How to prevent summer learning loss in elementary school students

Kids Jumping into Pool

As the school year comes to an end, many students are dreaming of swimming pools and bicycles. Kids may not be fantasizing about reading and math, but it’s important to keep the academic juices flowing during the summer — that’s because school vacation can lead to summer learning loss, or the regression of academic progress a child has made during the school year.

Research consistently shows that children in elementary school lose up to two months of achievement gains over the summer, and low-income children tend to lose the most ground. Further, kids tend to lose more skills in math compared to literacy. 

Luckily it’s easy to make learning part of everyday summer fun. Here are tips for parents to help kids stay on track during vacation.

Tips to combat summer learning loss:

  • PBDDRA:  Spark stimulating conversations with young children and  help them improve their communication and critical thinking skills using “PBDDRA” which stands for Preview Before, Discuss During, Reflect After. For example, before a trip to the beach, parents can prompt kids with questions such as, “What do you think we will see/smell/feel at the beach?” During the trip or activity, parents can discuss the activity at hand with the child. After the trip, parents can talk to kids about the experience, or ask children to write a story or draw a picture about the event.
  • Play with math online: Did you know you can find a variety of math games for children on Pinterest? Just go to and search for “math activities.” Another online resource that I like is the UC Berkeley’s family math website which includes printable worksheets and math activities that the whole family can enjoy. 
  • Create math art projects: A great game that I particularly like for young children learning numbers is also an art project. Ask children to decorate a piece of paper with small objects, such as beans, uncooked macaroni or pom-poms (just place the objects on the paper, no glue required just yet). Take turns rolling dice to determine how many of the objects each player can remove from the paper, and then count them out loud. You can also have children roll dice at the start of the game to determine the number of objects to be used in creating the artwork, counting them out loud in the process. At the end of the game, children can glue down their game pieces to create a masterpiece.
  • Resources from Teachers: It’s helpful when teachers put together a packet of summer activity suggestions to distribute to parents before the end of the school year. This may include copies of short stories, book lists, math games and suggestions for fun math and literacy activities that kids can do with their parents or peers.
  • Talk to the child’s new teacher: Before school is out for the summer, parents should talk to their child’s teacher for the following school year. Teachers can explain where they would like students to start the new school year academically, which helps parents understand what skills their child needs to practice over the summer.
  • Read, Read, Read: Perhaps the best thing parents can do is have their children spend time reading — for at least 30 minutes a day. Younger children will benefit just as much from having books read to them. Remember that children gain the most from reading when a parent asks guiding question to check their child’s comprehension. When working with kids, I usually ask them to read a page out loud and then ask them a question based on the content of that page. Often when they only focus on decoding the words, the meaning gets lost.
  • Get outside: Playing outside can still be educational; there’s a whole world to count, spell and explain! When kids are drawing with sidewalk chalk, ask them to make certain shapes or comment on the colors they are using. Count the rings in a tree stump. Help kids learn how to spell the names of vegetables or flowers that they see growing in outdoor gardens.
  • Too hot to play outside? Head to the library. Massachusetts libraries have a great state-wide summer reading program. Their children’s program called Dig Into Reading makes summer reading fun for kids. Libraries also have plenty of books, DVDs, and music to check out, and they have air conditioning.