Summer Learning Loss

Forgetting is normal under certain circumstances but forgetting over the summer leads to low grades

If your kids are on school holidays (summer recess) THEY are at risk of summer slide AKA ‘Summer Learning Loss.’  It sounds dreadful, but what exactly is it? How serious is it, and what can YOU do about it?

Kids are opportunists when it comes to learning and can generally learn anywhere. The reason why the school holidays present difficulties for kids is simply because their day-to-day structure is suddenly missing. Kids often react to this with expressions of boredom, or endless requests to have play dates. This can impact upon the structure of the parent’s day, who may not themselves be on holiday.


Let's start by taking a look at this phenomenon, something that has been of interest to education researchers going back as far as 1906. Essentially it is a degree of forgetting of some of the important lessons they have been taught at school during the year, this usually amounts to one month’s worth of school-year learning.

The most common reason why students forget is because the material is under learned. To remember something, it must first be learned, that is, stored in long-term memory. If you don’t do what is necessary to get information into your long-term memory, you have under learned the material and forgetting is normal.

Teachers, we are told, spend an average of four to eight weeks every fall reviewing and reteaching material that students have forgotten during the long summer break. Indeed, many of our kids will be starting the academic year with achievement levels lower than where they were at the beginning of summer break - losing the equivalent of one to two months of reading and math skills. 

The effect is cumulative: Each summer a student isn’t learning adds up and can have a long-term impact on overall performance in school and can more generally exacerbate achievement gaps between students who keep the learning going, and those who don't.

That doesn’t mean that children should be doing math worksheets and studying lists of vocabulary to preserve the skills they have learned during the school year; although if that's what they want to do, Go For It!


Summer is the perfect time for children to discover that learning is fun and can happen anywhere. “You don’t want your kids to think that learning is only something that happens in places called schools,” says Susan K. Perry, author of Playing Smart: The Family Guide to Enriching Offbeat Learning Activities for Ages 4-14. “Rather, you want them to grasp that learning is fun and can go on all the time, anytime, anywhere, with handy materials, not only based on the instruction of an actual schoolteacher. 

The summer is a great unstructured mass of time to try out new things and explore interests that don’t necessarily fit into the school curriculum.” Learning can take place whether you are taking a trip to a far-off place or spending the summer in your own neighborhood. But be careful not to over-plan. 

“To avoid boredom, a child has to learn to be motivated on his or her own, to a certain extent, and that is an acquired skill,” says Perry. “If every time your child says, ‘I’m bored,’ you step in with a quick solution, they’ll never learn to develop their own resources. But do provide some options. Just don’t try to instill learning. That’s not how it works.”


A visit to the beach can be a fun learning experience that kids can benefit from -  to quote a parent, “I used to think learning had to look like sitting down with a book.  Now I know that just answering their questions is also valuable!”


Playing in sand and water provides interesting sensory experience for children of all ages, and here's where sensory meets science - digging and building on the beach!

What happens when you try to build a sandcastle with dry sand? And what if you add too much water to the sand?  Have your kids try it out to see what combination of sand and water is the best for building a beautiful structures. There's also physics involved in sandcastles:

  • How tall can you stack buckets of sand? 
  • Is it easier to use taller buckets or shorter buckets? 

There are lots of things to experiment with as you build and if you’ve invited some friends then it’s time for some group work!  Kids naturally problem-solve how to build the best hole in the sand, and divide up work: digging, shaping, bringing buckets of water.


Remember when your parents warned you not to build your sandcastle too close to the water? And if you didn't heed the warning, the tide would come in and wipe away all your work. 

Teach your kids about how the tides change by marking a spot on the beach during your visit. During a lower tide, place a stick in the sand on the beach (in an area not covered by water). As the day goes on, have the kids check on the stick.  They might come back to you exclaiming "Someone moved the stick into the water!" if you stay at the beach for a few hours. 

Explain that the gravitational pull from the moon is what causes the water to rise on the beach (high tide) or retreat back toward the ocean (low tide).  High tide occurs when the moon is directly overhead of the beach and also when it is on the opposite side of the earth.  So high tide will occur twice each day approximately 12 hours apart.


Travelling to the beach may involve a walk through another ecosystem, such as a forest of deciduous trees, pine forest, swamp, or marsh.  Kids can learn about these different ecosystems, how they interact, progress, and change. There are usually 3 areas for habitat at the beach: 

  • Grassland - occupied by seagulls, crabs, sand pipers and other shore birds and snakes.
  • Sand - occupied by crabs and other crustaceans, insects and sea turtles if your lucky.
  • Water - occupied by fish (and depending on where you are) seals, jellies, sea turtles and whales.

Ask your kids to identify the different animals they see during your visit. Other treasures such as fossilized coral, sharks teeth, rays plates, porpoise bones, and shells all spark curious minds to ask questions and make observations about the world around them. 

Kids love animals so search for some fun friends that call the beach 'home'. You can also check out tide pools as a habitat too.

All of the above are ways that kids can learn at the beach by doing the things that come naturally to children. Below is a summary of a fun day out at the beach with a truly educational experience thrown in.


Science is well-covered in the observations of nature, ecosystems and wildlife. 


Kids definitely get their physical activity credit for the day!  


If your friends came too, you learned to work together.


If parents talked about the role of the park in our community, count it as social studies.  


Building structures from driftwood falls into the art category.


Singing songs on the walk back from the beach counts as music.


Just curling up on a towel with a great book will get kids a reading credit.  


Building sandcastles in the sand and seeing the effects of the gravity on tides.


Kids enjoy taking photos of the wildlife they see and this can lead to great teaching moments.  


Maybe you aren't going anywhere, but that doesn't have to mean huddling over a computer by yourself all day. Tear yourself away from your screen and hook up with a friend. Visit a museum or an art gallery, your local shopping mall or park. Make a scrapbook together to preserve your summer memories.

If you choose to study, remember that studying alone can be boring. You’ll check your phone to see if you have any messages, or you’ll get distracted by going online. Studying with a friend however - when done right  - can have numerous advantages compared to studying alone. You’ll be able to ask your friends questions about work that you might not have understood. They may be able explain concepts and clarify any doubts you have. Furthermore, by reviewing the materials again and again, you’ll retain information better.

With friends, studying in the summer can be fun. You can make jokes, create funny examples, and even hang out after study time is over. You’ll discover new things about them, their strengths and weaknesses, goals and motivations, or even hardships they may be facing. Sharing these personal things will definitely make you better friends and give you a summer to remember. Maybe better grades in the new school term too!

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