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When the final bell rings on the last day of school, kids’ focus on learning is quickly replaced by summer activities like swimming, bike-riding, amusement parks, and playing with friends. Think continued learning over the summer months is optional? Think again.

Children who lack access to learning opportunities over the summer months are much more likely to experience major learning loss, or “summer slide”. When school resumes in the fall, many have fallen behind and struggle to make up ground on their peers who continued learning throughout the summer months. For students from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds, the cumulative effect of the summer slide over several years can be devastating, contributing significantly to the achievement gap that plagues school districts throughout the U.S.

Specifically, summer learning loss puts students from disadvantaged backgrounds up to three years behind their peers academically by fifth grade, according to findings from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). By the beginning of high school, summer learning loss in the elementary school years accounts for up to two-thirds of the achievement gap between students from low- and middle-income families. And, when children fall behind academically, they are less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to attend college, and less likely to land a lucrative job in adulthood.

Fortunately, summer slide can be avoided when schools, parents and kids work together to continue the learning process during summer break. One such way is simply reading.  Reading is an easy and effective way to engage kids in summer learning. In their report, “The effects of summer reading on low-income children’s literacy achievement from kindergarten to grade 8: A meta-analysis of classroom and home interventions,” researchers James S. Kim and David M. Quinn analyzed at-home and classroom-based reading programs for students for K through eighth grade students. Their research found, on-average, summer reading programs are effective at raising test scores. The effect is most prominent for students from low-income backgrounds—likely because this group of students is most adversely affected by summer slide.

What’s more, parents don’t need to enroll their children in expensive summer camps to spark summer learning. In fact, the opposite is true. In her report, “Socioeconomic Gaps in Children’s Summer Experiences: 1999 to 2011,” author Kathleen Lynch found engaging in learning activities, such as independent reading or reading with parents at home, to be better indicators of summer reading progress than attending summer camp.

Personalized learning is also now a powerful tool in providing access to books for all children, regardless of zip code. Many school districts, libraries, and communities now offer students access to e-reading platforms that can be accessed from any location. For school districts, e-reading and literacy solutions like Big Universe, can foster a love of reading, both over the summer and throughout the school year, by delivering access to thousands of eBooks. Teachers can make book recommendations based on student reading levels and topics of interest. Students can create summer reading lists and even share eBooks with their friends, turning summer reading into an engaging social experience. Most importantly, research reported by SEG Measurement in “A Study of the Impact of Big Universe Use on Student Reading Growth,” concludes that digital solutions work, improving both literacy skills and reading engagement.

Another option is for school districts to partner with their local libraries to offer students free access to hundreds of eBooks every summer. According to the American Library Association, 95 percent of libraries offer summer reading programs aimed at preventing summer slide. Many free apps like OverDrive, Freading, and Hoopla give students easy access to thousands of e-books available at their local library or school district. Other low-cost solutions like Epic provide students with access to more than 25,000 books, videos, and quizzes.

On July 12th, NSLA is celebrating both its 25th anniversary as well as National Summer Learning Day (NSLD) which is aimed at raising awareness about the importance of keeping kids safe, healthy and learning throughout the  summer, ensuring they return to school in the fall ready to succeed. All summer long, students, parents, teachers, advocates, and community members can help raise awareness of summer learning by participating in one of hundreds of summer learning events and programs across the US.

While e-reading platforms, and participating in National Summer Learning Day are two fine ways for kids and families to keep learning, they aren’t the only ways to stay involved in education during the freewheeling, long, hot days of summer. You can also enroll children in a formal summer education program through your school district or community center, ride bikes to the local library, encourage creative writing by writing about favorite summer excursions, sharpen math skills with grocery shopping or cooking activities, or even learn a new language. Regardless of which method you select, the bottom line is, if you care about your child’s personal and academic success, summer learning should never be considered optional.

This piece was co-authored by Sean Ryan and Matthew Boulay, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the National Summer Learning Association.

About The Author

Sean P. Ryan

Sean P. Ryan, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Institutional Business, joined K12 in May 2017. Mr. Ryan is responsible for leading the sales, marketing, service and operations teams that empower school districts to implement successful online and blended learning programs. Prior to joining K12, Mr. Ryan served as Senior Vice President of Sales, Service and Platform for McGraw-Hill Education’s School Education Group, serving the K–12 marketplace. Before joining McGraw-Hill Education, Mr. Ryan served as Senior Vice President of Sales for the Campus Management Corporation, responsible for leading the Project Management Office in their new platform development initiative. Mr. Ryan also worked for the Scantron Corporation as General Manager of the Education Group. Mr. Ryan began his career in the U.S. Air Force as a military intelligence officer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Soviet Studies and Russian from the United States Air Force Academy, a Master of Arts in International Relations from the University of Arizona, and a Master of Science in Management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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