Summer Programs: Combating Learning Loss

June 03, 2016

academy-2340As you might remember from last week’s conversation, Gina Warner, CEO of the National Afterschool Association, talked about the importance of quality afterschool programming and what parents should consider in their search for care when their children are out of school. We also touched on the search for options for summer care and my anxiety about finding quality programming for my own kids. To ease my mind, I did a little bit of research and wanted to share my findings with you.

Let’s take a closer look at summer learning programs. According to the 2014 “America After 3PM” report, one-third of the families reported that at least one child had participated in a summer program. In addition, over half of the families interviewed expressed a desire for the child to participate in a summer program!

Why are summer programs so popular?

And how can families find and participate in quality summer programs?

The answer lies in the idea of summer learning loss. What does that mean? Summer learning loss occurs over the three months that children are not in school. Children may forget topics they studied during the previous school year. Research has shown that, on average, the total learning loss that occurs over the summer is equivalent to roughly one month of instruction. This means that when children return to school in the fall, they need to spend an entire month covering material they already learned! Summer learning loss is also cumulative, causing children who suffer summer learning loss to fall progressively more behind their peers as the years go on.

During my research on summer learning, I found out about this really cool video from NBC on the impact of summer learning loss and how it can put students at a disadvantage academically. Check it out:



How can a child avoid this scary backtrack in learning?

Research suggests that good summer learning programs can go a long way in minimizing the effects of this loss. Evaluations of different types of summer programs have all suggested that they have the potential to cut down on this learning loss, especially in mathematics achievement. Summer programs have been shown to have significant impact in short-term effects, with students who participated in summer programs performing better on standardized tests immediately upon return to school than students who did not. Although we do not fully understand the long-term impact of summer programs yet, some preliminary studies suggest that they can be effective in limiting the eventual, cumulative effects of summer learning loss as well.

Unfortunately, effectively preventing summer learning loss is not as simple as participating in just any summer program! It’s important to pick a quality summer program with the right traits to ensure successful academic growth. What should you look for when selecting a summer program?

Considerations when selecting a summer program

Some important considerations when evaluating whether a summer program will provide quality instruction include:

  • Small group sizes
  • Individualized instruction and attention for children at different levels
  • Alignment with what your child learns during the school year
  • Engaging learning that includes enrichment outside the classroom
  • Enough instruction to make an impact (generally >80 hours is recommended)
  • Encouragement of parent involvement

After finding a quality summer program, however, many families encounter another obstacle: figuring out how to pay for the program. Most parents pay out-of-pocket for their children’s summer programs, with an average weekly-per-child cost of $250. That means a lot of summer programs are out of reach for many children and families, a situation exacerbated by the difficulty of coordinating funding for organizers of summer learning programs. Many programs are stretched across a variety of public and private sources for funding and thus require significant payments from families.


There are, however, online resources for parents interested in summer learning programs that provide tips and opportunities to help fund or reduce the costs of these programs:

I found that although effective summer programs can be daunting to search for and afford, the impact such quality programs can have on a child’s educational experience is enormous! Organizations such as the Nationals Summer Learning Association, Afterschool Alliance and National Afterschool Association provide many useful resources to help guide and support families through the process of finding a quality summer program, so before the summer is in full swing get out there and look for some summer programs!

Topics: Best Practices

Guest Blogger

Written by Guest Blogger

Are you interested in submitting a guest post on Child Care Aware® of America's Blog? Let us know what topic you'd like to share by filling out the form on this page.