School’s Out for Summer?

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Summer is an important time to invest in your child's education.

As a parent, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of saving for your child’s education through a 529 plan (see “What Is a 529 Plan?”). But saving for education isn’t the only way you can help brighten your child’s future.

It’s summertime and the living is easy. Lazy, homework-free days at the pool or the beach probably sound like a dream to you as much as to your children. No late-night tears over assignments that should have been completed right after school. No frantically trying to find a solution for a forgotten textbook. But the reality is, limiting schoolwork strictly to the school year puts kids at risk of a “summer slide” (and not the fun kind at the park).

If you want to make sure all the hard work your kids put in during the year doesn’t go to waste, it’s best to encourage off-season learning.


The Summer Slide

Students who stay on top of their studies in the summer are more likely to graduate from high school and enter college than those who fall behind in the summer.1 So whether you have a little one running through the sprinkler in the backyard or an angsty teen reluctantly working a first summer job, you can use this time to help set her up for long-term success.

It’s well worth your effort: Among students who do not practice any form of continuing education during the summer, achievement scores dropped by the equivalent of one month of school on average.2

These declines are typically more pronounced in math than in reading,2 though both areas of study are impacted. In fact, as much as two-thirds of the achievement gap at the ninth-grade level may be attributed to a lack of summer education.3 This phenomenon is known as the “summer slide.”

The result is that during the school year, much time is spent “re-learning” old concepts, potentially making for a repetitive curriculum.2 And that one month of learning loss that teachers and students must make up for the following year? “Re-teaching” that material may cost as much as an estimated $1,500 per student per year—more than $18,000 over the course of a K-12 academic career.3

Summer Learning Should Be Fun

Carrying studies through the summer improves school attachment, motivation, and relationships. It keeps students fresh and helps keep them in an academic mindset over their break.

Continued learning across all ages can either be formal, with school-mandated summer reading or summer school programs, or informal, through at-home workbooks, excursions, or study. But no matter how you choose to pursue education with your child through their vacation, you can help improve their quality of education during the school year.

Here are some ideas for keeping your kids engaged to set them up for success in their futures—academic and otherwise:

Uncle museum symbol

Visit museums: Bring elementary schoolers to children’s museums. Encourage older children to visit art or science museums. To keep your kids thinking after their visits (regardless of age), ask questions. Have them summarize their favorite exhibit or something new they learned.


Read: Make time to read aloud to young children or encourage older children to read independently. You can even read the same book as your child and have a book club. Local libraries often carry lists of recommended reading broken down by grade level if you need help deciding.

kangaroo symbol

Spend a day at the zoo: Or aquarium. Or farm. Discuss the animals, what environments they live in, and how they compare to other animals.


Learn something new: Have your kids teach you how to do something—whether it’s how to make a bracelet from string, how to play soccer, or how to play a new card game. In explaining it, they’ll be exercising their communication skills.


Create a scavenger hunt: Send your kids around the neighborhood to gather data or objects. Maybe they need to find a leaf from an oak tree or a piece of an evergreen. Perhaps they need to find a house on the street whose street address digits add up to 100. The options are limitless.


Practice real-life math: Take your kids on trips to the store with you. Challenge the younger ones to help you find the most cost effective deal on yogurt. Give them two coupons for orange juice and ask them which one is a better savings. Teach older kids how to budget. Show them how to manage their own earnings, and maybe help them open a savings account.


Why Summer Learning  

Keeping your kids’ minds sharp during the summer months is critically important for long-term success. Fighting the summer slide starts at home, whether your child is attending organized summer learning programs, working a summer job, or just running around the neighborhood. Prevent your child from spending the next three months losing that one month’s worth of hard work to lazy days during the summer.

You already know the value of education. These simple steps can help you keep investing in your child’s education this summer.

History of Summer Vacation: 

In 1842, New York City schools were open 248 days per year. In rural America, school met year-round, with a spring and fall break for crop planting and harvesting seasons. So why is the public school year 180 days with a three-month summer break today?

As it turns out, there are social, economic, and practical reasons behind this. Before air conditioning, big cities ended up shutting their schools’ doors because it was simply too hot. It also became common in cities for upper-class (and, later, middle-class) families to flee the heat and head for cooler lakes and beaches.

By the late 19th century, social reformers were clamoring for a standardized school year across American public schools. Summer vacation was born.


Source: PBS, “Agrarian roots? Think again. Debunking the myth of summer vacation’s origins,” 2014. Most recent data available., “Why Summers Matter,”

2The Brookings Institution, “Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it?” 9/14/17

3Forbes, “Stop The Costly ‘Summer Slide.’ Turn Your Kid Into A Summer Entrepreneur,” 6/18/17