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How to keep your kids from experiencing the summer slump

Backsliding is common. Here’s how to reduce its impact

Smiling mid adult man looking at son using digital tablet at home

Summer vacation represents a looooooooong time away from the classroom for kids. While many children relish the epic period of freedom from June to August, it has some serious educational downsides, with test scores showing summer learning loss in math and reading and beyond.

Also called the “summer slump” or “summer slide,” it refers to the way a child will likely lose some of the knowledge and skills they acquired during the previous school year. This is a particular problem for younger children, who have been learning new concepts for the first time and are at considerable risk of forgetting some over the summer.

In order to deal with the summer slump, you can help your child retain what they have learned. You can also help them learn new things during this time of year.

The need for the former is pretty obvious. But why, you may ask, do your kids also need to learn new things over summer break, instead of just hanging on to what they already have?

The answer is, in essence, to keep the motor running. Even if you child doesn’t actually fall back over the long vacation, they will still get out of the habit of learning things, which means that going back to school could be an unpleasant shock, featuring a fairly useless period of them getting back into the groove of learning, rather than actually learning.

So your children should be engaged in some kind of learning fairly constantly over the summer months. How can you make that happen?

In this article:

Get them reading…

In an ideal world, your child will read every day (at least 20 minutes, though more time is better). This will help them maintain (and, ideally, improve) their vocabulary, their ability to concentrate on one thing at a time, their English comprehension, their ability to express themselves, and their knowledge in general.

Your child should read things that will stretch them a little, that will lead them to encounter new ideas, and more complex language than what they are used to. They should also read things they’ll enjoy, because this makes them more likely to actually do the reading.

Help your child find summer reading that they’ll find interesting, and be open minded about what that might be. If you love Victorian novels and your kid likes sci-fi, let them read sci-fi. Just be sure to steer them towards things that will stretch them and teach them.

Bear in mind that this could mean fiction, non-fiction, poetry, graphic novels or any number of other things. If you need help finding the right books for your child, visit your local library and ask the librarians for some tips. Go with your kid, to give them a sense of agency in what they’re going to read.

And remember: While it is important for your child to read, one of the key things about reading is that it’s fun. (Adults pay good money to get to a beach and read a novel.) So make sure you keep reading from becoming not-fun by putting too much pressure on your kiddo.

…And check in

In order to help your child get the most from their reading (and to check they actually are reading) you’ll need to keep an eye on their progress.

There are different ways to do this, from setting goals (a certain number of pages per day) to having them regularly give you a summary of what they’ve read. The latter also boosts their communication skills, and gives them the chance to ask you about new words or concepts they’ve come across. However you monitor their progress, create a schedule and structure, and stick to it.

Reading and younger kids

If your child is too young to read independently, read to them out loud. The benefits are the same as they are for older children, and you should discuss what you read, just as you would with an older kid. Note that reading aloud to your child combines well with physical affection. If you get your kid to associate reading with being cuddled, you’ll help set them up for a lifelong love of learning.

Show them math in the real world

Some kids love math. And some do not.

For those that do, find puzzle books that are appropriate for their math level, but that will also stretch them. Their teachers should be able to help with tips. As with reading, set goals and check in on progress.

For kids who are less keen on math, make every opportunity to show them its real world applications. When you go to the store or to a restaurant, work with them to calculate the bill and, when appropriate, the tip. If you’re planning a journey, calculate the distance, how long it will take to arrive (using the various speed limits) and how much gas you’ll need. Showing the real world application of math can make the subject seem more worthwhile.

It would also be in the interest of non-math-loving kids’ to do some math puzzles over the holidays. Tell them the truth: If they find math hard now, it will only be more difficult in the fall if they don’t do any over the summer.

Also consider digital puzzle games, such as the DragonBox series, which has iterations for children of different ages. Think of it as stealth learning.

If you travel abroad

A foreign trip is a good way to get your kids excited about learning languages. Even if they can only manage “please” and “thank you” by the time you get to the hotel, the staff reaction is likely to make an impression on your kids.

As they get excited about the forthcoming trip, get them enthusiastic about the language at the same time. Help them learn to do things like order dinner or ask directions: the ability to function in a new country will give them a feeling of autonomy, an enthusiasm for learning and some concrete knowledge.

Travel at home

Take field trips to place that have educational value, and think broadly about what that means. A botanical garden is a treasure trove of knowledge and information, so is a sculpture park, an art gallery or zoo. Children’s museums and science museums are great, but there are all kinds of other fun excursions that can leave you children knowing more than they did when they arrived, with a thirst to learn more.

When you’re there, be sure to actively engage your children in conversations about what there is to learn. Ask them open ended questions which stimulate them, and encourage them to figure things out, and make this into a family conversation. This makes education a fun family activity, and if they see that you’re interested in the finer points of the place you’ve visited, it’s more likely that they will be, too.

Gardening (defined very broadly)

Whether you have acres of grass or a fire escape that you can put plants on, try to grow something with your kids over the summer — even better if it’s edible. Taking even the simplest thing, such as herbs or tomatoes, from seed to dinner table, teaches your children about biology and time. Plus, it offers opportunities for them to draw, take photos and keep a diary of progress. Speaking of such things…

Diaries and scrapbooks

For younger children, keeping a record of their summer is a project that boosts skills including writing and drawing, and also encourages them to actually do things over the summer, so they have something to put in their diary. If the diary is image-based, encourage your kids to write narratives to accompany the pictures. If your kid is more verbally inclined, have them find images to support their writing: a diary can encourage joined-up thinking.


Cooking is chemistry, physics, biology, art, anthropology, history, exploration… and it’s the way that chocolate chip cookies happen.

If your kid is old enough to handle a knife (or even work a stove), get them heavily involved in cooking, from evaluating and choosing recipes to shopping for ingredients and meal prep. If you have younger children and they’re old enough to make a mess, they’re also old enough to help make banana bread.

Cooking is a fun way for children to understand how the stuff you learn in school can have enjoyable, real world applications. Also, you have to feed your kids several times a day whether you want to or not: You might as well make the most of it.

Remember, many of the aspects of cooking which are old hat to you are brand new experiences for children, and the sense of empowerment that they get from helping to feed the family is a powerful thing that you can use for their educational gain.

And finally, something simple and fun, for children of all ages:

New words

Have your kid(s) learn a new word each week, put it on the fridge, and see how many times it can be used in a day. Note that this is one situation where you don’t want to give your kids too much agency. If you let them choose the word, you may just be subjecting yourself to a week of fart jokes.

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About Michael Davis

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

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