Articles and Advice

Dive Into Summer Learning

For many children, June signals the end of the busy school year and the beginning of days filled with sunshine and a lot more free time. Not surprisingly, summer break is also a time when concepts and skills children learned during the school year may be forgotten. Achievement test scores at the beginning and end of summer break show that children are typically not able to pick up where they left off when school begins again in the fall. In fact, children's math skills appear to suffer the most - even more than reading skills.* Furthermore, many of the children who lose ground during the summer months never completely catch up, and can even end up a full grade level or more behind by the time they leave elementary school.

In addition to experiencing learning losses during the summer months, most children gain weight more quickly during this time than they do during the school year.** While the reasons for this are not yet clear, it is theorized that children have more opportunities to snack and participate in sedentary activities such as watching TV and playing video games during the less-structured summer months.

Because of this "summer slump," some families enroll their children in summer camps, sports programs, summer school, tutoring, and private summer programs. Structured summer learning opportunities have been shown to improve academic performance and positively affect children's motivation, self-esteem, and confidence. High-quality summer programs are available in almost every price range, and are commonly offered by schools, recreation centers, universities, and community-based organizations.

In addition to summer school, camps, and other enrichment programs, there are many things you can do at home and in your community to help keep your child active, both mentally and physically, during the summer months.

  • Ask your child's teachers about skills to practice over the summer. Some teachers or school districts create summer learning packets filled with activities for children at each grade level.

  • To sharpen math skills, have your child help with grocery shopping. For example, your child can compare prices to determine the best deals, compare nutrition information for different brands of the same item, and estimate total cost as you shop.

  • While on road trips, have your child help you navigate using a road map. Your child can determine the distance remaining and estimate the time it will take to get to the destination, based on your speed and how far you still have to travel.

  • Involve your child in preparing meals and snacks. Following recipes is a good way to learn about fractions. Have older children help determine the measurements needed to double or downsize a recipe.

  • Help your child develop a plan for summer reading. Ask about his or her interests and make a list together of books he or she may be interested in. Set a goal for the number of books your child will read during the summer. Many public libraries offer free summer reading programs for children of all ages. Some libraries also offer bookmobile lending programs to make books available to children who do not live near the library.

  • Set up a book club with your child. The book club could involve your whole family, your child's friends and their families, or families living in your neighborhood. More information about how to start a book club is available online at PBS Parents (

  • Involve your child in a summer reading incentive program. Many bookstores and children's publishing companies offer free incentive programs. You can also set up your own reading incentive program at home. Incentives should be activities or things that provide fun opportunities for learning or spending time together as a family. For example, picnics in the park, family hikes, and visiting a museum or zoo are wonderful incentives.

  • Limit your child's time spent in sedentary activities such as watching TV, using the computer, and playing video games. Encourage him or her to spend time exploring or playing outside.

  • If your child is interested, involve him or her in a summer sports program such as soccer, baseball, swimming, or tennis.

  • Play active games together as a family. Games such as tennis, badminton, and playing catch with a beach ball are all great ways to get the whole family moving.
*Downey, D. B., von Hippel, P. T., & Broh, B. (2004). Are schools the great equalizer? Cognitive inequality during the summer months and the school year. American Sociological Review, 69(5), 613-635.

** von Hippel, P. T., Powell, B., Downey, D. B., & Rowland, N. (2007). The effect of school on overweight in childhood: Gains in children's body mass index during the school year and during summer vacation. American Journal of Public Health, 97(4), 796-802.

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