Summertime and Learning for Children

Posted by Ronald | July 25, 2016  |  No Comment

In the early years of formal schooling in America, school calendars were designed to fit the needs of each particular community (Gold, 2002). Some communities had long summer breaks that released children from school in spring to help with planting and in fall to help with the harvest. Urban schools sometimes operated on 11- or 12-month schedules. By 1900, migration from the farm to the city and an increase in family mobility created a need to standardize the time children spent in school. The current nine-month calendar emerged when 85% of Americans were involved in agriculture and when climate control in school buildings was limited. Today about 3% of Americans’ livelihoods are tied to the agricultural cycle, and air conditioning allows schools to provide comfortable learning environments year-round (Association of California School Administrators, 1988).

Educators and parents often voice concerns about the possible negative impact of summer vacation on student learning. Because children learn best when instruction is continuous, long summer breaks interrupt the pace of instruction, lead to forgetting, and require a significant amount of material review when students return to school in the fall. The long summer break also can have an even greater negative learning effect on children with special educational needs. For example, some children who speak a language at home other than English may have their English language skills set back by an extended period without practice. Some children with disabilities may also profit from educational summer programs.

Cooper et al. (1996) conducted research that included 39 studies examining the effects of summer vacation on standardized achievement test scores. Thirteen of the studies could be included in a meta-analysis (a statistical integration) of the results. The meta-analysis indicated that summer learning loss equaled at least one month of instruction as measured by grade-level equivalents on standardized test scores. On average children’s tests scores were at least one month lower when they returned to school in the fall than their scores were the prior spring. The meta-analysis also found differences in the effect of summer vacation on various skill areas. Summer loss was more pronounced for mathematics and spelling than for other tested skill areas.

Summer 2016 therefore presents great opportunities for continual learning for children. Families and children can use available resources for continual enrichment of skills during the summer months. A survey from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) confirms that teachers spend a significant amount of time re-teaching material because of summer learning loss. Based on answers from 500 teachers, the survey found that 66% of teachers have to spend three to four weeks re-teaching students course material at the beginning of the year, while 24% spend at least five to six weeks re-teaching material from the previous school year.

The NSLA is the only national nonprofit organization focused on closing the achievement gap by increasing summer learning opportunities for all children. NSLA, which advocates summer learning as a solution for equity and excellence in education, offers expertise and support for programs and communities. The NSLA vision is that all children and youth should have access to high-quality summer learning experiences to help them succeed in college, career, and life.

The NSLA mission includes the following:

  • Expand Access – NSLA works closely with communities to develop and expand engaging and enriching summer learning to the young people who need it the most. NSLA also collaborates with summer learning programs to improve their offerings.
  • Build Awareness – Through partnerships with national organizations serving communities, media outreach, and grassroots initiatives, NSLA builds awareness to the need to keep all children learning, safe, and healthy.
  • Strengthen Policy – NSLA convenes leaders across the country and actively advocates at the local, state, and federal level for summer learning as a solution for equity and excellence in education.

Additional information on the NSLA is available at

The Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) is a consortium of states working together to provide high-quality summer reading program materials for children, teenagers, and adults at the lowest cost possible for their public libraries. Public libraries in participating states or systems can purchase posters, reading logs, bookmarks, certificates, and a variety of reading incentives at significant savings by combining resources and working with an exclusive vendor to produce materials designed for CSLP members. The participating systems and states develop a unified and high-quality promotional and programming product. Participants have access to the same artwork, incentives, and publicity, in addition to an extensive manual of programming and promotional ideas.

CSLP began in 1987 when ten Minnesota regional library systems developed a summer library program for children, choosing a theme, creating artwork and selecting incentives that public libraries in the regions could purchase and use. State libraries and systems continue to join, and CSLP continues to evolve, but its guiding principle remains the same: librarians share ideas, expertise, and costs to produce high-quality summer reading programs for children.

Additional information on the NSLA is available at

Reading Rockets, a national multimedia literacy initiative, provides research-based strategies, best-practice, and resources on how children learn to read, why they struggle, and how caring adults can help. Reading Rockets also offers materials for teachers to help families get ready for summer or for families to give to their children for enjoyable, enriching summertime experiences to ensure students gain learning over the summer, rather than lose it.

Reading Rockets provides additional information and materials at

About the Author

Andrea Nelson-Royes, EdD, is an educational researcher and author of Why Tutoring?: A Way to Achieve Success in School (This book was a 2016 finalist in the International Best Book Award); Success in School and Career: Common Core Standards in Language Arts K−5; Transforming Early Learners into Superb Readers: Promoting Literacy at School, at Home, and within the Community; and PURR! A Children’s Book about Cats. Her forthcoming book fall 2017 is Families as Partners in Education. Her articles have appeared in the Reading Improvement Journal and Illinois Schools Journal. Nelson-Royes holds a doctoral degree in educational and organizational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. She lives in the southeastern United States with her family. She can be contacted through her website at


Association of California School Administrators. 1988. A primer on year-round

Education. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved from ERIC database

(ED 332 271),

Collaborative Summer Library Program. 2015. On Your Mark, Get Set…READ!

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Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. 1996. The effects of

            summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic

            review. Review of Education Research, 66(3), 227-268. Retrieved from ERIC

database (EJ 596 384),

Gold, K. M. 2002. School’s In: A history of summer education in American public

            schools. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

National Summer Learning Association. 2016. Smarter summers. Brighter futures.

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Reading Rockets. 2015. Get Ready for Summer! Ideas for teachers to share with

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