With summer under way, children of all ages are basking in the carefree essence of school break, diving into summer camps, family vacations, beach outings or even part-time jobs. But local and national educators say that in order to ward off the summer learning slide (a term used to describe academic or knowledge loss in children during summer vacation), it is critical to keep youngsters, tweens and teens engaged in educational activities during the summer months.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, an organization founded at Johns Hopkins University dedicated to providing resources, guidance and expertise to the summer learning community, many students lose approximately two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills due to lack of academic engagement during summer months. Research also shows that students who do not participate in summer learning activities tend to post lower scores on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do at the end of the previous school year.

There are two important tools necessary to combat the summer learning slide: parental involvement and engagement in learning activities. “The single biggest factor in continued learning is engagement,” says Acton’s McCarthy-Towne and Merriam Elementary Schools’ Assistant Principal Matthew McDowell. “Parents need to be actively involved, taking over the role of facilitator for July and August from the teacher. If done well, students will be ready for the new school year,” he says.

For Elementary Students

According to experts at Lesley University in Cambridge there are many fun and educationally focused activities available to families and youngsters. The trick for parents is to do the research and put these activities in motion.

  • Hit the Books – Most elementary schools post required summer reading lists but educators also encourage children to seek out and dive into books of their choice and share their impressions. “When children choose their own books and have to share their thoughts, this is where we see the best benefits,” says Margery Staman Miller, Ph.D., professor of education and director of the Language and Literacy Division of Lesley’s Graduate School of Education.

Public libraries are a wonderful, free resource that host a variety of age-specific reading programs including weekly story time or “pajama” story time programs, mystery-driven book clubs, make-your-own bookmark events, journal writing and more.

  • Recreation for the Mind – Look to your town recreation department for weeklong or multiweek summer enrichment programs. These programs are academically focused and typically reasonably priced. Courses may focus on robotics, student newspaper/journalism writing, music, photography and more.
  • Master the Math – Parents can informally inject math into a child’s daily routine by simply using it in a practical sense. While traveling the aisles at the grocery store, for example, talk about pricing, comparison packaging and quantity with your tots. These skills also apply to the kitchen. Measuring, reading directions and discussing cooking time add some zip to a basic math lesson. Flash cards, summer math worksheets and mathematics-specific websites are also a great way to keep a child’s math skills sharp.
  • For Young Scientists or Arborists – Plant a garden with your youngster or find a community garden in your hometown. Guide your child through the process – map out the gardening plot, learn about plants and pick those of interest, dig in, care for and measure the garden’s growth.
  • Museum Mastery – Local and Boston-based museums are an explosion of fun and interactive learning. Check out your local library for free or discounted tickets.
  • Board Game Challenge – Host weekly family game nights. Popular board games such as Clue, Scrabble, Boogle and Monopoly, to name a few, will sharpen your child’s math and literacy skills.

For Middle School Students 

As they do for school-aged children, educators recommend that middle school students engage in lots of reading, participate in enrichment programs, visit local museums and more. But warning: Parents may experience a bit more resistance from middle schoolers compared to their younger counterparts, experts say. “The key is to identify where they have interest or passion and match it,” explains Staman Miller.

Staman Miller and her Lesley University colleagues Marcia Bromfield, Ph.D., professor and director of the Division Field Placement and Professional Partnerships for Lesley’s Graduate School of Education, and Harriet Deane, assistant professor and associate dean of Lesley’s Graduate School of Education, also suggest that middle school-aged students seek out cross-grade programs, such as a camp counselor in training, math-based activities or reading to younger children. “Taking on new skills and responsibilities including working with younger children in cross-grade programs is very meaningful and provides self-confidence, responsibility and an opportunity to practice their academic skills,” Staman Miller continues.

For High School Students

During the high school years, educators say the summer learning slide is still a possibility yet equally avoidable. Reading a favorite novel, newspaper or magazine along with thought-provoking activities, such as museum visits, are the best lines of defense against the summer learning slide for teenagers.

It is important for teenagers to engage in continuous learning as it is a lifelong endeavor and not just slated for the school year, says Hanover High School Principal Thomas R. Raab. “It goes beyond the classroom and summer. Continued learning is preparation for college, a job and life,” Raab says.

Maureen McCarthy is a freelance writer and mother of two in Hanover.


Summer Learning Resources

  • Massachusetts Libraries – libraries.state.ma.us

Fun Websites to Visit

  • Illuminations – illuminations.nctm.org – offers math resources and is supported by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, PK through 12th.
  • International Children’s Digital Library – en.childrenslibrary.org – online books from around the world.
  • Khan Academy – www.khanacademy.org – has thousands of content-based tutorials, 5th grade through college.
  • No Flying No Tights – www.noflyingnotights.com – graphic novel reviews and recommendations with a section especially for kids.
  • PBS Kids – www.pbskids.com – games based on favorite PBS kids shows.

Educational Products for Kids

  • Babbaco – www.babbaco.com – delivers a box of educational activities for children ages 3 to 7 once a month right to your door. Each box contains all the materials to get your family reading, playing and learning.
  • Kiwicrate – www.kiwicrate.com – also ships age-appropriate arts and science activities and crafts directly to your home.

Join the Club

  • The Summer Club, a summer learning loss program hosted by Boston Children’s Museum, is loaded with brain-busting, mystery-solving activities that will challenge mind and body. Recommended for children ages 6 and up. Meets July 12, 19 and 26, 6-8 pm. Attend two or more Summer Club events and get a special invite to the mystery party on Aug. 9.