Avoiding the Summer Slide

Posted by Linda Miller on 7/2/2021 9:15:00 AM

Avoiding the Summer Slide

Every kid looks forward to summer. As that last day of school winds down, students can't wait to grab their backpacks and head for home, leaving behind all thoughts of homework, class assignments, quizzes, and tests.  

And what happens when they get home?

For many students, summer means days spent watching TV, playing video games, hanging out with friends, and avoiding anything that even implies it's educational.

For most kids, this probably sounds like a perfect summer. But in reality, it can also be detrimental to their education.

The Summer Slide

During the summer, many students lose some of the educational gains they made during the school year. Known as the "summer slide," this phenomenon is even more dramatic with students of lower socioeconomic status (SES).

In a   conducted by the Partnership for Children & Youth, researchers found that almost all participating students experienced a decline in math skills. However, when it came to reading fluency, children from higher-income families often still progressed, but at a slower pace. While the literacy skills of their peers, from lower-income families, actually decreased.

These losses contribute to and increase the achievement gap - the difference in academic performance between upper and lower SES students.

An Ounce of Prevention

Learning doesn't have to stop just because school is out. But forcing kids to sit down with a workbook or flashcards isn't the answer- not while the sun is out and begging them to run and play.

Instead, try some of these ideas to incorporate learning into their activities.

Video Summary

After a fun day at the park or the beach or wherever their adventures take them, have children summarize their day for a family member who wasn't involved. Video their summary while encouraging them with questions like "Who else was there?" and "What did you like the most?" The more detailed their descriptions, the better they will become at summarizing. Younger kids may enjoy drawing a picture first, and then describing what is going on in the picture. Note: this idea works well for movie reviews too. Just remind kids not to give away the ending!


Obstacle Course

Strengthen problem-solving skills by having kids create an obstacle course using hula hoops, pool noodles, rope, or other items found around the house. They might incorporate chalked activities on the driveway, use scrap lumber as a balance beam, create a "tunnel" from an empty box, or use toys as hurdles. Older kids can research more DIY ideas. First, have them run the course themselves to troubleshoot any issues, create rules for participants, and develop modifications that might work for younger children or older adults.  

Board Game

On bad weather days, ask kids to create a themed board game around a favorite topic, like baseball, insects, or dinosaurs. They'll need to sketch their design, write down the rules, research the subject, and finally create the board - all of which is learning in disguise! Have fun playing the game with them once they're done.

Field Trips

Being mindful about the activities you plan outside the home can turn an outing into a learning experience. Take in a factory tour, check out an animal sanctuary, explore a botanical garden, visit your local fire or police station, ask your favorite restaurant for a kitchen tour, or your usual grocery store for a behind-the-scenes look at the operations. Search out a "You-pick-'em" farm and let kids harvest their own fruits or veggies. Search online to find more ideas specific to your area.

Take a Hike

Hikes are ripe with educational opportunities. For example, kids can learn to use a compass and play the "Find North" game by stopping every once in a while and having everyone try to guess which way is north. Borrow a plant identification book from the library, or use an app like Picture This. Then have kids record their findings in a pocket-sized journal or notebook. A hike is also the perfect opportunity to teach Leave No Trace principles, which help minimize our activities' impact on nature.

Backyard Camping

Have kids take the lead to plan and carry out an overnight campout. From figuring out how to pitch a tent, or how to create their own, to deciding on food and games to play, this hands-on adventure will strengthen organizing and problem-solving skills.

Get Cooking

Have kids make muffins and double or half the recipe to reinforce math skills. Teach them to make their own popsicles using healthy ingredients. Let them help you create meals, try new dishes from various cultures, or find something to make that is from a different time in history. Allow them to research a recipe and make a list of the items needed. They can shop with you and compare prices. Then at home, either prepare the recipe together or supervise while they read, measure, and follow the recipe's directions.

Outdoor Experiments

Science skills involve observation, communication, measuring, and predicting. Reinforce these skills by having kids conduct experiments. Encourage kids to predict what might happen, measure results, and communicate their findings to you or other family members. Some ideas might be to try to sprout seeds in different media, like water, dirt, coffee grounds, etc., or conduct gravity experiments with toys, try dying flowers using food coloring and water, build a solar oven from a shoebox and foil to make s'mores, make ice cream in a bag, construct balloon rockets or paper airplanes. Find countless ideas online or at your library.


Foster compassion and responsibility by involving your kids in volunteer activities. You can seek out opportunities in your area or organize something close to home. KIds can clean up an area of your nearest park, collect canned goods from neighbors and go with you to deliver them to the local food bank, make birdseed suet cakes for your backyard friends, conduct a paper towel drive and donate them to a local animal shelter, go through their closets and choose clothes and shoes they can't wear anymore or toys that no longer interest them to donate.


Probably the single most important thing you can do to reinforce your child's learning is to have them read. Make sure to model reading yourself since children take cues from your actions. You can also help them construct cozy reading nooks - one for outside as well as inside.

To make sure that reading is a part of your summer, and year-round, experience:

  • Plan activities themed from a recently finished book, like visiting a farm after reading Charlotte's Web or making cookies after reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Use our recipe in this lesson plan.
  • After reading a book that's been made into a movie, host a family movie night to watch the film version.
  • Keep books visible around the house, not just on the shelf where they can't see the cover. Check out books from the library based on favorite topics and leave them lying around the house and in the car.
  • Help kids sign up for their own library card and visit the library regularly. It's an excellent resource for summer activities.
  • Let older readers use a headlamp and stay up an extra 30 minutes to read before going to bed. The headlamp makes it fun, and the kids get a sense that books are special when they get permission to stay up late.
  • In addition to books, offer your kids magazines, comic books, newspapers, and even blog posts you find about their favorite subjects. Reading can be found everywhere - restaurant menus, product specifications, song lyrics, poetry, travel brochures, game instructions, and even on the back of a cereal box.

These activities will help keep learning going during the hot summer months ahead and hopefully combat the "summer slide." Your child will have fun without realizing the activities are educational.