What is the summer slide?

Although it sounds fun, the summer slide is actually an extensively researched phenomenon where children's learning takes huge steps backwards during the summer months.

In particular, low-income children who were not exposed to additional learning opportunities, slipped backwards by 2.6 months in numeracy and 2 months in literacy. These effects were found to be cumulative, which means that the summer months can stack up to 2.1 years of lost learning when totalled over a child's school career. (Cooper 1996)

How can you stop the summer slide?

Luckily, there's a lot you can do to prevent your child from slipping too far behind. There's also no need for your child to spend every hour of their vacation stuck behind a textbook. Just a 1-2 hours a week of focused, interesting work can keep their hand in and prevent academic deterioration. Some ideas:

  • Online educational games - see my post here for a curated selection.
  • Workbooks, such as those made by Schofield and Sims (ages 5 - 11), or the ubiquitous Bond Books (ages 5 - 13). They aren't always the most inspiring for students to complete, but completing 10 minutes every morning is usually a relatively painless affair, and you will notice a difference.
  • Vocabulary development - you can read my guides to effective vocabulary expansion here and here.
  • Reading. This is absolutely crucial, even during term time. Your child needs to be reading at least 20-30 minutes per day. Set aside family time where everyone in the family reads. Providing a good example definitely helps to enthuse children. You can view my select list of recommended books for age groups ranging from 6 to 18 here.
  • Interesting maths questions. For example, for students in Year 8 or below, take a look at some of these questions from the Junior Maths Challenge, and try and do them together (answers here). You can also find my own collection of challenging maths problems, spanning from 11+ to GCSE level, here.
  • Science experiments. Try not to simply do a demonstration. Write down your hypothesis, the materials you will need, and the measurements you will take. Then create a nice results table in Excel, and draw some graphs. Make sure you explain the science behind what you're doing, and ask your child questions to ensure they understand.
  • Some parents opt for tutoring over the summer. This is especially relevant for those with entrance exams coming up in September (grammar school entrance and boarding school pre-tests), as well as January exam entrants. However, if there are no particular exams on the horizon, then organising some small group tutoring can be cost-effective while still keeping things ticking over. Band together with a few other parents in your area; most tutors will be happy to teach a small group of children of a similar age.


Research On the Summer Slide

  1. Entwisle, D., Alexander, K., & Olson, L. 2000. “Summer Learning and Home Environment.” In R. Kahlenberg Ed., A Notion at Risk: Preserving Public Education as an Engine for Social Mobility pp. 9-30. New York: Century Foundation Press.
  2. Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. 1996. “The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and metaanalytic review.” Review of Educational Research, 66, 227–268.
  3. Heyns, Barbara. 1978. “Summer Learning and the effects of schooling”. Orlando, FL: Academic.Press.
  4. Alexander, Karl, Entwisle, Doris, and Olson, Linda. 2004. “Schools, Achievement, and Inequality: A Seasonal Perspective.” In Geoffrey Borman and Matthew Boulay Eds., Summer learning research, policies, and programs pp. 25-51. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.
  5. Downey, D., von Hippel, P., & Broh, B. 2004. “Are Schools the Great Equalizer? Cognitive Inequality during the Summer Months and the School Year.” American Sociological Review, 69 5, 613-635.

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