Summer often means activities like beach vacations and water slides. For some children, however, summer brings a kind of slide that poses a threat, rather than an adventure. The “Summer Slide,” also known as “Summer Learning Loss,” is the result of less class time, access to fewer books, and reduced opportunity for social skill growth. According to the National Head Start Association (NHSA), the academic and social gains made during a school year can be compromised or lost if children do not continue to use and improve their developing skills. The NHSA says losses in reading and math skills are especially common among children from low-income families who may already feel the additional stress of arranging for summer child-care. Children First Vice President of Programs Kathleen Sullivan says the research on summer learning loss reveals that it can have a lasting impact on children.
“Every summer, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make slight gains. Most children lose about two months of math skills in the summer. The skill loss adds up, and by fifth grade, these students may be 2 1/2 to 3 years behind their peers. These losses begin prior to entry into elementary school. These losses begin now, and so does prevention,” says Sullivan.
Studies also show children from low-income families will hear an average of 30million fewer words by kindergarten compared to their more affluent peers. This is known as the “30-Million Word Gap.” The staff at Children First work hard to close that gap every day, but cannot do it alone. Fortunately, the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation funded a summer pilot program, “Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing,” with local partners including Children First. The program is part of Too Small to Fail, a national public awareness and action campaign that emphasizes the importance of daily communication on brain development. Talking, singing and reading to young children are all simple, but important ways to build language, math, reading and social-emotional skills. The campaign encourages parents and caregivers to take part in these activities with their children daily from birth. It can be as easy as reading books together, singing with them during bath time, and talking to them about their surroundings while on a walk. Research shows that these simple, daily interactions with young children can build their vocabulary, prepare them for school, and lay a strong foundation for lifelong learning, but Sullivan says access to education is not the only challenge children face during the summer.
Sullivan says, according to All Faiths Food Bank, “Six out of every seven students who receive free and reduced-price lunches lose access to them when school lets out.”
Those statistics drive the mission of Children First, as the organization strives to reach more families in need of early childhood education in a nurturing environment. This summer, Children First has expanded its summer programs to serve over 300 students, which is 50 percent more than the previous year. That means 50 percent more children receiving a quality education AND nutritious meals this summer.
You can learn more about “Talking is Teaching” here, or by stopping by Children First and picking up a flyer and bookmark with conversation prompts and tips. You can also learn about All Faiths Food Bank’s “Campaign Against Summer Hunger” here.