Summer break: Keeping youth engaged and preventing summer learning loss

By Helen Hollis

Summer break is just around the corner! Long days at the pool, BBQs, family vacations…. But the transition to summer break can have a real impact on young people, and it’s not always positive.

 It has been found that children generally spend more time in sedentary activities over the summer, and exhibit increases in height, weight, and body mass index. Young people tend to gain weight faster in the summer than during the school year. Participating in organized activities during the summer can help prevent weight gain and obesity. It was found that overweight and minority children tend to gain more weight over the summer, and there may be a relationship between weight gain and lower socioeconomic status (SES) due to increased inactivity, less access to healthy foods, and lower rates of engagement in activities during the summertime.

In addition to changes in physical activity and weight, summer break also results in learning loss for students who have the summers off. Students tend to forget math materials, and children living in poverty also experience reading skill loss. Research has shown that participating in summer reading programs can have positive impacts on the reading scores of children from low-income backgrounds. Students who participated in the Being Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) program in the summer spent more time involved in academic activities and less time using the computer, watching TV, and spending time with friends. Students who participated in the program learned about one month’s more reading skills than those in the group that did not participate in the program.

summer break_reading loss_transition
Over the summer many students experience “learning loss” or forget what they learned over the school year.

During the school year it is the responsibility of the school to educate children and that in the summer months this responsibility gets shifted to the parents. While parents of children in families with a lower SES often desire enriching activities for their children, at times they lack the means to provide the same support as more affluent families throughout the summer months. Families living in poverty sometimes lack access to enriching programs, or may not be able to afford them. Parents may struggle with transportation to such programs, or may not know how to find them if they are not promoted in the community.

Participating in enriching summer activities, especially in early elementary school, can help mitigate the effects of summer learning loss for low income children, and help them have more successful futures. Differences in achievement between low and high SES 9th graders can be linked back to opportunities for summer enrichment in younger years. Students from low SES backgrounds are less likely to have access to enriching summer programs, and graduate from high school and pursue college degrees as a much lower rate than their higher SES peers. Measures of achievement in younger years, taking into account summertime learning, makes a compelling case for the importance of summer support for students, especially students from lower income backgrounds. Providing these opportunities to lower income families is essential to closing the achievement gap and ensuring all children stay healthy, active and prepared for future learning!

Here are a few opportunities around Austin for families: 


Participate in a summer reading program!

The Austin Public Library offers fun activities and free reading throughout the summer! And they have youth, teen, and adult reading programs! To learn more check out their website:


Summer camp!

Summer camps are a great way to keep kids busy and with a routine, while providing them opportunities to make new friends and have new experiences. Here are some camps and summer programs that offer discounts and/or scholarships:


Camp Indigo

Located in Southeast Austin, Camp Indigo offers exciting and creative opportunities for children ages 4-12 to express themselves and explore their world.

Austin Parks & Rec Summer Playgrounds Program

Summer Playgrounds is a free drop-in program for children to participate in supervised activities throughout the day. Summer Playgrounds staff provide quality recreational experiences that promote creativity, teamwork and healthy lifestyles.

Austin Parks & Rec Summer Camps

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department offers a wide variety of summer programs for children 5-12 years old, and some facilities provide preschool and teen programs.The offer programs for active play, outdoor adventure, strategic games, cultural activities and more.

Camp Fire Central Texas

Camp Fire Central Texas is an urban nature and science camp for kids ages 5-12. Each week features a nature or science theme in addition to field trips, swimming, hiking, games, experiments, crafts, and other fun-filled activities.

Earth Native Wilderness School

Earth Native Wilderness School offers day and overnight camps that teach skills like wilderness survival, wildlife tracking, nature connection, and sustainable living.


Plan a time to volunteer!

Volunteering is a great way to stay engaged, and give back to the community at the same time. A variety of organizations around the city offer volunteer opportunities for teens. Check out a few below:


Austin Pets Alive!

Capital Area Food Bank

American Red Cross