Summer is here, and with it comes countless articles and recommendations for parents regarding the “summer slide.”
Just what is summer slide? It is the phenomenon in which children forget some of what they learned during the school year as they relax and play during the summer. Students supposedly lose an entire two months of reading and math skills over the summer.
“Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer, according to ThingStretch.com.
Before you panic though, consider what Peter Gray, Ph.D., a researcher and author of the blog, Freedom to Learn on Psychology Today, has to say about the summer slide, and remember what is actually reflected in standardized tests and what is not.
What Is Actually Lost?
“If children lose academic skills over the few weeks of summer, then did they really ever learn those skills?” he muses. “It must have been pretty shallow learning.”
Gray dug deep into summer slide statistics over the past 100 years to determine what skills or knowledge children actually lose over the summer.
In terms of reading, Gray found, “Although the results are somewhat inconsistent from study to study, most studies show either no significant change or an increase in reading ability over the summer.”
When it comes to math, there is indeed a summer slide, but not in all areas.
“I found three research studies in which students were tested just before and just after summer vacation with math achievement tests that separated calculation ability from math reasoning ability, and they all showed that calculation ability declined a bit over the summer but math reasoning increased quite substantially!” Gray said.
This is good news, as Gray explained that children may lose some computational skills they memorized in school, but their deeper understanding of math reasoning stays with them and even grows over the summer. Additionally, Gray said the computational skills lost were generally recovered within two weeks of the new school year.
What Is Gained?
“Very often people writing about the summer slide seem to assume that the only learning that is important is learning that occurs in school and is measured on school tests,” Gray wrote. “It’s amazing to me how often this assumption goes unchallenged.”
Not only do students not lose math reasoning skills and tend not to lose reading skills over the summer, but also Gray argued that children also gain important life skills during the summer that they often do not have the opportunity to learn during the school year.
“In real life we learn how to make our own decisions, how to create our own activities, how to actually DO things as opposed to memorize things,” Gray said. “For schoolchildren, summer is a time for immersion in real life.”
Who Loses the Most?
It should be noted that, unfortunately, lower-income students tend to be most affected by the summer slide. Economically disadvantaged children tend to “gain less and lose more over the summer, on tests,” according to Gray.
Those gains in reading Gray mentioned are often limited to children whose families are able to provide them with books, trips to the library, and other resources.
“According to the National Summer Learning Association, low-income students lose two to three months in reading achievement over the summer, while their higher-income peers tend to make slight gains,” states an article from Chalkbeat.org.
How To Prevent Summer Slide
For parents who are concerned about the summer slide, encouraging reading and offering plenty of access to books is a great way to avoid the summer reading slide.
There are some great tips for summer reading here on The Conversation.
Also, don’t forget to let your children play this summer! You can read about the value of free and creative play in my recent blog post here.