What is Summer Learning Loss?

Each year, during the long summer break, months of effort and learning risk being diminished due to students simply forgetting the knowledge they have built up over the previous academic year. This inevitably causes some students to fall behind, and forces teachers to eat into invaluable class time by re-teaching forgotten material. This phenomenon, while widely recognised by educationalists, is largely ignored by the common school structure, which leaves pupils academically unstimulated for weeks on end, reducing opportunities for academic growth, or even sustainment. Summer Learning Loss is even more notable in children under 10, as they lack the independence to engage in social learning encounters such as work experience, volunteering, and basic day-to-day outings.

How big a problem is Summer Learning Loss?

The first thing to say is that by the second or third week of term, almost all children have caught up and are able to learn as well as as at any other time in the school year. By the end of the academic year, exam results show that children have a healthy range of marks and thoughts of summer learning loss are far away. Most importantly, it is important to remember that the holidays are an important time for resting and recharging young brains.

What does the research say?

Studies conducted by some of the world’s top research institutions confirm the effects of Summer Learning Loss:

John’s Hopkins University found that:

  • Two-thirds of the Year 10 reading achievement gap can be explained by Summer Learning Loss.
  • By the end of Year 6, children unstimulated during the summer are nearly 3 grade equivalents behind their counterparts.

(John’s Hopkins School of Education, Summer Journal)

Researchers at Bristol University discovered that:

  • Based on a study of 240,000 students, 76% of children who attend summer school go on to attend an elite university, compared to only 55% of children with the same academic and social background.

(University of Bristol, Sutton Trust)

Both studies also highlighted the crucial role of reading, access to healthy snacks, regular meal times, and exercise, in fighting Summer Learning Loss.

Some children are affected more, some not at all. On the bright side, the research also shows that even small steps can have significant benefits in keeping learning loss at bay. So, in our opinion, it seems to make sense to make some small changes during the holiday period; provided they do not get in the way of relaxing and do not cause any additional stress for children (or parents!).

What can parents do about to prevent Summer Learning Loss?

One of the most effective tools in resisting the infamous “summer slide” (a research term which dates back to 1906), is reading. Encouraging your child to read will allow them to improve their spelling, literacy, and vocabulary skills. Involving your child in their own learning will make it more fun: take them to the library and let them choose their own books. Even better, if they have siblings or close friends, challenge them to a reading contest over the summer – the winner gets an ice cream!

Reading is well-paired with story-writing, which immerses them in their imagination while developing their literacy skills. You could use one of the books they have been reading as a starting point; ask them to write a letter from one character to another, or a different ending to the story.

Maths and spelling have been found to be the areas of greatest regression in terms of Summer Learning Loss. With this in mind, keep your child stimulated with Sudoku puzzles, impromptu Scrabble matches, and times table practice while laying the table.

Creative or educational afternoons with other children can also be great ways to offset Summer Learning Loss. Playing Monopoly, acting out a scene from a play, or even inventing a new game to play outside provide fun opportunities to incite new friendships and develop learning skills.

Don’t be afraid to use technology! A new Harvard study shows that when it comes to conceptions of space and time, tablets and iPads with a pinch-in zoom feature actually improve learning, with results visible within the first twenty minutes of use. Downloading a science game or space simulation can cultivate their spatial reasoning on a quieter afternoon.

Finally, formal tuition with a tutor, or attendance at a summer school supports your child in a more structured manner during the summer. If choosing this path, it is best to set apart a few hours in the morning for tuition, thus establishing a routine which will preserve time for relaxation in the afternoon.

Learning On Holiday

Holiday trips are also excellent ways to incorporate learning opportunities into your child’s summer. Be sure to plan educational trips to either museums or historical sites, where you could take a tour in the foreign language they are learning. Additionally, you could ask your child to order in a local café or restaurant to maintain their language skills. Even converting money from pounds to euros, and vice versa, presents the perfect opportunity to brush up on mathematics. Families occasionally take a holiday tutor with them – an investment which will help protect a year’s learning and set the child up for a successful year.

The School Report

End of term reports spell out an essential ‘to do’ list of activities you can help your child with over the summer. If you are not convinced that their comments are detailed enough, or you think the report may have gaps, then don’t be afraid to ask the teachers about it. If you are still unsure, we offer Academic Assessments which give a bespoke, tailored personal assessment for your child.

Be careful not to over-do it.

One of the most important things to take away is that summer should be a time for children to relax and have fun. Fighting Summer Learning Loss is not a way to put any more pressure on your child, it is merely a question of changing how they have fun. Introducing a new set of activities into your family’s routine will revitalise your summer and, most importantly, keep your child ahead of the game, where they deserve to be. It is also just one of several ways that parents can help their children unlock their academic potential.