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The Summer Slide

The Summer Slide

For many of us, some of our sweetest childhood memories are of summertime - going to camp, swimming in pools, or turning a garden hose on siblings or friends. But for many of our Head Start children, summer poses a threat. The effects of less class time, fewer books, and limited opportunities for social skill growth can have detrimental effects known as "summer learning loss." The academic and social gains made during a school year can be compromised or lost if children don’t continue to use and improve on these new and developing skills.

Some Families Can’t Afford Summer

Summer learning loss can happen to all students, but losses in reading and math skills are especially common in children in low-income families, who may also be experiencing additional family stress because of having to arrange for child care. Just last month, the New York Times wrote about "The Families That Can't Afford Summer." But there’s good news, too! Summertime can be a great opportunity for children to improve in exactly these areas and others through cost-effective measures, and summer learning can happen anywhere!

The effects of less class time, fewer books, and limited opportunities for social skill growth can have detrimental effects known as "summer learning loss."

Different communities have adopted different approaches to eliminating or reducing the learning loss that occurs during summertime. Some programs have adjusted their calendars, spreading class hours and breaks across the calendar year more evenly. Others supplement regular programming with a summer program. Summer learning programs mean that children continue to have access to educational resources and opportunities to improve social and academic skills. One Head Start program, Utah CAP (formerly Salt Lake CAP) has created a program that extends into the summer for children who enrolled late in the year -- a prime opportunity for “catch up.” With thoughtful models like these, the summer months can be a time of growth and progress.

Funding, Programming and Resources

Head Start programs and staff are always looking for the best ways to meet the needs of their children and families, but with many competing needs funding a summer program or extending the school year can pose a major challenge. City governments and community foundations can be much needed sources of funding, and libraries and other community organizations may offer other programming that Head Start can connect families with.

New federal duration funds can also be used to extend the school year. Whether through longer days or longer school years, this new infusion of  $294 million more dollars will help programs serve their children and families better and longer. In addition, the Office of Child Care has funded a new National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment that should have resources available soon!


This blog post is an excerpt from NHSA's monthly Research Blast newsletter, which also includes background research and useful resources for each month's topic. To receive the newsletter each month, become an NHSA member today!