience an even higher level of learning loss. Once in the classroom, it can take a teacher from four to six weeks to get students back on track. And over time, summer learning loss can accumulate, causing some children to fall further behind academically.

It’s important for parents to prevent summer learning loss by creating a manageable learning plan for their child during the summer break from school. Luckily, utilizing your internet for online learning can help prevent the summer slide.

Students at risk of summer learning loss

Students who lose academic skills over the summer months do not lose these skills at the same rate. Factors such as socioeconomic status, class subject and grade level all play a role in how much learning a student actually misses over the summer.  

Socioeconomic status

Research shows that during the school year, children across all income levels share similar academic performance. During the summer, however, lower-income students do not have the same opportunities to extend their learning. By the end of the fifth grade, higher-income students had added 47 points to their test scores, by engaging in summer learning over the years, while lower-income students lost two points. 

The loss of reading comprehension tends to be more pronounced in lower-income students, while children from higher-income families see gains in reading measures over the summer. Math skills, on the other hand, don’t seem to be as affected. This is because children are naturally more exposed to reading at home than practicing math, yet children from lower-income families tend not to have the same reading exposure as their higher-income peers. 

Disparity of summer learning loss by subject and grade levels

Not all grade levels experience the summer slide equally either. Overall, decreases in math seem to be the most prominent, followed by reading, and students in the upper grades experience a higher level of learning loss than those in the lower grades. In the elementary grades, 70% to 78% of students lost math skills over the summer, while only 62% to 73% lost reading skills. During the summer, when a lot of students are transitioning to middle school, 84% of fifth and sixth graders have lost their math skills.

According to research, the average student loses anywhere between one to two months of reading and two to three months of math skills every summer. Since summer learning loss is cumulative, by the time a child reaches middle school, he or she has lost two years of learning.

Length of summer break

Many schools have considered modifying their academic calendar to offset summer learning loss. Some have extended the school year while others have adopted a year-round calendar. However, there is little evidence these models actually help prevent the summer slide.

A review of current research revealed extending the school year had a minimal impact on academic achievement over time, and there are no academic gains for those using the year-round model.  

While these approaches are still evaluated across school districts, parents are taking advantage of online learning options. In summer 2020, online learning will become even more important for all types of students to foster and maintain academic skills until schools can reopen. Luckily, 96% of households across the U.S. have internet access, at least in the form of a smartphone. This type of online access is vital for students to supplement their education throughout the summer months.

How to successfully implement online summer learning for your child

There is a lot to consider when creating a summer learning plan for your child. First, you need to understand your child’s current instructional level and define their academic goals. Then, you can create a summer routine that’s conducive to learning and communicate any summer learning plans with your child, as well as with any caregivers, to make sure everyone is on board and excited to learn.

Pre-summer planning

There are a few things you and your child will need to do to prepare for a summer of successful learning:

  • Designate a workspace. Children learn best in environments dedicated to learning. Find a quiet, comfortable place in your home that you can use strictly for summer learning. This area should be free from distractions and clean, with adequate seating and lighting.
  • Set a schedule and routine. When setting aside time for learning, be realistic. Consider your family’s work schedule and other summer responsibilities. Schedule learning for a set time each day, and establish rules around time allowed for educational shows, online games and educational apps.
  • Outline learning objectives. Set goals and objectives with your child, based on areas of interest or academic areas that may need more nurturing. Then, research educational resources online that match your summer plan. 
  • Get the proper technology and accessories in place. Make sure you have everything you need to successfully navigate a summer of online learning, including a computer, tablet or smartphone, internet access and a headset/microphone.

Communication

You are not alone in planning your child’s summer learning program. Your child’s teacher can be an instrumental part of the team, and so can your child’s caregiver if you have one. Your child is also a part of this team, so open and honest communication throughout the summer will keep them motivated and on track.

  • Talk to your child’s teacher. At the end of the school year, learn your child’s current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) and ask for any learning and reading recommendations based on the feedback. Your child’s teacher will also be able to provide you with suggestions on the type of learning style (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic) your child responds to best.
  • Talk to your child. The best way to get your child excited about a summer filled with learning is to involve them in the planning. Ask them what they want to do and share your summer plans with your child, including any vacation plans, camps, and individual or group learning opportunities. 
  • Talk to your child’s caregivers (if applicable). If your child receives care from someone else during the summer, you will want to communicate the summer learning objectives and routines you’ve established for your child with them.

Keep it exciting and engaging: Balance screen time with learning-based screen time

Despite debates about screen time disrupting learning and the need for regulation, exposure to screens amongst children continues to grow. Luckily, it has become easier to integrate learning on mobile apps, internet games, and TV shows —  shifting the experience to an enriching one. 

Educational television shows, for example, teach young children basic math and reading skills, while older children can immerse themselves in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities and critical thinking skills without compromising entertainment. Likewise, online games and apps teach younger children the basics through play, such as hide-and-seek games that teach phonics, while older children can test their skills in coding, physics and engineering games.  

However, parents may have a hard time deciding which apps and platforms are the most appropriate for online learning. It’s important to ensure the technology matches your child’s needs, abilities, interests and developmental stages. Useful apps and games get two things right: they help your child learn age-appropriate skills and engage them in the process. 

However, It can be hard to differentiate between online learning and general screen time, so parents should try to set boundaries. You can achieve this by determining how much your child’s screen time will be for recreational and educational purposes. 

Ways to incorporate technology into family vacations or outings

You can also incorporate technology-based learning into your summer family outings and vacations. When visiting historic sites, museums and aquariums, you can grab your phone or your child’s tablet and ask them to look up the history of your destination, map it out or set the agenda, highlighting what you’ll see and learn. 

Your child can also use educational apps to explore everything your destination offers, from the animals and environment to the culture of its people. For long trips, it’s a good idea to have educational videos and app-based games on hand to help pass the time. Any outing can turn into an educational experience — the key is to facilitate discussions around the experience.

Keeping it safe: Online and app-based games

According to Safe At Last, 70% of kids encounter inappropriate content while researching for homework assignments, and 75% of children would share personal information with someone online in exchange for goods or services. Luckily, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) allows parents to designate what information is and isn’t collected about their child. The rule was enacted by Congress in 1998 to enforce regulations concerning children’s online privacy. 

This is because websites and apps continuously collect information about their users; in this case, your child. COPPA puts the parent in control of the information that is collected. In addition to understanding COPPA, parents should also set general ground rules for online safety. Some examples can be limiting online use to shared spaces where parents can monitor screen time, utilize parental controls and ensure all usernames and passwords are shared.

Here are some other ideas to help keep your child safe online:

Parental safety controls

Understanding your rights and establishing parental safety controls are prerequisites for summer online learning. Parental safety controls allow parents to monitor their child’s internet use; prevent children from accidentally accessing inappropriate content online. Some parental controls you should consider implementing are:

  • Child-safe browsing: Parental control apps like Kiddle, KidRex and KidSplorer foster safe browsing for kids, helping parents to keep their children from accessing inappropriate information online.
  • Blocked websites: Site-blocking software and apps are also available to parents. Resources like Windows Parental Controls, SafeSearch and Google Family Link allow parents to block certain websites. Apps also make it easy for parents to block websites manually or by using your router settings, altering your host files or using built-in parental controls.
  • Time restrictions: Parental control apps can also restrict or limit the time your child is online, tracking the data and automatically shutting down access once the specified time limit has been reached. Options include Qustodio, Net Nanny and ESET.

Talking with your kids to help keep them safe online

According to a study released by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, 40% of children talked to a stranger online, 53% revealed their phone number, 15% tried to meet the stranger and 6% revealed their home address. It is not enough to set up parental controls and expect that to do the job. Our kids also need to understand the dangers online and how to stay safe. Here are some tips:

  • Safeguarding personal information. Ensure your child understands the importance of not revealing personal information, including their name, where they live and any financial information. This type of information should only be entered by parents into secure, trustworthy websites, and should never be provided to a stranger online.
  • Communication guidelines with strangers. Remind your children they should never talk to strangers in real life or online. Break this conversation down into terms that your child can understand and make it clear that online strangers are not friends.
  • Potential red flags. Teach your child about “red flags” to watch out for online, such as a stranger wanting to send them a gift or a new “friend” asking them to meet in person.
  • How to report suspicious activity. Talk with your child frequently about the sites they visit and the apps they use and keep computers and TVs in places where they can easily be monitored. Teach your child to tell you if they click on something, and it takes them to another screen that they don’t like.
  • Importance of online etiquette. The best rule of thumb is: If you wouldn’t say something to someone directly, then don’t say it online. Remind your child that everything they post, type or share online is recorded and that certain platforms, like YouTube and chat games, have rules for online behavior. If they don’t follow the rules, they could be banned from the website, game or platform.
  • Warning signs of an online safety breach. Some warning signs kids can easily watch out for include suddenly being signed out of their account or receiving a notification that their password has been changed.

If you think your child’s personal information has been compromised in any way, take the following steps:

  • Disable the account
  • Check linked accounts
  • Change all passwords
  • Consider freezing your child’s credit and filing a fraud report
  • Contact authorities if you feel your child’s life is in danger

Summer learning educational resources

There are so many online learning resources, that choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. The following is a list of recommended educational apps, online games and TV shows to get you started.

Educational apps

Ages 6 and under

  • Elmo Loves 123s: Teaches children basic math skills, such as counting and simple addition and subtraction. Enjoy Sesame Street videos, puzzles and coloring pages as Elmo introduces your child to math concepts.
  • PBS KIDS Games: Games based on popular PBS KIDS shows. Your kids can learn math skills with Peg + Cat or go on a space adventure with Ready, Jet Go!
  • Fish School: Colorful fish introduce your child to reading and language arts. Your preschooler can learn letters, numbers, shapes and colors with this fun under-the-sea world.
  • Sight Words Adventure: Help your child to memorize, read and write up to 320 sight words. This game helps your child practice the cognitive skills necessary to remember sight words, like attention, memorization and listening skills.
  • Habitat the Game: Teach your child to care for the environment with this fun game. Your child can adopt a virtual polar bear and keep it healthy by completing real-world actions, such as turning off lights or shutting off faucets.
  • A Parcel of Courage: This app tells the story of a family who helps their grandmother overcome her fear of flying. It’s an interactive book that combines storytelling with problem-solving. It helps with eye-hand coordination, as well as memory and listening skills.
  • Winky Think Logic Puzzles: Your child will stay engaged for hours with STEM activities. This game has over 180 logic puzzles, ranging from simple matching games to complex games, such as obstacles and mazes.
  • SkyView: Open the app and point your device at the stars. This app will identify the stars and constellations.

Ages 7 to 10

  • The 38 Times Tables Challenge: By concentrating on these 38 times tables, your child spends time learning the most difficult ones. 
  • Moji Multi: This app encourages daily times tables practice using a variety of approaches.
  • Dyslexia Gold: This app improves reading fluency, speed and comprehension by addressing the underlying problems that cause reading difficulty.
  • StudyGe: Become a master at identifying countries, capitals and flags.
  • Find Them All – Dinosaur World: This app comes with additional extensions. Children can learn about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals through interactive games, puzzles and quizzes.
  • Crazy Gears: A mechanical learning game where kids can learn about cogwheels by solving mechanical puzzle games.
  • Thinkrolls 2: A logic game for kids. Kids roll the funny characters through a maze, using various tools and strategies to get around the obstacles.

Ages 11 to 13

  •  Marble Math: Kids sharpen their math skills while working through fun mazes and puzzles. The problems are based on common core standards.
  • Sushi Monster: A fun, quirky math game to practice math facts.
  •  Scribble Press: Your child gets the chance to become an author and illustrator with this app. It includes a collection of story prompts or a blank book template for those who want to create their own.
  • Duolingo: Help your kids learn over 25 languages! It’s free to download and use, and functions as a game. 
  • Dino Walk: This app is filled with research kids can use for their homework or science projects.
  • Box Island: A coding app that lets kids collect stars and move them throughout the islands while learning the basics of coding.
  • Inventioneers: Your child needs to invent crazy things to meet the challenges of each level. It teaches physics, engineering and other skills.

Online educational games

Ages 6 and under

  • PBSKids.org: Features PBS characters that teach preschool children academic skills, social skills and emotional development.
  • ABCmouse.com: A comprehensive learning site that offers reading, math and coloring activities for kids ages two through seven.  

Ages 7 to 10

  • ABCya.com: An exceptional website that covers reading, math and critical thinking skills.
  • National Geographic Kids: This website provides top-quality information on topics like animals, science, space and world cultures.
  • Scholastic: This multinational publication company helps children find books as well as literary resources. Scholastic News is a great extension that promotes non-fiction reading skills as well. 
  • Math Playground: It helps children have fun while practicing a wide variety of math topics.  

Ages 11 to 13

  • Brain POP: Kindergarten through eighth-grade students can learn math through engaging animated videos, games and quizzes.
  • NASA Space Place: A colorful and fun website that encourages students to explore space.

Educational TV shows

Ages 6 and under

  • StoryBots: This fun and charming educational series follows the StoryBots, who search for an answer to a “big question.”
  • Super Why!: Four kids turn into superheroes before jumping into a book and becoming part of the story to solve a problem.  
  • Dinosaur Train: The show encourages kids to apply scientific thinking as they discover and embrace natural science topics. 

Ages 7 to 10

  • Odd Squad: This show features young detectives who can only solve a problem by relating it to math concepts.
  • Wild Kratts: Kids are introduced to a wide variety of animal species and science concepts.
  • Modern Marvels: A show that teaches children how innovations are made and also  outlines a few amazing feats of engineering.

Ages 11 to 13

  • Annedroids: A tween girl loves to solve problems using her expertise in computer programming and engineering.
  • MythBusters: The two hosts bust science myths and prove whether they’re true or false. 
  • Design Squad: A great show for children who want to learn engineering and math skills. 

The bottom line

Summer learning loss is a slippery slope. Once your child starts sliding, the dangers of continuously falling behind are real. Luckily, it doesn’t take much to keep your child engaged and learning throughout the summer. By incorporating online learning into your child’s daily routine over summer break, they can continue learning in fun and practical ways. Use the resources and tips above to help your child achieve their summer educational goals and motivate them to try it again next year.  

About the Author

Shannon Lambert is a freelance writer and blogger from Northern Minnesota. As a former school social worker, she loves creating educational content that helps parents manage their days better and improve their parenting skills.

About the Authors

Shannon Lambert is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Northern Minnesota with her husband and six boys. She blogs about building a relationship with your children at makingmommas.com. As a former childcare provider and social worker, she believes all moms should have access to quality, affordable childcare.