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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Hills

How Summer Learning Loss affects your students and what you can do to combat it

Summer is a wonderful time for kids to take a break. After going hard all year long, they finally have a few months to relax. It’s a big break—and that kind of break does have an impact. When your kids have been cramming all year, what happens to them when the pressure is suddenly released?

Unfortunately, they forget. They forget a lot.

A phenomenon called Summer Learning Loss occurs when children disengage from learning. Up to 50% of what you child learned over the school year can disappear. This may not seem to have a big impact when your child returns to school—the moans and groans are the same as usual—but that kind of setback can put her behind the others in class...just little.

You may not see negative effects this year, or even after two years, but the cumulative effect of starting behind and having to spend extra time catching up in the beginning will eventually have a negative effect. Classes will soon become so difficult that students can’t afford to start behind. It’s too hard. In addition, it can also be exhausting for children to constantly have to make up the difference between themselves and their peers.

What’s up? This didn’t used to happen. We would have noticed it and done away with summer. It only happens to certain kids. Who are they? We find it is those kids who disengage too much. While resting is good and necessary, too much of a good thing can turn bad.

Children’s brains are stimulated when they learn and explore. The school year was originally modeled after the agricultural seasons. In the spring, crops were planted; in the autumn, food was harvested. Summer was a time to grow and winter was a time to sleep. You can get overstimulated and exhausted, which is part of the reason we have breaks. On the other hand, if your child is on the couch watching a screen all day over summer, he is getting little to no progressive brain stimulation.

The brain goes from strict discipline to complete laxity. Without any challenge, the parts of your child’s brain that worked so hard to develop over the school year regress. And there’s enough time over summer for it to regress quite a bit. Then, when school starts up again and the inactive brain goes from a summer 0% used to a school-year 100%, it can be a bit of a shock.

This clearly does not set your child up for success. So, what can you do? You can engage your child! Here is a list of easy actions and activities you can do to keep your child thinking during this summer break.

1. Conversations and questions: Talk about different subjects and topics. It doesn’t have to be school related, but it should make your child think a little. Use questions to drive the conversation to a deeper level. Even asking why exactly she liked a movie, or what precisely it was about a new dinner combination that made it so delicious makes your child do a little work to come up with a respectable answer.

2. Exploration: There is a world beyond your house that your child does not yet know very well. Take your child on a walk and discover which flowers are blooming at this time of year. Count the number of red flowers contrast it with the number of yellow flowers. If a neighbor happens to be out on the lawn, teach him how to respectfully greet and interact with an adult.

3. Cook: While your child may feel like a handful in the kitchen, let her help you and learn the beautiful life skill of making food for your family. You can even bring math in by making double

what the recipe says and having your child work out the conversions. Start with something easy, then see what direction your cuisine adventures take you!

4. Money: Going to the store is another common activity. Get some cash and let your child handle the money at the cashier’s. Plan to spend a little time and work out the total beforehand so he can check to see if the change is correct.

5. Reading—anything: Reading makes the brain create pictures out of words. That counts as brain exercise. A visit to the library can provide your child with beautiful stories and worlds to investigate and discover. However, even if your child reads a cereal box, it counts. Just make sure she reads.

6. Summer activity books: Activity books abound at bookstores and many of the larger department stores. Crosswords, word searching, number games—there are so many options and just a couple of pages can perk up your child’s brain enough to maintain his mental capacity.

7. Zoo: Let the animals do the work! Get your steps in while your child identifies the different species and characteristics and searches for camouflaged creatures hiding in the different exhibits.

8. Museums: Art and history in one outing makes for a delightful learning opportunity. Contribute to the educational atmosphere by asking questions about the displays and considering favorite artworks or artifacts.

9. Nature: San Diego has beaches, marshes, and desert terrain. Any of these can be interesting to observe and explore. Tide pools are teeming with plants and small animals, the marshes support many different bird species, and the survival abilities of desert plants are fascinating. Go find out more!

10. Stargazing: Not all stars can be seen where we are, but the visible few can be fun to identify if you can’t make it further than your driveway. However, there are many excellent locations in San Diego to star gaze. Almost any beach offers enough darkness for stars to come out. Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs, and Cowles Mountain are particularly beautiful. Balboa Park has a few dark areas as well and Torrey Pines is another marvelous spot. Don’t be afraid to look up!

Some of these suggestions require some preparation, but many of them can be done in your house, even wrapped around daily activities. It doesn’t take much to reengage your child. We recommend a half hour every day. Alternatively, you can do an hour Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Whatever combination works for you and your family, go for it!

If your family is not in a position to spend this kind of personal time or you are having trouble working against typical summer habits, consider hiring a tutor to encourage your child. A tutor can review and enliven old concepts as well as introduce new ones with a passion your child can get caught up in herself. At Spark Tutors, we love to explore interests and initiate curiosity in many different subjects. Learning is a valuable privilege and should be so exciting, your child can’t wait for what comes next. We would be honored to come alongside you and your child as you make your way through summer into the next school year.


The start of summer doesn’t need to be the end of learning. Try some of these suggestions to keep your child engaged as he recharges for the next year. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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