The Summer Slide Phenomenon: The Reason We Don’t Remember Penguins In Elementary School

Maitreyi Bharath

In elementary school, I vividly remember doing an extensive unit on the penguins of the world. There was a Macaroni penguin, an Emperor penguin, and even a Fairy penguin. There were a bunch more, but I can’t recall them.

There’s the problem. When summer break ended, and I came back to school, that was all I could remember. How could 2 months have affected my memory of such a huge unit this badly?

Meet the Summer Slide Phenomenon. Woo.

Documented as far back as 1996, students tend to fall behind academically during the summer. Most learning losses are in reading or math. This gap is largely due to a lack of academic activities over the 10-week break. A study published in the American Educational Research Journal found that “the average student [in grades 1-8] lost 17–34% of the prior year’s learning gains during summer break, as well as that students who lose ground in one summer are more likely to also lose ground in subsequent summers” ( 

Lower income students are more affected because of lack of access to educational resources. Age matters as well: younger children experience more severe learning losses. These learning losses compound on top of each other and often lead to a huge discrepancy of learning abilities between low- and high-income students all the way into high school. According to an article on the summer slide by Scholastic, “more than half of the gap in reading scores between low-income 9th graders and their middle-income peers could be attributed to differences in summer learning accumulated between first and fifth grade” ( This is because we learn more at a young age and build a foundation, while middle and high school focuses more on refining what we learn and not foundational knowledge. 

The solution? Keep your academic mind active during those 10 weeks. Reading books over summer is a solution that many studies have proven to be successful for improving reading scores, particularly for lower-income families and younger students. Another solution, though not as common, is year-round schooling. Students learn and attend school for the same number of days, but their breaks are more spread out over the year. 

Individually, reading books is one of the best ways to keep our minds engaged. We can also review concepts that we might have struggled with in other subjects, like math or language learning. Pushing ourselves to learn in high school is particularly important because these four years, and our learning achievements within them, do determine our ability to get into colleges and have a successful future. Learning achievements are how most schools view students, and presenting ourselves in a good light is made easier if we take the time to make sure our learning stays on track over summer.

So on the off chance that you don’t remember your penguin species, take some time to read up on them over summer. Happy Reading!

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