Summer is a critical time for students to strengthen skills, explore new passions and make new friends. Yet as we celebrate Summer Learning Day today, we should recognize that for many, summer does not include academic and developmental activities that support their cognitive, social and emotional development.
Without the same structure and resources available when school is in session, low-income students are less likely to have access to enrichment opportunities in the summer. And 9 in 10 students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch do not participate in the federally-funded Summer Food Service Program.
These disparities in the summer worsen opportunity and achievement gaps. Students with access to summer enrichment opportunities often maintain or improve skills, while those without these advantages experience significant losses in reading and social-emotional skills. These losses accumulate every year and lead to increasingly wide gaps, with low-income students being up to three years behind by ninth grade.
To ensure educational equity, we must support summer learning. When all students have access to academic and social enrichment and nutritious meals, everybody wins!
Here are five free or low-cost ways to support youth during the summer:
Visit the local library to check out books that match students’ interests and reading levels. A recent study found that letting students choose books over the summer led to statistically significant increases in reading skills.
Combining reading with fluency and comprehension lessons increases reading skills even more dramatically—so it is important to include follow-up questions to ensure students understand the material.
- Find the summer meal site in your community. No child should go hungry over the summer. Nutritious free meals are available for children and teens 18 and younger at many locations throughout the summer. Find a summer meal site in your community by visiting the USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder.
- Visit local playgrounds, national parks and museums. Interact with others, get active and learn more about the world! Find a national park near you.
- Bring the classroom with you by integrating learning in everyday activities. Turn a trip to the grocery store, a car ride or a walk in the park into an educational experience by practicing reading (e.g., reading, spelling and learning new words) and math (e.g., counting, grouping and practicing mental math), or developing a play, book or song about an experience or interesting person.
Ensure youth have access to workbooks and other free educational activities. There are many ways to access free educational materials online to keep children learning and practicing skills. You can also check the local dollar store for workbooks, flashcards and activity books.
Free summer meal sites and local libraries also offer free summer educational programs.