Summer learning loss, or the toll that summertime can take on a student’s grade-level learning while they’re away from the classroom, is not a new issue. On average, teachers spend 4-6 weeks reteaching material at the beginning of the school year to try to mitigate summer slide.

However, this summer, we’re expecting even more losses than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic—meaning that more children may struggle to reach the crucial benchmark of reading at grade level by third grade. While this might seem alarming, there’s plenty that parents and caregivers can do to lessen and prevent the effects of the COVID-19 summer slide.

With a little planning around your child’s academic and social-emotional growth—both of which are especially important during their early years—you can help prevent serious learning loss over the summer. Below are 10 ways parents and caregivers can address this potential loss, while at the same time keep their children engaged, learning and growing over the summer.

1. Encourage your child to read every day with free books and audiobooks.

Whether kids are reading independently or being read aloud to, if children can read a little every day, they’re at a lower risk for losing literacy skills over the summer. All it takes is 2–3 hours per week of reading to prevent or lessen the effects of the summer slide.

These free book and audiobook resources will help families everywhere access a summer’s worth of books at home:

  • Local libraries: Although most libraries are closed right now, many allow card holders to rent ebooks and digital audiobooks from home.
  • Project Gutenberg: This volunteer organization houses thousands of free ebooks in the public domain, including children’s classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Treasure Island.
  • Audible Stories: For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Audible Stories is offering free audiobooks for both children and teenagers.
  • The Libby App: This app will help access ebooks and audiobooks from your local public library.

Reading together can not only be fun but help your child become more fluent. Take turns reading pages and encourage your child to talk with you about what they are reading. Make predictions about what will happen next in the story and talk about whether you were right. Ask questions as you read and help your child summarize their reading when you finish each day. Sound out words together and talk about the tough vocabulary words.

And along with reading, encourage your child to write every day. A great way to prevent students from losing writing skills over the summer is by keeping a summer journal. If your budget allows, give your child a notebook with enough pages to last them through the summer along with some journal prompts.

2. Check out local summer learning programs.

Many local organizations offer summer programs to keep students learning over the summer. However, many parents might be unsure of how to access these programs now that many in-person options have been cancelled or moved online. Below are a few ways to find local summer programs in your community, and a few example programs:

  • Contact your library or look for programs offered by your local or state government. In Salt Lake City, for example, the public library is hosting a Super Summer Reading Challenge for readers of all ages.
  • Search online for classes based on your child’s interests. Google searches like “art classes for kids near me,” “online astronomy classes,” or “virtual summer camps” will yield results.
  • Check out local museums or educational centers. This year, the University of Utah is offering many of its summer youth programs online.

3. Plan daily activities for your child to practice math skills.

Most students lose the equivalent of two months of learning in their math skills over the summer. Practicing math with your child, even in small ways, can help them retain as much as possible. For example, you could have your child count out pennies or clouds in the sky to practice addition. You could even count the number of people at the store, the number of plates on the table, or the number doorknobs in the house. Or put together this Ice Cream Pom Pom counting craft for a visual reminder.

Math is fun and can be part of every day just by looking for ways to find patterns, count items, and compare things. Look for shapes around you in signs, buildings, and as you read books. Try this coloring activity on shapes to get started.

4. Look into learning activities your children can do from home.

Try to plan one small project or activity each day for your child that relates to reading, math, or science. A good place to start, especially for younger children, is the Waterford YouTube channel, which includes nearly 100 digital songs and activities based on the latest in educational research. You’ll find tons of educational crafts, too—such as this Dot Sticker Names Craft and Magic Egg STEM Experiment. Many large museums around the world also have free, online resources, such as the Smithsonian and the National Zoo.

Reading is all around us and can be a part of making lists, cooking, and even watching tv if you add subtitles. It can be fun to challenge your child to watch a favorite show by reading subtitles with the sound off.

5. Consider starting a virtual book club with your child’s peers.

Did you know that reading just six books over the summer can keep students from losing literacy skills? Book clubs are a great way to keep up these skills and help children develop a love of reading outside of the classroom. While an in-person book club may not be possible at this time, to help motivate your child to read, consider starting a virtual book club.

Invite any of their friends who are on a similar reading level to participate. Choose a book each month for the book club members to read independently, then set up a virtual meeting to discuss their thoughts and questions about it.

Here are some wonderful books we recommend for children in early elementary school, from kindergarten to second grade:

  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
  • Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park
  • Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  • The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

6. Access support or resources for students with disabilities.

Children with disabilities that interfere with learning, like ADHD or dyslexia, are especially at risk for learning loss over the summer. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, children who are already below their grade level for reading due to a disability are likely to fall even more behind over the summer without family support.

If your child has a learning disability and you aren’t sure how to best support their academic growth this summer, the best thing to do is to reach out directly to your school district. They may be able to put you in touch with resources to access over the summer.

More tips and information for families can be found here.

7. Practice the skills that are tough for your child.

Early elementary students (K–2) are the most at-risk for losing educational skills over the summer. On top of this, children who have struggled with reading and math skills during the school year are especially at risk for losing that knowledge while they’re away from the classroom.

Choose learning activities that will help your child strengthen skills they had trouble with in class this year. For example, if your child had a hard time with addition or subtraction, try putting together this counting by pizza paper craft together.

8. Make the most of screen time.

As social distancing continues in some form over the summer, you may be spending more time at home and looking for ways to make better use of your child’s screen time. Instead of simply watching TV or playing video games, try spending screen time on educational activities. Of course, pay attention to age-based screen time guidelines and other recommendations for digital media, like these from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask a teacher for help.

Families often have plenty of opportunities to ask questions about their child’s education over the school year, but such conversations during the summer are limited. If you’re not sure how to best support your child’s learning, reach out to your child’s former or future teacher directly. In many cases, they’ll be happy to help and offer suggestions.

10. Take care of yourself and celebrate small victories.

Parents, we know that with kids spending more time at home and other stressors caused by the pandemic, you may be feeling more overwhelmed than usual. If you’re stressed, don’t sacrifice your own self-care to try and do everything at once.

Every effort you make, like reading one picture book with your child every day or talking about letters and numbers during the day, is a positive step worth acknowledging. Instead of worrying about what you’re not doing, recognize all that you are doing to help your child learn through the summer!