Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Summer Learning Day is this Friday, June 21. It’s a national advocacy day that’s meant to “spread awareness about the importance of summer learning for our nation’s youth,” according to the National Summer Learning Association, which is promoting the day on its website as a way to help close the achievement gap.

Summer is famous for its hours of free time — and infamous for being a time when children experience a “summer slide” with their learning.

According to research findings shared on the association’s Know the Facts webpage, “All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.” In addition: “Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.” And “more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.”

The good news is that there is a great deal that parents, summer program directors and community leaders can do to help children retain what they’ve learned during the school year and make educational progress over the summer.

What Programs Can Do

The nonprofit research center Child Trends offers the following five tips to help organizers improve summer learning programs.

– Invest in educators
“Programs that hire teachers who have a bachelor’s degree and several years of teaching experience are more likely to improve academic outcomes than those that hire college students or do not hire instructors at all… An investment in recruiting, hiring and training quality staff, and a sufficient number of them, can be an investment in programmatic results.”

– Connect with others in the field
“Beyond supporting curriculum alignment, strategic partnerships between school and community organizations can lead to more diversity in funding sources, sharing of facilities and other resources,” as well as access to a larger and more diverse pool of teachers and students.

– Involve Families
“Research shows that children with parents who are involved in their academic lives are likely to outperform children without such parental involvement. Staff should communicate regularly with parents about their children’s progress, provide opportunities for families to participate in multiple ways, and provide spaces where, and times when, families and staff can connect.”

– Make it fun
“Summer programs represent a great opportunity to help students learn in a stimulating, active environments, and develop expertise in areas that interest them.”

– Plan, measure and adjust
Research shows that “programs with year-round staff dedicated to planning and recruitment are most successful in setting and reaching programmatic goals.” Furthermore, “engaging in data collection and analysis continuously rather than waiting till the end of a program can help determine what led a program to its final outcomes.”

“Finally,” Child Trends says, “don’t be put off if a program does not have earth-shattering results. Because summer learning loss is cumulative, even a minor reduction each year can lead to major improvement in the end.”

What Parents and Community Leaders Can Do

The National Summer Learning Association calls on parents to engage their children in a range of activities including community service projects, public library programs and good old-fashioned conversations about books or other topics.

Advocates can find association resources here, including an achievement gap graphic that can be posted on Facebook. Ideas for holding Summer Learning Day events are posted here. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which focuses on summer learning as a key strategy to ensure reading proficiency by the end of third grade, offers a Summer Learning Day Toolkit with additional resources.

One appealing example in Massachusetts is in Pittsfield. The Pittsfield Promise initiative will host a summer learning kick-off from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the Berkshire Museum, featuring a mayoral proclamation, book swap, games and free museum admission.

The Holyoke Public Library will reach out to families throughout the summer to promote learning and reading activities. And on June 28th in Heritage State Park there will be a community fair featuring a book swap and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities.

For those seeking more information about summer learning research, best practices, and advocacy, the association will hold its Tenth Annual National Conference on Summer Learning in November.