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Celebrate Summer Learning Day on June 20: Create a Plan to Strengthen Summer Opportunities for All

Children & Youth

By Susan O’Connor, School-age TA Specialist
National Center on Child Care Professional Development and Workforce, co-funded by the Office of Child Care and the Office of Head Start

Children reading a book outside.

Summer can be a time of growth, learning, and fun. Think back to your summer memories. Perhaps you learned to swim or made special friends at camp. Maybe you remember the summer you went on a whale watch and spent days afterward reading all about whales. 

Summer is also a time of learning loss. While this happens to all students, children from lower income families are more likely than their higher income peers to lose ground in reading and math over the summer. Did you know that about half of the difference in reading ability in ninth grade between children from low- and high-income families is linked to summer learning loss during elementary school? 

Recent studies show that summer learning can lead to gains in school lasting up to two years. For the nearly 650,000 school-age children served monthly by a Child Care and Development Fund subsidy, summer programs play an important role in supporting learning opportunities.

As we celebrate National Summer Learning Day, the following tips can help to make sure all children have access to high-quality summer learning programs.

Increase Access to Great Summer Opportunities

  • Bring together program staff to find out what supports they need to enhance quality, and provide resources.
  • Make sure that funding covers the cost of high quality for the full summer days.
  • Increase information so families can find the right programs for their children.
  • Create partnerships to expand or create new programs in neighborhoods with the greatest need. Afterschool programs can link with schools, recreation departments, and summer camps.
  • Create a “Summer Fund” like the donor group in Greater Boston that provides resources to summer programs with high unmet needs.

Boost Curriculum in Summer Programs

Summer programs are often open 8–10 hours a day, for up to 10 weeks. Long summer days are perfect for project- or theme-based learning that taps into children’s interests. Program leaders can find out what children want to learn and match those interests. For example, nature, environmental issues, nutrition and fitness, and the arts are perfect subjects for summertime learning. The Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance’s Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative funds summer programs that offer community service as the core of all learning activities. 

Build Literacy Skills

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child returned to school this fall at an advanced reading level? Summer staff do not need to be reading specialists to achieve this outcome. Here are some promising strategies to build literacy skills:

  • Give children books based on their interests AND ability levels. Research demonstrates that reading just 5 or 6 such books over the summer eliminates setbacks among low-performing middle grade students.
  • Talk to your local library about summer opportunities. Many libraries are happy to schedule regular times for summer participants.
  • Provide training and coaching to support staff on effective read aloud strategies. Include strategies for dual language learners, like books on tape and short theater scripts for dramatic reading.     
  • Embed literacy activities into all planned activities. Link the books children read, the songs they sing, and the journal entries they write to the curriculum. It is easier to involve children in reading and writing when they are already excited about what they are learning.

Whether you are a family member, summer program staff, or State system planner, these tips provide ideas for summer activities that support school achievement AND create lasting memories for every child. 

Visit to put a summer learning opportunity on the National Summer Learning Association’s map or to find opportunities near you!

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