Overcoming the Summer Slide: Boosting Reading Skills Before School Starts

By Books2All Team

Wed 23 Aug 2023

What’s The Summer Slide?

The summer slide. Also known as summer learning loss and brain drain. Whatever you call it, they’re all suggestive of the same thing. Over the long summer holidays, children are likely to forget a lot of the precious information and knowledge soaked up over the past academic year.

And as we eke out the last weeks of August, hoping for a final blast of good weather to close out what has been a dreary summer, perhaps our thoughts turn to ‘back to school’ looming in September. How can we – as parents and teachers – support students in preserving hard-won learnings and re-adapting to the school environment?

The Great Summer Slide

Summer often arrives with an irrepressible burst of euphoria and simultaneous relief. 

For better or worse, exams are over and another school year is under the belt. An almost interminable vacation winds into the distance, filled with the imagined possibilities of escape, rekindled friendships, and adventure under lazy afternoons and warm skies.

It’s enough to make many of us feel alive and giddy. Work and studies are kicked into the long grass of the mind. Life is for the living and a summer of fun beckons.

The Slow Decline

But this doesn’t come without trade-offs. Numerous studies have shown that students, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, experience a loss of reading skills over the summer break. 

According to the National Summer Learning Association, children can lose around two months of reading progress during the summer months. This decline is often more pronounced in children who do not engage in educational activities during the break. 

Interestingly, other research suggests that the decline in reading is more marked in secondary students, who read fewer books than those in primary schools, even allowing for the fact that you’d expect primary pupils to read shorter volumes. The National Literacy Trust cites a lack of reading enjoyment as a key barrier to furthering literacy skills.

Other research from Psychology Today suggests that variation in knowledge retention rates for subjects such as Maths where embedded methodologies (the how and why of performing calculations) weather the summer break better than subjects (e.g. humanities) learned by rote where facts and figures are retained with limited scope for application.

Arresting and Preventing The Slide

This is a long-recognised issue by education providers who provide a host of solutions – particularly in the US – to ensure that young minds are kept sharp and active over the summer break.  

Here are a few examples to think about. Don’t be afraid to tap into community and educational resources as well as how the home environment and family plans over the long break can enable and support continuous reading and learning that is both fun and stimulating.

1. Creating a Summer Reading Plan

Why not start the summer by creating a reading plan? This can be done in school, at home, or – best of all – as a collaboration between students, parents, and educators.  Encourage students to choose books that align with their interests, and set aside specific times each day for reading. 

2. Reading Challenges and Competitions

Turn reading into a fun and rewarding activity by introducing reading challenges. These challenges can include reading a certain number of books, exploring different genres, or completing a book bingo card. Providing incentives, such as small rewards or certificates, can motivate students to meet these challenges eagerly.

3. Family Book Club

Transform reading into a family activity by starting a family book club. Select a book that everyone can read and discuss together. This not only encourages reading but also sparks insightful conversations and strengthens family bonds.

4. Library Visits and Community Events

Local libraries often host summer reading programs and community events. Encourage students to participate in these programs, which may include book discussions, author visits, and storytelling sessions. 

5. Journaling and Creative Writing

Combine reading with creative writing by encouraging students to keep a reading journal or write short stories inspired by the books they read. This practice enhances comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills.

6. Digital Reading Resources

Exploring digital reading resources. Many educational apps and websites offer e-books, audiobooks, and interactive reading activities that captivate students’ attention and make learning enjoyable.

7. Teacher and Parent Collaboration

Teachers and parents can work together to combat the summer slide. Teachers can recommend reading lists and suggest engaging activities, while parents can provide the necessary support and encouragement at home.

8. Create bridges between books and cultural references

Is there a film or theatre production you’re planning to see over the break? Or places you’re trying to visit? What books could be relevant and interesting to read to complement and enhance these experiences?


Preventing the summer slide is a collective effort that requires proactive engagement from students, parents, and educators. 

By implementing a combination of structured reading plans, engaging challenges, and creative activities, students can overcome the summer slide and return to school with sharpened reading skills and a renewed enthusiasm for learning. 

What are your thoughts on the summer slide? Is it something you’re interested in supporting and enabling?  Many school-age children in the UK – particularly from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds – do not have access to books or the support to read.

If you’re an educator working in schools or in a position to donate books to address the summer slide, please consider getting involved.  Follow the links to donate or receive books to your school using our Android or iOS apps and help us bring reading to the world.

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