Reimagine Summer Learning Loss: How to Get Your Child to Read Over the Summer
Throughout COVID-19 school closures, you may have read the headlines about COVID-19 learning losses. These losses were compared to how summer affects students’ academic progress — also known as summer learning loss.
For years, summer has been painted as something to fear, mostly by academic programs offered during those off-school months.
But what if we stopped seeing the time students spend out of school as a “loss”?
What if summer is actually an opportunity to advance in unique ways that regimented school-like programs can’t offer?
Read on for:
- the definition of summer learning loss
- flaws in the “summer learning loss” ideology
- how reimagining summer learning can improve your child’s learning experience
- four practical approaches for fostering reading this summer
- free reading resources to help you get started
You don’t have to worry about your child this summer — not if you change your mind about what summer can do for them.
What is summer learning loss?
Summer learning loss, also known as the “summer slide,” is defined as the loss of core academic skills and knowledge after an interruption of regular schooling.
Several studies have been referenced to support the idea that students need some sort of academic setting to retain their current level of knowledge.
The idea behind these studies is that the only way students can achieve is through academic programming.
What’s wrong with this concept?
It’s important to address why studies appear to validate the idea of summer learning loss.
A recent study that reviewed several datasets of summer learning measurements found that measurements of summer learning loss varied greatly, and for many reasons:
- spring and fall comprehension tests are formatted differently, so students are not actually presented with the same exact material and student knowledge is not being accurately assessed
- there is no standardized method of measuring how students are progressing
- current studies are correlation research, not constructed experiments
- confirmation bias causes researchers to assume that the lack of schooling in the summer causes learning loss, without looking into any alternative explanations for learning variations
- no test exists to measure the experience of students who do not participate in things like summer reading programs
Many summer learning loss studies also suggest that household income and parental availability factor into learning losses.
This perpetuates the idea that higher income parents and guardians can provide for their children’s education over the summer, but lower income families can only rely on public school as a learning resource.
The truth, though — found after examining multiple studies focused on learning inequalities — is that summer is associated more with stagnation than actual loss.
What are the consequences of the concept?
The suggestion that children always lose knowledge without constant traditional schooling implies that:
- students can only learn in the classroom setting
- they need some kind of (usually paid) scholastic summer program to retain knowledge over the summer
- the unstructured summer setting is problematic, rather than an opportunity for growth
- the only valuable knowledge and skills acquisition is the kind students get during the school year
- students’ brains don’t need time to rest
But learning — all forms of learning — have and continue to happen inside and outside of the classroom.
Reimagining Summer Learning: It’s not a time of loss. It’s an opportunity for growth.
There are huge differences between the learning your child does at school and the kind they can do at home.
While promoting creativity produces valuable educational results, many schools do not have the ability to create a consistently creative environment inside classrooms.
Educators also don’t have as much freedom and flexibility to focus on what inspires your child. They don’t have space in the curriculum to teach what your child may want to learn, read what they want to read, or create what they want to create.
What if you imagine summer as a period of rest from strictly academic ventures?
What if it’s not a time for students to be assigned books to read?
Why should students log page numbers and choose from reading lists, as so many summer reading programs require them to do?
Why replicate strictly academic settings, when you can give your child the chance to flourish on their own terms?
Imagine summer as a time for growth — the kind of reading exploration and creativity that promotes growth in a way your child can’t get in a classroom setting.
How to Get Your Child to Read Over the Summer: Four (Free) Strategies
Make reading the most appealing option.
Let’s face it — we are all more prone to do the easy thing, and the most appealing thing out of all our available choices. It’s hard to get your child to read over the summer if it’s always easy to access screens, video games, TV, etc.
So make reading materials, or the ability to get reading materials, extremely easy to access.
Leave books lying around the house, plan a trip to the library, or let them find eBooks.
Give them book recommendations or create a joint reading list.
Use any of these forty-one apps to help make reading easy and accessible.
Unfortunately, reading can’t just be easy to do.
For many kids, you also have to make reading the most appealing option out of the other available options.
So consider parental controls for screen time. You can place extensions on your child’s browser and use digital wellbeing parental controls on your household’s mobile devices.
But it’s important that you don’t frame reading as a form of punishment for too much screen time.
Don’t immediately point to reading after turning off screens. Give them other options (but try to present reading as one of the best.)
Give your child the freedom to read what they want and how they want.
Whether or not you personally value your child’s choice of reading material is not important.
That’s because all reading is relevant — including fanfiction and comic books.
Let them choose the genre, the book format, what time they read, and where they do their reading.
The less you present reading as a requirement, the more they want to do it voluntarily.
Read along with your child.
Consider reading the same book so you can talk about it with them.
Children love having something to share with their parents.
If you can, read at the same time as them. But if you can’t, set up an environment that promotes reading.
Set up a little reading nook, help them make bookmarks, and help them create reading lists.
Sit in the reading nook and talk to them about the book when you can.
Create opportunities for creative expression.
To get creative, your child can:
- write stories in the format or on the subject they’re reading about
- create a social media account or blog about their reading journey
- draw pictures of characters and settings, or comic books based on the events of a story
- write an “honest review” of the books they read (these can be funny, sincere, or imaginative)
If none of these activities sound appealing to them, ask them what they’re interested in or how they get creative.
Then try to relate that to reading.
Related: Read this guide for how to help students start a story, plus a free story structure worksheet to get them started.
If your child is struggling, consider learning opportunities outside of a formal summer program.
If your child has difficulty reading, studies have shown that students can form reading skills through short-term tutoring by minimally trained volunteers. 1-on-1 learning helps accelerate learning.
You don’t necessarily even have to find someone to tutor your child. Another family member, or a friend can provide support, simply by helping them read out loud or by asking about what they’re reading.
Also, you don’t have to recreate the classroom environment for your child to grow their reading and comprehension skills.
In fact, a change of scenery can remove any negative associations with school.
Get your child to read over the summer by presenting it as a thing that they do, instead of a subject they have to learn.
Reading can happen everywhere, if you create the environment for it.
Children are required to be in a reading environment during the school year, so they will (for the most part) read.
But your child doesn’t need to be in the classroom to read and learn. They don’t need a regimented summer reading program to force them to retain and develop academic skills.
They can practice reading — and a lot of creativity — at home, for free.
And the skills your child learns in the classroom are not the only skills that matter.
In fact, outside-the-classroom experiences can be just as valuable as those core skills your student learns over the school year.
So don’t see summer as a threat to learning. See it as a way to add onto your child’s existing knowledge, and add some individuality to the reading experience.
Do these things to get your child to read over the summer, and you’ll have a lifelong reader on your hands.