Summer slide: myth or reality? And what you can do to help...

May 31, 2022

A theory abounds around parenting and educational circles at this time of year that children lose momentum and regress cognitively during the long summer holidays. It’s a phenomenon known as the Summer Slide, and here at Mathnasium we wanted to examine it in more detail. Does it really happen, and if so to what extent? Is the Summer Slide something that parents should be concerned about? How has the Summer Slide been compounded by the pandemic? And what can be done to support students through the summer so that they’re back on track for a positive start to their next school year?

Where did the idea of the Summer Slide originate?

Back in the 1980s a team of researchers in Baltimore, USA, analysed the achievement gap between students in high- and low- poverty schools in their Beginning School Study. They saw that the gap tripled in size from starting kindergarten to reaching 8th grade, and the gap seemed to widen during the summer. A compelling theory was born, and ever since then it has been widely accepted that children who spend their summers playing, relaxing or travelling will lose learning more than those who spend their summer studying. Every year there are scary statistics and dire warnings for parents to avoid their children losing “20% of their learning” over the summer, but is it that simple?

Should parents be worried?

Well, whilst the Baltimore researchers accurately read the trends, there has been some more recent debate about the study itself. Firstly, it was taken from a very small sample from state schools across just one city over 30 years ago. Since then more robust studies have been carried out, with national data and thousands of subjects, which don’t show the same trend – and the older the child, the less summer slide occurs. A 1996 study looked at maths and reading scores and found that upper and middle class students maintained or increased their reading skills over the summer, but interestingly they lost maths skills slightly. This could be because there are more day-to-day opportunities to read than to do maths over the summer, and reading skills are not based on memory as much as maths skills.

What can parents do?

At Mathnasium we know that parents are regularly inundated with new things to worry about, and we are not about to add to your list! We think it’s important to take a realistic view of our students’ needs and any potential risks to their learning. Every child is different after all.

Most parents will agree that even if cognitive ability remains the same between July and September, their child’s confidence, motivation and effort often don’t. Their body clocks adjust, they turn their attention to other things and routines often change or disappear entirely for weeks at a time. 

But is the impact of spending a summer like this purely negative? We believe there’s a need for healthy balance over the summer, so our recommendations are:

Make time for relaxation, leisure and play, but also get those learning muscles flexing regularly so that your child is both well-rested and ready to hit the ground running for the start of the autumn term.

Children enjoying their summer holiday and keeping up with maths

How you can help your child make progress in maths through the summer

If you think that maintaining some mathematical momentum through the summer holidays would benefit your child, or if you are concerned about your child’s maths confidence, or gaps in their knowledge, and would like to find out how they can get up to speed and become true Mathletes over the summer, please get in touch with your local Mathnasium Learning Centre. 

Our programmes are bespoke to each student and we will work with you to tailor an individual learning plan that suits your child’s needs.

Get in touch to find out more!


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