Why Summer Learning Matters for the College-Bound Kid

Preventing summer learning loss is important for academic success. But it’s also a smart habit for the kid who wants to go to college. Find out why.

Picture a summer where your child’s mind is as engaged as their playful spirit, exploring new worlds through books and discovering the wonders of science — and actually enjoying it. Whether your child dreams of acing their future college entrance exams or simply wants to return to school a step ahead, preventing summer learning loss is the key.

“Engagement over the summer for children is more critical now than ever before,” says Calvin Hobbs, founding first grade teacher at KIPP Detroit Imani Academy, a charter elementary school in Detroit. He says that disengagement is a summer expectation — but it shouldn’t be.

Your child worked hard during the school year. But instead of adopting the mindset that your child needs a whole-summer vacation break from all learning, seek enriching learning opportunities that will keep your child’s brain engaged in different ways.

“Use the summer to rediscover who your children are after they have had 200 days of instruction,” suggests Hobbs. “Your children change every second. Every year they are more equipped, more knowledgeable, more understanding, more challenging and more empathetic. Use the summer to understand who they are as people.”

That understanding can guide you toward individualized summer learning to combat summer slide and build academic skills while actually being fun. The summer habits your child builds now can impact their future success — even years down the road in college or career.

Follow your child’s lead to discover their interests

The key to keeping your child’s brain active during the summer is transforming everyday activities into fun, educational adventures that keep their love for learning alive. Here’s where you can think outside the box.

Start by digging into what your kid really enjoys. Ask them to make a list, then hit your local library. Reading is more relevant than you think.

“Reading is the biggest education reform topic on the table. We have to get our kids to read. In the summer, if they are in reading programs offered around town, great,” Hobbs says. But any time can be “drop everything and read” time — your kids know it as DEAR time — when you take advantage of what libraries have to offer.

Things Kids Can Read Over The Summer

With a library card, kids and parents can access library apps Hoopla and Libby on their devices, even if getting to the library is a challenge.

Background knowledge cements academic concepts for life

“I show my students that I read for pleasure. I read to learn and to understand something. I read to teach. Reading is for everything you want to do, but we have to show them all reading isn’t the reading they may not necessarily like,” Hobbs explains.

Personal interest builds connections, Hobbs says. When children pursue personal interests that are adjacent to topics they learned in the classroom, they engage in background knowledge that cements concepts.

Here are three examples:

  • Your child may learn a math concept in school that can remain abstract — and entirely forgettable — in their mind. Introduce that concept as it relates to sports to make it relevant, meaningful and memorable. Books like Who Was Jackie Robinson? and Who Is LeBron James? blend biography, sports and statistics for young readers.
  • Your child may learn history facts in school. Those facts come to life through historical fiction. Bud, Not Buddy by Michigan author Christopher Paul Curtis and At Ellis Island by Louise Peacock make topics like The Great Depression and the immigrant experience real for kids.
  • “When kids talk about how much they love Batman and Spiderman, I cultivate that interest through reading,” Hobbs says. “Not toys, but books. That pushes them to learn how to read because they want to read the content of the people they like.”

Summer learning builds self-confidence

Maintaining academic skills over summer break helps build confidence, which is important at back-to-school time, says May Manna-Denha, Literacy Coach Consultant at Macomb Intermediate School District.

Self-confidence is key as children reach middle school — and may begin to worry less about math and science and more about friends and social groups. “Self-esteem is critical for kids today, especially,” she says, adding that teachers in Macomb County work hard to scaffold learning for students so they are successful and motivated to learn over the summer months.

A focus on reading skills should continue through middle and high school, especially high-interest reading. Manna-Denha suggests at least 20-30 minutes of reading a day to improve vocabulary and increase literacy. Reading to younger children, even siblings, counts — and that reading can even be comic books, she says. 

Diverse experiences help your child see their future

Even if your child is young, you can help them set goals for the future — and summer is a good time to do this. If their interests include college, building good year-round learning habits can help them achieve their dreams.

This extends well beyond classroom learning to real-world engagement in the community.

Here are some easy ways to keep your child’s brain engaged during the summer months:

  • Recreational programming is another great summer activity, says Hobbs, who runs academic engagement at the Downtown Boxing Gym. “Cooking clubs, book clubs, sports and community engagement are all options children can try,” he says.
  • Summer camps of all kinds can help students learn more about what they love — and what they don’t love. Both are important stepping stones to inform future success.
  • Mentoring programs: “Setting up a mentor for your child early in the high school years can help guide and support them along the way, and help them stay connected even during the summer,” says Manna-Denha.
  • Real-world learning: Take your child with you when you run errands. If you leave their device in the car or at home, they are more likely to observe your engagement with community members — and learn valuable communication skills at the same time.
  • Budgeting: No matter where you shop, involve your child decision making, based on your budget. “Teach your child money management,” says Hobbs. “How much is enough and how much do I need? How much do we have left?” This involves problem solving and higher-level thinking. “All the tasks we take for granted are part of enrichment for the whole child.”
  • Time with older generations: “Children need to spend time with elders,” Hobbs says. “They are (human) libraries that connect us to the past and help us understand the present. They can share stories of sacrifice and history of the city and the state we live in.”

Content sponsored by Michigan Education Savings Program. Learn more at MIsaves.com. Find more articles like this at Metro Parent’s Making Your Child’s College Dreams Come True.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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