Brilliant: The Science of Smart

Do Kids Really Have ‘Summer Learning Loss’?

Reading just four or five books can ward off setbacks in language skills

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They appear every summer as reliably as the stories about shark attacks: a rash of articles raising the alarm about the “summer slide,” or the loss of learning that grade-school students experience over the months when classes are out. Concern about this leads many a parent to stock up on workbooks and flash cards, or to enroll their children in educational camps and enrichment programs. But is the summer slide really the seasonal disaster that we’ve been warned about? A close look at the research reveals a more complicated picture.

For kids from middle- and upper-middle-income households, for example, the summer slide doesn’t exist at all — at least in terms of reading skills. Affluent children actually make slight gains in reading over the summer months, according to an analysis of 13 research studies led by Harris Cooper, professor of education at Duke University. Meanwhile, lower-income kids lose more than two months of reading achievement over the same period. (The math skills of both affluent and less-affluent kids tend to decline over the summer break.)

Even among underprivileged students, however, the summer slide is not universal. A study published last year in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk reported that “not all low-SES [socio-economic status] students experience summer learning loss.” The authors, led by Johns Hopkins University sociologist Stephanie Slates, identified a sample of poor children from Baltimore who gained as much as their higher-SES peers in reading or math during at least three of the four summers of elementary school.

(MORE: Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer)

What makes these “outliers” different? Their parents, the investigators found, are significantly more likely than other low-income parents to take their children to the library during the summer and to check out books while there. The parents of these “exceptional summer learners” also read to their children for longer periods of time, and are more likely to check their children’s homework and have higher expectations for their children’s conduct grade during the school year — “types of parental involvement that could well carry over into the summer months,” the researchers note.

As simple as it sounds, reading books can reverse the summer slide in literacy skills for even the poorest children. Richard Allington, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his colleagues found that giving kids 12 books to read over the summer was as effective as summer school in raising the students’ reading scores. The increase in test scores was especially pronounced for those who were most economically disadvantaged.

The children in Allington’s study were allowed to pick their own books, and while parents may cringe at their selections (most popular: a biography of Britney Spears), the researchers believe that giving students a choice of reading material is a critical part of their intervention: not only are the kids more motivated to read the books, but the words and facts they learn build on knowledge they already possess.

Another study — this one led by James Kim of the Harvard Graduate School of Education — found that regardless of family income, the effect of reading four to five books over the summer was large enough to prevent a decline in reading-achievement scores from the spring to the fall. Kim’s other finding: children who said they had easy access to books over the summer ended up reading more. So seasonal alarm bells aside, the best way to push back against the summer slide is with your library card.

MORE: The Case Against Summer Vacation

 

12 comments
nitelily2
nitelily2

Ever wonder why some children have no loss of learning when they return from summer vacation, and yet others struggle with getting on the same level as they were when spring session ended? I know I have. This is something that Annie Murphy Paul addresses in her blog titled, “Do Kids Really Have ‘Summer Learning Loss’?” Her blog speaks to the fact that students who read over the summer break were advanced in the fall, while the youth that did not read over the summer struggles to keep up the pace. She backs up her claims with evidence from multiple different resources. Paul states that children should read as often as possible and that parents should read to their children more often to maintain and develop reading skills. Reading a book is beneficial to any individual’s intelligence and imagination, especially to children’s.

To begin with, Paul breaks down the barrier that states that summer slide only happens to poor children. Using studies from reputable individuals, all youths in a control group, were given access to public libraries and the freedom to choose what they wanted to read. Paul states the children that read, regardless of the financial means, actually have maintained if not accelerated into a higher reading level than those who did not read anything during the summer months. Personally, for me, I grew up having to read in the summer time as a youngster and I was always in an advanced class.

Another two aspects that Paul portrays is the attentiveness of the parents to the child’s education and that summer reading of four to five books is actually as beneficial as summer school. By showing the responsibility of the parents for the child’s education Paul builds up her ethos. It should be the majorly the parent’s responsibility to ensure the child is getting the proper education and encouraging the child to do well in school to be able to further the career possibilities in adult life. People that cannot read are limited in what he or she can and cannot do with his or her career. And reading four or five books over the course of 12 weeks is easy to do, easier than playing catch-up during school.

A point to be considered is that I know that people will say that children should be children during the summer months. People say children should not be tied down with reading in the summer, because they do enough of it in the actual school year. But it makes more sense for children to keep up on their skills rather than play catch up. And why can a child not do both? Reading for a half hour a day is a great quiet time for the child and will allow the child to read at least four books during the summer and have a minimum of 10 hours left to play. There is no excuse not to read.

In conclusion, Paul’s blog is a great piece to advocate reading during the summer. Summer reading should be required of all students of reading age. I can see no reason why a parent or child would not read, except for pure laziness.

Elvisfofana
Elvisfofana

Children learn about more things than can be found in books or that can be taught in class. They have to become mature, self-supporting grownups that contribute to society. During summer holidays, they can focus on different life-lessons. Let us not produce future burnouts and let us please focus on slowing down life.

gbknits
gbknits

I'm thinking that there's a happy middle ground.  For the kids who like to read, summer is a great time for them to make their own choices rather than follow school assignments.  For the kids who hate to read, likewise.  There's plenty of time for reading, daydreaming, catching snakes and paddling about in streams.  The trick is to get the right balance.  A lot of school summer reading programs are too heavy handed.  At our local library, they ask kids to read in 20 minute increments.  For a reluctant reader, 20 minutes is usually manageable.



TragoudiArpa
TragoudiArpa

There's a lot more to life than just academic studies, and summer is a perfect time for students to be able to learn and experience real life outside the classroom.  With all the hype about students getting enough physical movement, I'm surprised how many people think that kids should have no summer vacation because they might forget some academics.  You can't learn academics all the time and be a well-rounded human being.

sunilkumar007
sunilkumar007

I agree with you provide great story. also they can join my new start-up PracTutor its free online math and english practice for grate 1 to 8.

BillMarvel
BillMarvel

I spent summers catching snakes, watching trains and planes, riding my bicycle all over town, building stuff in a vacant lot, reading comics, hanging around a couple museums, and just hanging around. Did I suffer a "learning loss?" 

Adults who fret when kids are not spending every second of their time -- what little there is of it these days -- in productive "learning" should be sentenced to spend their vacations on a road gang somewhere or picking crops.

horsley1953
horsley1953

Heck, they have weekend learning loss.

JohnnyRalphHorstman
JohnnyRalphHorstman

School sucks.  Students have the right to stay away from anything educational for the entire summer. 

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@Elvisfofana While I agree that there's more to learn in summer than reading, I fail to see why expecting a kid to read a few books over the summer will keep her from learning those other lessons.  After all, a couple of hours of reading a week isn't exactly going to wreck a summer.  Moreover, if the kids get to pick their own books on topics they like, they may actually come to ENJOY some types of reading, and realize that not all reading is like the boring stuff they have to read in school -- which would be a lesson worth learning on its own, wouldn't you say?

Seriously, asking kids to do a minimal amount of reading over the summer, of books of their own choice, will NOT produce "burnout".

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@BillMarvel I note that "reading comics" is in there.  Please realize that if you read even a single comic each week, then you actually did what they're suggesting here!  That's the thing: it doesn't have to be "fancy" reading, and it doesn't have to be for long.  As you say, there's a lot more to summer than only reading.

But there are too many kids out there who don't read ANYTHING all summer long: not a fiction book or a comic book or a newspaper.  And if these are the same kids who are struggling to read in school already, that can make the next school year even harder on them -- especially relative to their classmates who DID read their comic books and "Nancy Drew" novels occasionally over the past 2.5 months.