What you can do to help your kids avoid the ‘summer slide’

What you can do to help your kids avoid the 'summer slide'

NORFOLK, Va. — Sometimes known as the ‘summer slide’ or ‘summer setback,’ learning loss is the phenomenon where students’ achievement scores decline from the last day of school to the first day of the next school year.

This summer, some in Hampton Roads want to avoid that issue.

Hampton Roads parent Dorris Gunnison and her five children made a trip to the library during the first week of summer break. 

“I don’t want my kids to forget everything they learned,” said Gunnison.

Each summer, the family hopes to build skills to start the next school year on the right foot.  

“I am a parent who likes to learn myself, so I want my kids continuously to learn. Even if it is not about education, crafting like I said, and instead about sportsmanship, leadership, time-management,” said Gunnison.

She also brings her kids to Horizon Hampton Roads, a non-profit former Portsmouth Educator Dr. Velvet Smith helps direct.  

Dr. Smith says learning loss happens in Hampton Roads.  

“It’s a problem because when kids come back to school, they start right in on the Standards of Learning, and they need to be able to capitalize on the things they learned the prior year,” said Dr. Smith.

In an American Education Research Journal study published in 2020, researchers found students lose on average 17% to 34% of the prior learning gains over the summer, and the gap between high and low achievement levels widens. Those percentages were calculated before the pandemic.  

“It’s not usually a year or two years’ worth of learning loss. It could be a couple of reading levels or Lexile levels, or it could be a couple of months,” said Dr. Nicole DeVries, the chief academic officer for Portsmouth public schools.

“Think about it, you aren’t doing any math, you may lose those math facts. You’re not advancing in your language skills. And if other children are advancing, you’re going to school, then having maybe forgotten a lot of what you had learned the year before,” said Brenda Garrett, Horizons Hampton Roads, executive director.  

Educators said classrooms sometimes need to be modified to better suit kids at different levels. 

“We may modify the products kids produce, modify the way in which we teach to them, and then also modify the amount of time addressed to them,” said Dr. Smith.

All this, Dr. Smith said, as classrooms are trying to catch up from the pandemic.  

That’s why there are summer options available to parents and students for a cost and for free. They range from library reading programs to Horizon Hampton Roads enrichment programs, to Portsmouth’s STARBASE STEM camps, and more. 

Norfolk Public Library’s annual Summer Reading Program can be found .
Virginia Beach Public Library’s annual Summer Reading Challenge can be found .
Portsmouth’s STARBASE programs that focus on STEM can be found .
Horizons Hampton Roads information can be found .

“It gets to the point where you don’t know you’re learning when you’re having so much fun. But in the meantime, we are providing them with opportunities to engage in inquiry and critically think and problem solve,” said Dr. DeVries.  

“We learn all the time through our experiences, but with learning loss and helping kids we have to be very, very intentional,” said Dr. Smith.

And what if you don’t want to do a summer camp or program?

“If they don’t do anything I would say they should be reading every night. If you’re not reading with them, take them to the library, check out some books and let them look at what’s of interest to them,” said Dr. DeVries. 

Leaning into interests— that’s exactly what Doris Gunnison’s family plans to do, too.

“When they come to me and say they learned something new, I know that my kids are actually growing and they are taking the time to be interested in different things,” said Gunnison.  

Some people disagree on how much summer learning loss impacts the classroom because performance can be measured in different ways, but most educators agree it’s a good idea to engage with your kids in reading, writing, math, and encourage social activities over the summer.  

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