Combatting Summer Learning Loss

The excitement. The anticipation. The first day of freedom. It was true when we were kids, and it’s still true now – there are few things better than the start of summer vacation.

The summer months offer a much-needed break for both parents and kids from homework, reading assignments and rushed mornings getting ready for school. But extended time away from the classroom does have a downside. Research spanning 100 years has shown that all children can experience learning losses over the summer, particularly when it comes to math, where most students lose about two months of skills if not engaged academically over vacation.

“What research shows is that some parents really just let it go out the window in the summer. They don’t do nightly reading, they don’t have screen time limits, all the things they do during the school year,” says Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “Kids get bored. The first week of summer is a novelty, but then a lot of kids run out of things to do.”

The summer slide is especially serious for kids in low-resource areas, who often struggle to have basic needs met over break, like regular, healthy meals and adequate adult supervision. Studies show that those students not only lose math skills, but also slip an average of two months behind in reading achievement when not engaged academically.

“All kids can lose skills over the summer, but we know that the kids who live in low-resource areas don’t always have the same access to quality enrichment opportunities,” says Judy Bardonner, Director of Marian University’s Summer Learning Institute, which aims to lessen the effects of summer learning loss. “It’s so important that we don’t just let kids sit in front of the TV or only play with other kids in the neighborhood over the summer. They really need organized enrichment.”

Fortunately, Indianapolis-area parents don’t need to look far to find fun ways to combat the summer slide. Here are a few programs and opportunities to keep kids sharp during summer vacation.



Out and about

Summer reading programs are a great way to expose kids to new books. All of the area library systems have fun, kid-driven programs:


  • The Indianapolis Public Library: Garfield the Cat will headline the Summer Reading Book Bash celebrating the state’s 200th birthday. Kids can earn points to redeem prizes of everything from toys to sports tickets. The program runs June 6 through July 30. More information:
  • Carmel Clay Public Library: The Summer Challenge allows kids and adults to pick from a list of nearly 30 activities and track their progress online to earn prizes. The program runs through August 15. Register here:
  • Hamilton East Public Library: Summer Under the Stars: Celebrating 200 Summers in Indiana allows kids, teens and adults to win prizes including gift cards, books and more by completing reading requirements. Families are also encouraged to visit unique attractions across Hamilton County. The program runs June 1 through July 31. Register here:
  • Westfield Washington Public Library: The Summer Reading Program encourages kids, teens and adults to read throughout the summer and win prizes along the way. It runs June 1 through July 31. Register here:
  • Johnson County Public Library: The Summer Learning Program includes daily educational programs on a variety of topics, from beekeeping to coding and even “Harry Potter.” It runs June 6 to July 23. More information:
  • Greenwood Public Library: The Summer Reading Olympics uses reading, crafts and trivia to help families explore the countries that will be represented at this summer’s Olympic Games. The programs runs through July 30. Register here:


For more structure, explore IUPUI’s summer reading programs for 4-year-olds and older (

Apps and games

When it’s screen time they want, kids can still practice essential reading skills, such as phonics, spelling and writing. Starfall has your child covered from reading readiness to independent reading, while Endless Alphabet lets kids work on vocab words with the help of adorable monsters. This is my Story (and I’m Sticking to It) lets kids create their own story and discover new words.

At home

Set a goal this summer to read every day with your kids. Also look for ways to incorporate reading into day-to-day life, asking kids to read signs at the grocery store, on road trips and on walks around the neighborhood. For older kids, keeping a daily journal can help hone writing skills.




Out and about

Both Marian’s Summer Learning Institute and the Indianapolis Algebra Project ( work with area summer camps to run math games with students. Also, consider day camps that focus on math, such as Junior Achievement’s BizTown Summer Camp (, where kids learn financial literacy and entrepreneurship in a real-life setting, or the University of Indianapolis’ Math Beyond Numbers camp (

Apps and games

Operation Math sends kids on a global learning adventure as an undercover agent, while DragonBox Algebra 5+ introduces the basic processes involved in solving linear equations in an intuitive, fun series of puzzles.

At home

How can you work math skills into your child’s daily life? Try currency and cooking. Set up a family store, where kids can tally up the cost of things around the house. Or ask older kids to figure the tip at dinners out. Cooking together also introduces basic skills, like fractions and measurements. For a summer-long project, ask kids to budget a bedroom overhaul or a family vacation.




Out and about

Summer is the perfect time to embrace your child’s curiosity about how things work. Camp Invention ( utilizes local educators at sites across the metro area to lead hands-on activities on topics such as circuitry, robotics and coding, while 1st Maker Space ( will host 3D Printing and Design Camp at schools across the city. Also check your local parks department’s day camp listings for programs focused on exploring science outdoors, or check out Marian University’s camp series on STEM in the natural and living world (

Apps and games

Part sleek game, part chemistry lesson, ChemCaper uses the roleplaying genre to teach kids about chemical bonds and the Periodic Table, while the Meet Science apps explore concepts such as magnetism, electricity, light and sound through experiments and games. Plum’s Photo Hunt from PBS KIDS encourages young kids to get outside with their devices to snap pictures while learning about nature.

At home

Get outside and plant some seeds, start a compost pile and watch when things bloom. Backyard camping is a great opportunity to look at the stars and talk about nocturnal animals. Science covers so much ground, so just follow where your child’s interests lead.




Out and about

Music, theater, dance, painting – creative expression can strengthen kids’ skills in all areas of academics. Indianapolis is fortunate to have a thriving art community with many summer options for kids, from camps at the Indianapolis Art Center ( and the Indianapolis Museum of Art (, to a whirlwind tour of music, visual art, theater and dance at Butler University’s general arts camps ( Art with a Heart’s summer camp this year will focus on two ends of the spectrum – traditional painting and stop motion photography (

Apps and games

There are plenty of ways to create art in the digital world, from the interactive Bug Builder for younger kids, to MoMA Art Lab, which highlights the techniques of classic paintings to inspire your little artist. Toca Band allows aspiring musicians to experiment with harmony and rhythm to create unique compositions.

At home

Inspire an early love of art by providing creative materials. Kids learn valuable skills through the process of making art, so try to focus more on this exploration than the finished project. You can also get their creativity flowing by making music and even dance a part of your day-to-day life.



Not only are kids at risk of losing academic knowledge over the summer, studies show they tend to gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school, especially those who are already at higher risk for obesity.

Out and about

Many day camps are focused on keeping kids active. Search for programs through the YMCA (, Boys and Girls Clubs ( and your local parks department. There are also a plethora of sport-specific camps — camps at Cathedral High School ( cover more than a dozen sports, and both the Indiana Pacers ( and the Indy Eleven ( have their own summer camps. If your kids aren’t into organized sports, seek out something different, like Conner Prairie Adventure Camp (


Apps and games

Screen time and exercise can coexist. MotionMaze requires kids run in place to collect a series of prizes as they navigate mazes, while NFL Play 60 has would-be football stars running and jumping to get through the games. Consider Super Stretch Yoga HD for a kid-friendly introduction to simple yoga poses.

At home

You don’t have to call it exercise, just find activities your child likes and encourage them. The more they see you moving, even if it’s just a little stretching in the morning, the more inspired they will be to do the same. Along with limiting screen time, try scheduling in daily opportunities for fitness, such as trips to the playground or walks around the neighborhood.


The key to avoiding summer learning loss is getting kids engaged, active and thinking critically – and it doesn’t have to feel like school. With a few ideas in place that appeal to your child, you can keep those academic juices flowing and get next school year off to a great start.

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