Investment in Summer Learning Programs Can Help Stop the ‘Summer Slide’

The loss of knowledge and educational skills during the summer months is cumulative over the course of a student’s career and further widens the achievement gap between low- and upper-income students, according to a RAND Corporation study issued last week.

The study confirms that students who attend summer programs can disrupt the educational loss and do better in school than peers who do not attend the same programs.

“Despite long-term efforts to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students, low-income students continue to perform at considerably lower levels than their higher-income peers, particularly in reading,” said Jennifer McCombs, study co-author and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Instruction during the summer has the potential to stop summer learning losses and propel students toward higher achievement.”

The study, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education, is the most comprehensive research on summer learning to date. Using extensive analysis of existing literature combined with field research, the study examines student summer learning loss and gain, the characteristics of effective summer learning programs and the costs associated with such programs.

It also gives specific recommendations on how school districts can overcome barriers to establishing successful programs.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the conventional six-hour, 180-day school year is insufficient to give many disadvantaged students the education they deserve,” said Nancy Devine, director of communities at The Wallace Foundation. “This long-awaited and timely RAND study, ‘Making Summer Count,’ confirms the disproportionate impact of the ‘summer slide’ on low-income students, and suggests that high-quality summer learning programs, though challenging to develop, are a promising path forward.”

Researchers find that not all summer learning programs provide equal educational benefits to students. Moreover, many programs suffer from low attendance. Researchers find that students experience the most benefits when the summer programs include individualized instruction, parental involvement and small class sizes.

Despite the clear benefits from these programs, according to the study, many school districts question the cost-effectiveness of summer learning programs and a significant number have discontinued them as a result of budget cuts.

While a day of summer instruction costs less than a day of instruction during the school year, summer learning programs are an additional cost. The researchers found that cost is the main barrier to implementing and sustaining summer programs.

“One way school districts can make summer learning programs affordable and more effective is by partnering with community-based organizations,” said co-author Catherine Augustine, a senior policy researcher at RAND. “They are often less expensive than school district staff, and they offer enrichment opportunities that are often similar to those experienced by middle-income youth during the summer — such as kayaking or chess, for example — that encourage students to enroll and attend, both of which are critical to program effectiveness.”

Researchers make several recommendations for school districts and community leaders to plan and develop summer learning programs, including:

  • Invest in highly qualified staff and early planning. The more-successful providers developed well-structured programs that attract students to enroll and attend, and they recruited quality, dedicated staff with time to devote to planning and programming.
  • Apply “best practices” to summer learning programs, such as providing smaller class sizes, getting parents involved, giving individual instruction and promoting maximum attendance.
  • Give strong consideration to partnerships, which enable the creation and sustainment of high-quality voluntary summer learning programs. Various organizations offer different sets of resources and skills that can bolster a summer learning program. Partners may include community-based organizations, private summer learning providers, and city and local governments.
  • Think creatively about funding sources, such as hiring AmeriCorps members and hiring teachers who need administrative hours as summer-site coordinators. There are more than 100 funding sources that can support summer learning programs.

Researchers also recommend that policymakers at the federal, state and local levels continue funding summer learning programs, and clarify the extent to which existing funding sources can be allocated toward summer programs.

“Summertime offers an opportunity to help bridge the achievement gap and the opportunity gap,” McCombs said. “Summer learning programs can give students the chance to master material they did not learn in the previous school year, prevent learning loss, propel learning gains and provide low-income students with enrichment opportunities similar to those experienced by their middle-income peers.”

The full report, Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning,” is available at and

RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation, is a leader in providing objective, high-quality research and analysis on educational challenges that is used to improve educational access, quality and outcomes in the United States and throughout the world.

A Parent’s Guide to an Educational Summer Vacation

By Joy Price Lewis, Chicago Education Consultants

Richard W. Riley stated, “Parents and families are the first and most important teachers. If families teach a love of learning, it can make all the difference in the world to our children.” Hence, it is imperative that parents play an active role in their student(s) life during the summer vacation.

Just as athletes train during off seasons and exercise during a vacation, it is essential that students continue studying and learning over the summer break between school years. It is critical so that students hold on to prior learning and return to school in September with the behaviors and attitudes for new learning to take hold.

The student who idly passes two months of time in the summer may have difficulty getting back into the swing of school life socially and academically. Some social and academic gains made in the previous school year do get lost when behaviors, strategies, and understandings are not applied and practiced during the long summer break.

Editors Note:
June 21 is Summer Learning Day! Visit National Summer Learning Association for more tips and ideas to keep your child’s mind sharp over the summer!

Here is a round up of some of our favorite Summer Learning Posts for parents and teachers:

School Dolls – Dolls in Education


Realizing that some of your children’s toys can be wonderful teaching tools, helping to engage them in developing essential life-skills, can open up a whole new realm of interactive play experiences for you and your child.

School Dolls come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They also come in both male and female versions. Using these toy to role-play with your child can assist them in learning positive ways to communicate, and aid in social and educational development.

Play is the foundation for all Early Learning for young children, and giving your child the time and a few basic toys can provide her with a variety of valuable learning opportunities. “Play is how children begin to understand and process their world,” says Angie Rupan, Program Coordinator for Child Development Center in South San Francisco, CA and early childhood educator for over 20 years. “Children’s play unlocks their creativity and imagination, and develops reading, thinking, and problem solving skills as well as further develops motor skills. It provides the base foundation for learning.”

Playing with a Multi Level Wooden Dollhouse or Lots to Love Babies allows your child to reenact what happens in her everyday life, using the words and phrases she hears. You are likely to hear your own words come out of her mouth as she recreates events that have happened, perhaps with an outcome more suited to her liking!

Maybe your little learner would like to play school! Children can teach their doll reading, writing, and arithmetic! Get a Pretend Play School Set, complete with grade book, stickers, hall passes, clock, bell, dry erase board, markers, calendar, map, and pointer in a convenient tri-fold carry board.

My personal favorite is the classic Tea Party! We all have visions of little girls setting up their dolls and stuffed animals at a miniature table for an afternoon drink. Throw a party in style with the Pretend Play Tin Tea Set – a true classic!

Embrace dramatic play. By providing a few props such as dishes and wooden food, empty food boxes and a cash register or stuffed animals and a doctor’s kit, and your child will be transported into a different place! Watch and be amazed at what she will come up with as she plays.


Prevent Summer Learning Loss with Summer Bridge Activities™ Series

Hats off to everyone for making the 2010/2011 school year a great one! Now lets help our kids retain what they have learned! Here is something you may have not known:

“Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer” – The National Summer Learning Association

What is our recommendation to prevent summer learning loss? The award winning Summer Bridge Activities™ series! These workbooks have been embraced by parents and educators alike and are continually updated to provide the best in supplemental education.

Parents and teachers have trusted these books for over 10 years books because they work. Students really do retain their classroom skills over the summer when using these. The Summer Bridge Activities™ was created by classroom teachers and is based on national and state standards.

Summer Bridge activity books by Carson Dellosa consists of daily activities in reading, writing, mathematics, and language arts with bonus activities in science and geography. Full-color Summer Bridge activities make summer learning fun and easy.

There is a new section, Building Better Bodies and Behavior, which contains interactive prompts and activities on character and fitness. 160 pages. Summer is also a great time to prepare your students for the standarized tests that they will take in the spring. We offer a complete line of test prep workbooks for various states and grade levels.

Children’s Music – Why Go Home


My wife has a cheesy ring tone on her phone. Do you know that LMFAO song “I’m Sexy and I Know It?” Terrible…and catchy! The other day the phone rang and the addictive chorus began to play (“I workout!”). As I looked up, I saw our one-year-old daughter begin to bop around to the beat. Next thing I know, there is a cheesy, impromptu dance party breaking out in the kitchen!

Early childhood, a period of rapid change and development, is the most critical early learning period in a child’s musical growth. This period of development has been identified as the “music babble” stage (Moog, 1976; Gordon, 1988). Even the youngest infant is wired to receive music and discriminate among differences in frequency, melody, and stimuli (Bridger, 1961; Trehub et al, 1990; Standley and Madsen, 1990; Zentner and Kagan, 1996).

Very few people would dispute that infusing music into a child’s life is great. But what does great mean? How does having a bouncing toddler in your kitchen correlate to real-world success?

Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests. UCLA professor, Dr. James Catterall, led an analysis of a U.S. Department of Education database. Called NELLs88, the database was used to track more than 25,000 students over a period of ten years. The study showed that students involved in music generally tested higher than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also in reading proficiency exams. The study also noted that the musicians scored higher, no matter what socioeconomic group was being studied (Dr. James Catterall, UCLA, 1997).

So what can we do as parents and teachers to incorporate music into our children’s lives? The easiest is to include a passive form of music infusion into your day. Flip on the children’s music radio station, or pop in a children’s music CD. Let it be the soundtrack to everyday life…in moderation, of course. Excessive Raffi = mommy that’s Coco for Cocoa Puffs!

What about children’s music instruments? No need to refinance the home to purchase professional-grade instruments and instruction. Start with a few basic instruments and see which style your child gravitates towards…

Purchase a 6-Piece Rhythm Instrument Set or a Baby Music Band in a bag and let your child explore. Purchase a basic (and mildly annoying) Kazoo Classpack for your students and let them be the guides!

Another passive way to introduce music into daily life is through children’s music posters and bulletin board sets. The trick is finding ways to make the music decorations seem as cool as Dora and Ironman. I like the bright colors and whimsical design of the Music Notes Designer Cut-Outs.

The point is that music makes kids smart. The benefits of teaching music to children, and the effects of music on the brain, are proven to foster creativity and improve development. Find ways to infuse music into your child’s life. Close this blog post and download the Best of SchoolHouse Rock CD. Nostalgic bliss!

Outdoor Play for Children – Rockin’ Out


“Nature should be considered a critical variable in the design of all childhood habitats, including homes, childcare centers, schools, places of worship, and neighborhoods…” -Robin Moore, Natural Learning Initiative, North Carolina State University

I will always remember how intently my children tried to get outside as babies. They would crawl to the front door, pound on the glass, and not let up until we went into the great outdoors…or at least the front yard!

Outside, they seemed to light up. They were naturally more inquisitive, more energetic, and more happy. The nature did em’ good! Nature is important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically.

“Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development.” (Dr. Stephen R. Kellert of Yale University, 2005)

Unstructured free play in the out-of-doors brings a host of benefits to children—from being smarter to more cooperative to healthier overall. But a little guidance never hurt… Parents and teachers can provide children with basic resources that add a layer of learning to the outdoor play.

Is your child curious about creepy crawlers? Hand them a butterfly net and a big bug magnifying jar to help study the insects. Or lead them on an animal tracking expedition! What child would not like a Barn Owl Pellet? Gross!

Need to bring the learning inside, but still want to keep the outdoor theme going? No problem. Parents can guide children through activities like the butterfly life cycle using a butterfly pavilion. Assemble a giant ladybug life cycle puzzle, or play the Let’s Grow Life Cycles Game.

The American Institutes for Research conducted a study, submitted to the California Department of Education, of the impact of weeklong residential outdoor education programs. The focus was on at-risk youth, 56% of whom reported never having spent time in a natural setting. Comparing the impact on students who experienced the outdoor education program versus those in a control group who had not had the outdoor learning experience, results were statistically significant.

Major findings were: 27% increase in measured mastery of science concepts; enhanced cooperation and conflict resolution skills; gains in self-esteem; gains in positive environmental behavior; and gains in problem-solving, motivation to learn, and classroom behavior. “Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California.” American Institutes for Research: Palo Alto, CA: 2005.

So what does it all mean? Green is good. Get outside. Enjoy nature with your children and encourage a life full of the great outdoors. What are you waiting for? Shut down the iMac and get going!


Preschool Outdoor Play – Get Active


Summer and outdoor learning does not always involve paper and pencils. It involves movement! Physical activity is an important part of regular family life. Studies have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. If sports and physical activities are a family priority, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.

To help children live healthy active lives, parents can:

• be role models themselves by making healthy eating and daily physical activity the norm for their family

• create a home where healthy choices are available and encouraged

• make it fun – find ways to engage your children such as: playing a game of tag, cooking healthy meals together, creating a rainbow shopping list to find colorful fruits and vegetables, go on a walking scavenger hunt through the neighborhood, or grow a family garden.


Push Bikes for Toddlers – Go Nora!


I am the oldest of three boys. The first born son on my father’s side of the family. The Golden Boy – the world revolved around me… As more and more children and grandchildren arrived, the number of photos, the amount of effort in first birthday parties, the super parenting in general, declined.

It is not that the other siblings were loved less; I think the rest of us just wore my parents down! At least that is how I rationalize my change in parenting over the years. As baby number four makes her way into Toddlerdom, I find myself pushing less to make her walk (Nathan, our Golden Boy, ran at 10 months!), as well as so many of the things we insisted our other children (at least the Golden Boy) do as early as possible.

To help us in our quest to get the last kid walkin’, my wife and I have started using walkers, scooters, and push bikes to get Nora moving.

The word toddle is defined as walking unsteadily. We affectionately call it the Frankenstein Walk. Maybe a duck waddling? See the video above. The growth stage from 9-18 months is an amazing time to watch and participate in the gross motor skill development of your child.

One of the first steps in encouraging independent, active play is to ensure a safe environment. Sit down on the ground and get a toddler-eye view of the world. Does your butt get sore sitting there? Put down some cushy play mats or a learning carpet. Square-edge coffee table or hardwood entertainment center? Throw down some pillows or play cushions.

Next break out some multi-sensory Gertie balls, giant blocks, cuddly kid mirrors, and ImagiBricks. Opt for something soft that will not damage furniture or pets when thrown (and the will be thrown!).

The main idea is to get your toddler moving! Being active is natural. It is imperative to create a fun, safe environment that encourages active play. An active child is a healthy child. A healthy child is a happy child. And a happy child equals a happy parent!


Children jigsaw puzzles – A study of Jillian


Do you remember doing jigsaw puzzles as a child? I was born in the 1970s and raised in the 80s, so Super Mario Bros. and MTV certainly had my attention. But I also remember the fun, challenge, and pride experienced from doing unplugged activities. Puzzles, paper mâché, playing cards… I have rediscovered this simple joy as I unplug the iPad and reconnect with my childhood vicariously through my own children.

So why puzzle-based learning? As fun as puzzles inherently are, they also develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Many students do not learn how to think about solving problems in general. Throughout their education they are often constrained to concentrate on textbook questions at the end of each chapter, solved using material discussed earlier in the chapter. This constrained form of “problem solving” is not sufficient preparation for addressing real-world problems—on entering the real world, students find that problems do not come with instructions or guidebooks (Michalewicz , Falkner, and Sooriamurthi, 2010).

Puzzles are Memory Builders
It amazes me how my children will do the same puzzles over, and over, and over again. In addition to the satisfaction they experience from confidently completing the puzzle, they also enjoy explaining how they fit the pieces together. The aforementioned authors call this the “Eureka Moment.”

Puzzles Develop Fine Motor Skills
It takes a lot of practice to develop the hand strength and coordination required for so many life skills. Puzzles are a fun way to prepare children for writing, typing, or cutting with scissors. For toddlers and preschool children, try using puzzles with knobs in both large and small sizes.

Puzzles Develop Eye-Hand Coordination
Learning with puzzles teaches children to use visual cues like patterns, colors, or shapes to fit pieces together. There is subsequently a connection between thoughts and actions, eyes and hands.

So moms and dads out there, the challenge has been sent. Unplug you 21st century digital child and go old school! Call your mother-in-law that refuses to throw anything away and ask for some of your spouse’s childhood puzzles. Trust me – she has them! Did you notice the puzzle my daughter was holding in the picture at the top of this post? Circa 1984… Awesome.

Playing the Goodnight Moon Game with my daughter


My two obnoxious sons were away with grandma, the baby was asleep, and mom was off doing mom stuff. This gave me the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with my 2-1/2 year old daughter Jillian. We took the Goodnight Moon matching and memory game out of the closet and got busy!

The Goodnight Moon game has six variations for ages 2-1/2 through 6. Children ages 2-1/2 to 6 are just developing socially. This game provides them the opportunity to show respect for their playmates by taking turns and playing fairly, while developing the important skill of visual discrimination.

When playing with children under three, it may be best to limit participation to me child at a time. Remember, not all children develop at the same rate. If your two year old is restless and does not seem interested in the activity, do not be concerned! Put the game away and try again in a few weeks.

Use lots of praise to make the game fun. For instance, saying “Great job!” when a child completes a match, “You are very good at taking turns,” and “It’s great when you let your little sister do it by herself,” are good ways to help young players develop the skills of encouragement, cooperation and patience.



Children at age 4 and over excel in memory activities. This game helps them to strengthen memory skills and offers them the opportunity to learn tactical and strategic thinking.

The activity of distinguishing a single desired image against varying backgrounds is an important visual and cognitive skill known as figure-ground recognition. This skill is essential in learning to read.

This game is enjoyed by children ages 5 and over. Players will further develop skills of observation, cooperation, fair play, and strategic thinking.

Be sure to enjoy the classic bed-time story Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. Published in 1947 – it is a true children’s classic!