Summer Slide: How It Happens and the Best Ways to Beat It


  1. What is the summer slide?
  2. Summer slide research
  3. Who is most at risk of the summer slide?
  4. Key summer slide statistics
  5. Why is the summer break beneficial?
  6. Number one solution to summer learning loss
  7. 10 tips to help you beat the summer slide


As the UK school summer holidays approach, children and parents are looking forward to enjoying a well-earned break from the school run. As exciting as this prospect is, it can also be a cause for concern – especially for those parents thinking about the threat of summer learning loss and how to combat it. 🙅

What is the summer slide? And how might it affect your children? As a parent, you must support your child to continue to develop academically and maintain the progress they have made during the previous school year over the summer holidays. 🏖️

So, check out our GoStudent guide to summer slide and the best ways to beat it below!👇

woman on sun lounger next to her child doing summer tutoring online

What is the summer slide?


Summer learning loss – or ‘summer slide’ as it is known in the USA – refers to children’s loss of knowledge and academic skills between finishing their Summer term in July and returning to school for their Autumn term in September. 

The theory goes that, during the summer holidays, children can lose a significant amount of what they’ve learned the previous academic year, resulting in spending several weeks catching up at the beginning of their next school year. 😰


Summer slide research


The concept of summer slide, as well as research into its effects and how to combat them, has predominantly been undertaken in the USA. So, many of the research projects and their findings that we refer to here originated in North America. That being said, the idea of summer learning loss is also widely accepted and understood to be a problem in the UK. 

In fact, in 2016, Barnsley Council in Yorkshire became the first local council in England to reduce the length of school summer holidays to under five weeks – adding the extra week to the October half-term instead – in a bid to combat  summer learning loss in the following academic year.

Researchers have been investigating the summer slide since at least 1996. One of the first comprehensive studies on the phenomenon showed that students typically score lower on standardised tests at the end of their summer holidays than on the same tests taken just before the summer break. 📘

Specifically, more recent studies have shown that kids lose significant knowledge in reading and maths during the summer holidays – up to 20 percent and 27 percent of their school-year gains, respectively – which tends to have a snowball effect as they experience further skill loss year on year. 📚

In the UK, Chris McGovern, Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, shared his views on the results of a survey completed by 2,000 parents exploring the effects of the summer slide, stating: 

“The long summer break can bring plenty of benefits for families that can afford to spend time together. According to a study conducted by Explore Learning from 07/2016, however, there are also downsides to the long summer break, with 75 percent of parents surveyed feeling that, academically, their children slip backward academically.”


Who is most at risk of the summer slide?


Research suggests that younger children are prone to the most summer learning loss because they’re at a crucial stage in their development and their learning follows the steepest curve. 🧒 James Kim, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, explains that: 

“Things like decoding, letter knowledge and reading skills are very susceptible to decay without frequent practice, as are maths facts like addition and subtraction.”

Children from low-income families are also disproportionately affected by the summer slide. Meta-analytic reviews of research so far have concluded that middle-class students tended to show improvement in reading skills while lower-income students tended to experience loss. 


Key summer slide statistics


As discussed above, researchers have investigated the summer slide for over 100 years. Hence, there is plenty of research out there for you to read and evaluate, and we would recommend that you do so to further inform your feelings and opinions on the topic of summer learning loss. 🤓

In the meantime, here are the key summer slide statistics to consider if you are looking to summarise current summer slide research at a glance: 

  • On average, children lose one month’s worth of the knowledge they have gained during the academic year each summer
  • Summer slide is cumulative, so those lost months add up over the years
  • Declines are sharpest in reading and maths – students lose up to 20 percent and 27 percent of their school-year gains respectively
  • Children from low-income families are disproportionately affected by the summer slide
  • Teachers report that it typically takes them 3-6 weeks to reteach the previous year's skills at the beginning of the school year 
  • Only 38-48 percent of parents have heard of summer slide
  • Reading or engaging in another form of learning for just 2-3 hours per week during the summer can prevent summer slide 👍


Why is summer break beneficial?


Having just read all those statistics, you might be feeling a sudden pressure to chain your child to their desk over the summer period, enforce mandatory daily homeschooling or enrol them in an intensive mathematics summer boot camp. Please don’t do that just yet. ✋

Yes, summer learning loss appears to be a real phenomenon, and it’s important to keep our children’s brains ticking during the summer holidays. Still, it is also essential to give them a break – a chance to reset, recharge and experience a different pace of life for a few weeks. 

Along with relaxation, summer break brings unique and enjoyable opportunities to learn and develop outside of the school setting. New educational and social experiences can happen at the park, on public transport, in the kitchen, at your office, at their cousin’s house, or during family vacations where they can freely test social skills and make new, independent memories. 🏞️

It is also worth noting that schools in Britain have some of the shortest summer holidays in the world. Where we take six weeks, Belgium, France and Norway take eight; Canada enjoys nine; Finland, Hong Kong, Poland and Sweden sit at 10; in Iceland, it’s 11; and the USA top the charts with 12.

Finland’s summer break is four weeks longer than ours, yet the country’s education system is considered among the best in the world. Finding a healthy balance between rest and retention is more than possible. You just need a bit of summer motivation and know-how. 🙋


Number one solution to summer learning loss


The answer to beating the summer slide is straightforward – with any luck, you’ll already be doing it! Research has shown that reading or engaging in another form of learning for just 2-3 hours per week during the summer can prevent summer slide entirely. 📖

That’s right, the key to beating the summer slide is regular reading! Like many other vital parts of the human body, the brain is a muscle – the key to keeping it in good shape is to use it. If a child does not exercise or train their brain, they will likely lose a little knowledge – so just make sure to keep flexing their brain muscles. 🧠

It can feel tempting to panic about a potential summer slide, but there is no need. While some parents look to summer clubs, camps and courses to keep their children occupied and academically sharp, research shows that the expensive classroom-based activities were no more effective at preventing summer slide than the more home-based approaches.

Instead, use the summer break to spend quality time together. Travel and explore as a family – whether at home or abroad – reinforce and expand your child’s knowledge and understanding in an out-of-classroom environment. Lean into the fact that there is no school in the morning and spend a little more time reading together at bedtime. 😴


10 tips to help you beat summer slide


So, if regular reading is the number one way to beat summer learning loss, what are the best ways to encourage your child to bury their nose in a book? And what other ways can you get your kids to flex those brain muscles over the summer holidays without breaking the bank or planning for weeks in advance? 🤔

Take a look at our top 10 tips for avoiding summer slide:

#1 Go to the library

As discussed above, reading is the number one way to combat summer slide with your kids. Look for varied daily reading materials, from cookbooks to TV subtitles, websites and newspapers! Encourage reading as an enjoyable activity rather than a chore or a tedious, solitary task.

Visit the library so your children can pick out books that interest them. Give them agency and control over their reading material – that way, they are much more likely to finish books, enjoy the process and improve their comprehension, writing style and vocabulary. You could even sign up for the national Summer Reading Challenge through our local library. 🏛️

#2 Visit a museum

Taking days out to visit museums and cultural sites makes learning fun. Museums, wildlife parks and galleries are all great options for bringing subjects to life – from history to geography, English, science and art – there are a wealth of brilliant cultural institutions all across the UK. 

Many of them are free to enter, and even when the main event isn’t specifically aimed at children, they often have dedicated child-friendly learning zones. 🦕

#3 Spend time in the park

Visit the park or your local green space as often as you can for easy, outside learning experiences. You might get bored visiting the same spot several times in the same week, but your child probably won’t. 

With swings, climbing frames, trampolines, hopscotch and grassy lawns on offer, parks are a great way to get your kid out of the house and burn off some energy. Moreover, you can take this chance to point out flowers, birds and insects you see along the way to encourage their understanding of the natural world around them. 🌳

#4 Get an online tutor

One of the easiest ways to keep your little one’s brain in good shape is to pair them with an online tutor for weekly lessons. Connecting with a different teacher and delving deeper into some of their favourite subjects is a brilliant way to negate the effects of the summer slide. 

At GoStudent, your tutor works with your child to organise the perfect learning plan. Improved concentration, focus, and passion for learning will set your child up for success when they return to school! Book a free trial with us today. 🧑‍🏫

#5 Book a summer camp

Enrolling children in a summer learning program can help them challenge their brains, learn new skills and make new friends. If a boot camp is going to stretch the summer budget too far, it’s well worth contacting your local community centres to see what free or low-cost summer activities they have on offer. 🏕️

#6 Take a trip

Whether it's a camping trip at your local campsite, a weekend adventure to visit relatives, or a week in the sunshine somewhere far-flung, a family holiday can provide all sorts of stimulation, challenge and unbeatable learning opportunities.

Apart from valuable life skills including planning, packing and safe-travel basics, through any trip away from home – large or small – your child will meet new people, try new foods, step outside their comfort zone and maybe even try their hand at a foreign language! ✈️

#7 Spend time in the kitchen

How do you get your kid to think about algebra, trigonometry and Pythagoras' theorem during the summer holiday? 

Easy – get them in the kitchen! Let your kids know they are already using maths-related problem-solving in their everyday lives. Scaling a recipe up or down and cutting a pizza evenly are great examples. Enjoy setting up real-life problems like these for your kids to solve in the kitchen. 🧑‍🍳

#8 Get quizzical online

There is a wealth of engaging, easy-to-use learning material available online. Check out what learning platforms and curriculum-based quizzes you can find and try them out before running through them with your child. Complete with guides, expert tips, interactive exercises and solutions, these resources are invaluable and often free to access. 🧑‍💻

#9 Play together

Games and puzzles are an excellent way for kids to brush up on the basics while having fun at the same time. There are games explicitly geared toward teaching maths skills or expanding vocabulary, but sometimes all you need is a humble pack of cards – check out this list of card games for inspiration. 🃏

#10 Start journaling

Journaling can be an excellent way for kids to practice writing when they’re not in school. At the beginning of the summer holidays, choose a notebook with your child and invite them to record their summer experiences every few days. This is a surefire way to keep up those writing skills, and they will have a book of memories at the end of it  – encourage them to draw and add photos too! ✍️

If you are looking for some extra support to keep your child from slipping down the summer slide, why not try a free trial lesson with GoStudent? Our tutors are experts at bringing subjects to life, boosting academic success and having fun along the way! Get in touch and see how it can work for you today. 🎒