With summer vacation right around the corner, you might be worried about how you’re going to keep the kids engaged while they’re out of school. Without some form of educational stimulation, it’s quite possible that they will lose some of their learning over the summer months. Here are ten simple things you can do over the summer to prevent summer learning loss.

PREVENT SUMMER LEARNING LOSS | 2 kids sit at a table and write in notebooks

What is Summer Learning Loss?

According to research from the Brookings Institution, summer learning loss–also known as summer brain drain or the summer slide–has been studied by educational researchers for well over a hundred years. The general consensus of this research is that student’s lose up to as much as thirty percent of a school year’s worth of learning over the summer, particularly in the higher grades.

Researchers also found that summer learning loss is more likely to occur in math than it is in reading, and that there is a gap between lower income and higher income families. That is, children from lower income families tend to lose more of what they’ve learned in the school year over the summer than those from higher income families, due in part to a lack of targeted educational opportunities over the summer.

Is It Something to Be Concerned About?

I suppose the answer to this question depends on how you look at education.

If seeing a steady improvement on test scores and reading skills is important to you, then yes, summer learning loss is something to be concerned about.

However, for many parents, including plenty in the homeschooling community, “learning” is not something so easily measured.

These parents would argue that learning is taking place all the time, and that any of the academic learning students lose over the summer is compensated for by knowledge gained doing activities that are unique to summer–a camping trip with family, for example, or having the freedom to explore one’s neighborhood more thoroughly.

To give you another example, I never participated in any kind of formal summer learning program before I went to university.

No summer school, no summer training camps.

Indeed, I was from a lower income family and these opportunities weren’t made available to me.

But I did spend most of my summers fishing with my dad on his commercial fishing boat out of northern British Columbia. I met people who were from many different walks of life and developed friendships with a diverse group of people.

I learned to work hard–very hard–but I also learned to be much more independent in addition to developing a healthy measure of patience (those summers away from home sure felt loooong back then).

My point here is this: There are many different types of learning that can take place of the summer (or at any time) and most of them don’t come in the form of formal learning programs, so I don’t want you to feel as though you need to go and sign your kids up for all the summer programs available in your area.

At the same time, there are a number of simple measures you can take to keep your kids actively learning all summer so they’re reading to jump back into academics in the fall, whether that’s in a classroom or at your kitchen table.

10 Simple Strategies to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

As homeschoolers, the line between summer learning and school year learning is probably a lot blurrier than it is for families whose kids attend school. I’m guessing we do a little less over the school year and a little more over the summer than those with a traditional ten-month schedule.

But one of the most important things about summer is that it’s the only time of year when we get beautiful weather where we live. Therefore, we really try to take advantage of the weather as much as we can.

So, although I’m about to give you my top ten activities for preventing summer learning loss, I want to first give this advice: if there is a chance to enjoy the essence of summer, by all means, take it!

Planned learning can wait.

Get outside and do all the things you can’t do the rest of the year.

And if it’s possible to work a few of these things in as well, even better.

10 Strategies to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

1. Work on Fun Projects that We Don’t Get Around to During the School Year

The school year is inevitably busy and packed with activities. There are many projects that we never get a chance to do. For my kids, this means working on the novels that they’ve been dreaming about all year. We finally have time to sit down and plot those out, an activity they’re greatly motivated to participate in.

2. Work Toward a Goal Together

Is there a goal your kids want to achieve, perhaps one that requires a bit more help from you? Summer is the perfect time to work toward it. Maybe they’ve wanted to start a blog, nail the perfect handstand, or reach the next level in their swimming lessons—Why not devote some extra time this summer to helping them reach their goal?

3. Keep Learning Going with Self-Paced Online Classes

I know this is definitely not for everyone, but we’ve just recently dipped our toes into the sea of online classes this past year and it’s been a positive experience so far.

We’ve enjoyed studying French and Portuguese on Duolingo, and the girls have made great progress on their math courses with programs like CTCMath and Mr. D. Online classes are fabulous for helping your kids learn things that you aren’t able (or available) to teach them.

4. Get a Head Start on Next Year’s Reading

Again, you may not feel up to initiating this after a long year of coercing kids into reading, but if it’s child-led, it can be a real win-win. My third daughter is starting grade 2 this year, and she gets so excited every year when a box of Sonlight books arrives.

She begs me to open the box right away so she can see the books, and then she insists on reading them immediately.

I don’t expect this enthusiasm will last forever, but I don’t want to be the one to squash it. Getting a head start on her reading also means I can get her into a routine early, before the other pressures of September kick in.

And as a bonus, her little brother also wants to sit and listen—it’s a summer miracle!

5. Join a Summer Book Club

Most libraries in our area offer some type of summer book club, in which kids can win prizes for reading a certain number of books over the summer.

If your kids are not naturally motivated to read, perhaps a little external incentive will help? Head to your library and see what they’ve got going on. If you can’t find a program near you, check out these programs sponsored by Barnes and Noble and Scholastic.

Hopefully, this is the year your kids realize—if they haven’t already—it’s just not summer until you’ve read some really great books!

6. Develop New Skills

If you live in a four-season climate, there are some skills that can only be learned in warm weather–gardening, berry picking, food preservation, certain water activities, etc.

Summer offers a unique opportunity to develop these skills. Other skills just require a certain amount of time and dedication that’s not possible during the school year.

For example, my kids have been wanting to work on photography, photo editing, and graphic design. While we can technically do these things at anytime, we usually can’t commit the kind of time necessary for really making progress in these areas.

Find out what your kids are excited to learn and then build that into your summer schedule.

7. Take Time to Review and Reflect on the Past Year

One of our favorite summertime activities is reflecting on what worked—or didn’t—over the past year.

I usually have my own list, but I’m always surprised to hear what my kids felt worked and didn’t. Their responses are surprisingly insightful and they really help me plan for the coming year. It’s important to know, for example, whether they felt too busy or overscheduled, whether their curriculum worked for them, and whether they would like to take fewer or more extracurricular activities in the coming year.

We usually try to have these conversations as a whole family so we can all contribute to the conversation.

8. Involve Them in Making Plans for the Coming Year

Many of your plans for next year may already be in place, but perhaps there are still a few balls up in the air. Maybe you’re shuffling through dance schedules, sports commitments, online classes and co-ops, trying to figure out how to make it all work.

As kids get older, you can offer them an increasingly bigger role in this planning process. They usually have a good sense of what works for them and what doesn’t.

You will need to be careful, though, if you have a child like one of mine, who always wants to fit more things than are humanly possible into her schedule. In this case, especially, it’s important to start with boundaries in place about how full you’re willing to let your schedule become.

9. Test Out New Activities Through Summer Camps

We’ve always enjoyed signing up for various summer camps to explore new skills and activities. This is, after all, an easy way to try something out without having to make a yearlong commitment to it, only to find out a month in that they don’t like it.

You can find camps for any type of activity: dance samplers, karate, theatre, sports, photography, naturalist clubs, computer programming, and textile arts to name just a few.

If there aren’t camps in your area—or if they are cost-prohibitive—go ahead and plan your own. Do some research and set aside a week to dedicate to an immersive exploration of the activity.

10. Involve Them in Solving Real World Problems

Unfortunately, summer does not offer us a reprieve from many of the day-to-day problems that we face.

We still have to deal with juggling competing schedules, managing unexpected challenges (like a car breaking down on a vacation), and, of course, sibling rivalries. Because my kids have less on their own plates during the summer, I love to use this time to involve them in solving real world problems, an essential skill that all kids need to develop before they leave home.

Some examples of what this has looked like in our house: fixing a rundown clubhouse in our backyard, helping a neighbor through the loss of a pet, preparing our home for international guests, taking care of younger siblings who need extra attention in the summer, reducing our vehicle usage and trying to do more of our errands on bicycle, and dealing with technical problems with our church audio system.

There are no shortage of opportunities to practice real world problem-solving.

Ultimately, the goal is not to turn summer into another season of task lists and schedules. Rather, try to view the break as an opportunity to rest and refresh while also building on some of the things that your kids have learned over the past year.

Use this list as a prompt and do some brainstorming about things you might try with your kids this summer. Then, bring them into the process and let them pick one or more activities that sound exciting to them.

If you create a safe environment over the summer for them to test out and explore new skills and interests, September won’t come as such a shock to their system.

How about you? What are some things you try to do over the summer to keep kids engaged? Leave a comment below to let us know.

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