Use Summer Months to Keep (or Advance!) Your Kid’s Smarts

Research suggests that summer slide is greater for middle and high school kids. Leverage the summer months — and make it fun — with tips from Academic Approach.

School’s out and your kid is breathing a sigh of relief. Their summer months stretch ahead — without a second thought to algebra, physics, reading, history or anything else related to school. But you have the wisdom of a parent — and know that your child will be more prepared in September if they spend at least some part of their summer months engaging their brain, even more so if your kid is in middle or high school. Research shared by the Brookings Institution suggests that summer learning loss is greater for higher grade levels.

If the mention of any kind of structured academic activity elicits a hard no from your middle school or high school student, know that academic work over the summer months doesn’t have to be all or nothing, says Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Services with Academic Approach, a Chicago-based academic tutoring and test-prep company.

“Tutoring can be focused and highly personalized,” Ferguson explains. “There might be something specifically your child struggles with and summer is a great time to bridge that gap.”

If writing is your kid’s kryptonite, for instance, waiting until the next school year and hoping their writing skills will improve on their own isn’t nearly as effective as getting help during the summer months. “Expectations will continue to grow, but if you know it’s an area of need, your child will benefit from a few hours of practice in order to prepare for what’s to come,” he says.

Why summer months matter

Your child may want to keep academic study a strictly September-through-June activity, but when you consider how busy the school year can be with extracurricular clubs, sports and more, even the busiest summer doesn’t compare, says Carla Pedersen, Regional Director with Academic Approach.

“It’s all about bandwidth,” Pedersen says. “Even if your teen isn’t yet in that busy junior year, there are fall sports and activities, the adjustment to high school or, for middle school kids, prep for high school entrance exams. Having freedom from those full days of school allows kids to have the capacity to get ahead and that can make all the difference.”

You may get resistance from your child, and that’s perfectly normal. But Pedersen says that kids are rational, so listen to their thoughts about goals and realistic time commitments for the summer months and make the decision together.

“Talk with your child about schedules and what fall will look like because they know how busy they are and how hectic the school year can be. They may recognize that a handful of hours each week during the summer months can make a huge impact later in the year. They may understand they won’t be filling their summer with academic work and study, but using some time to get ahead,” she says. Even one hour a week with an instructor can put them way ahead of the game by the time school starts.

“We’re not in the business of taking away summer!” Pedersen says.

If your child attends summer camp or has a summer job, you can work with Academic Approach to create a plan that works for their schedule. For ACT and SAT prep, Academic Approach instructors start with diagnostic tests to determine a baseline and how much work is needed.

“Let’s say what we get out of the summer is that those two tests are taken, then we have a plan for the fall. That’s huge,” Ferguson says. “That’s enormous progress and a great use of your child’s time because now we know what we have to do. If that’s working with a tutor twice a week during the school year, we can work around sports and other commitments and put a plan in place, rather than force it after school has already started.”

For some kids, it’s just about keeping the motor running. “It might take all a student has to get to the end of the school year and then they don’t want to look at it again. This happens particularly with math, but also applies to writing skills.” Ferguson says. “We can help create a continuing education program to solidify what they learned or look ahead and bush up on some basic skills so they can thrive on more difficult material.”

Creative ways to maximize those summer months

Maybe this summer isn’t the right time to dive into tutoring or test prep, yet you want to stop summer slide in its tracks. Here, Pedersen and Ferguson offer their best tips for keeping your child’s brain engaged with “hidden academics”:

  • Visit your local library and grab a summer reading list. This is especially great for middle school kids, Pedersen says. “It’s great for comprehension and vocabulary — the very same skills needed for standardized tests,” she says. “Plus, it’s more fun to pick out unfamiliar words in a book that is interesting to your child than to memorize a list.”
  • Into sports? Every sport involves statistics — and who doesn’t love to get lost in batting averages, ERAs, RBIs and all the lesser-known baseball stats? This is a great way to experience numbers at work.
  • Head to the kitchen with a recipe you can halve, double or triple. “It’s the best way to learn ratios,” Pedersen says.
  • Challenge your kid to a daily Wordle, Dordle, Heardle or, for geography fans, Worldle. Plain old Sudoku or crossword puzzles by the pool are great, too.
  • Take a class at your local art center or community center.
  • Watch documentaries together, ask questions and share what you learn.

It’s smart to reach out for professional help and even smarter to work with those who know how to make learning fun. “We always talk about how easy it is to find smart people, but it’s harder to find smart people who are great at working with kids and teens, so we spend an enormous amount of time searching for instructors who are great at what they do and can talk with kids, too,” Ferguson says. “They make writing and math and science engaging for all age groups. That’s so important.”

Content sponsored by Academic Approach. Learn more at

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago 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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