Something is waiting for many children each summer and their parents don’t even know it’s out there. It's called the "summer slide," and it describes what happens when young minds sit idle for three months. As parents approach the summer break, many are thinking about the family vacation, trips to the pool, how to keep children engaged in activities at home, the abrupt changes to everyone's schedule—and how to juggle it all. What they might not be focusing on is how much educational ground their children could lose during the three-month break from school, particularly when it comes to reading.
Experts agree that children who read during the summer gain reading skills, while those who do not often slide backward. According to the authors of a report from the National Summer Learning Association: "A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year... It's common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills."
The report's authors further note that family income plays a significant role in determining the magnitude of this summer slide. Students from low-income families "...experience an average summer learning loss in reading achievement of over two months." Not only do these students suffer greater sliding during the summer, but they also experience cumulative effects of greater learning loss each summer.
Sociologists Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle have shown that the cumulative effect of summer learning differences is a primary cause of widening achievement gaps between students of lower and higher socioeconomic levels. Research demonstrates that while student achievement for both middle- and lower-income students improves at similar rates during the school year, low-income students experience cumulative summer learning losses throughout their elementary school years. Summer slide affects millions of children each year in this country—but it doesn't have to.