Summer setback: why some kids lose their educational edge

New research by Waterloo professor Janice Aurini has shown that, just like many American studies, Canadian kids can lose literacy and numeracy skills over the summer vacation.

Although there have been a lot of American studies on summer setback, there hasn't been much Canadian research done on the subject–until now.

A researcher from the University of Waterloo has conducted the first, large scale study on summer setback in Canada.

Summer setback refers to the loss of literacy and numeracy skills that can occur when children take a break from school, throughout the summer months.

Janice Aurini, Associate professor at the University of Waterloo, said many American studies have shown that although kids learn at fairly equal rates during the school year, it's not the same in the summertime.

American research has shown that kids from more advantaged families tend to enter school in September with the same skills they had in June. But children from more disadvantaged families tend to lose between one to three months of literacy and numeracy skills, she said.

Research in Ontario

Beginning in 2010, Aurini began collecting research in schools across Ontario, to discover whether summer setback was occurring in Ontario.

At the time, some schools were offering summer study programs and others weren't. So the province's Ministry of Education offered school boards across the province money and support, so they could run free summer schedules for the kids, Aurini said.

The summer programs lasted between two and four weeks and were similar to a summer camp.

"Over time we pretty much evaluated almost every single school board in the province," she said.

Aurini found that summer setback isn't just an American phenomenon, it's also happening in Ontario. Similar to what American studies found, Aurini's findings showed that kids who are disadvantaged, can lose between one to two months of literacy and numeracy skills in the summer.

Why kids lose skills

Families vary in terms of the kinds of resources they can give their children when school is out.

"I met parents who have a grade 8 or 9 education," she said. 'I'm not exaggerating, they are barely literate."

"It's not because the parents don't love their kids, it's just they just don't have the resources to help their kids," she said.

But Aurini found that the summer programs were very helpful for these children.

"They started school in September in way better shape than they would have, had they not gone to the summer programs," she said.