Academic Regression in School What You Need to Know as a Parent

Child suffering from academic regression sitting at her desk in class at school after a long school break.

Children love any school break…

As the school year ends, excitement builds for you and your family as you begin to think about vacations, day trips, activities, camps, and the memories that you plan to make.

 You might even look forward to not thinking about packing your child’s lunch or helping with homework. No, school is done, and you and your child can take a much-needed break. 

Summer should be that, right? A break from the school norm and a time to relax and have fun. 

 The problem is children tend to have academic regression over these long breaks. 


What is Academic Regression? 

Academic regression is an educational term used to describe when children have a setback or regress in a skill they have previously mastered or achieved. Children with special needs are especially vulnerable to regression. 

We see students leave school in May at a certain level, and then when they don’t keep practicing their skills, they slide backward and start the new school year behind.

This is especially true for children with special needs!

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Studies have shown that children who do not get any academic stimuli in the summer will roughly lose half of their knowledge from the prior year.


Yes, you read that correctly… HALF!


Academic Regression Is Also Known As:

  • Brain drain
  • Brain Atrophy
  • Summer Slide
  • Learning loss 
  • Learning gap
  • Setback
  • Summer regression


What are Examples of Summer Regression? 

If your child is a fourth-grader but only reads at the 1st quarter 2nd-grade level… When they return to school in the fall after the summer break, they will be reading at a 1st-grade 2nd quarter level when they get into fifth grade.

For example, if your child is in fourth grade and ends the year at grade level, they will come into fifth grade only remembering half of the things they learned from fourth grade!

This setback is extremely difficult for children who already struggle academically. 

So often our students with disabilities are not able to retain information over a long period of time, it is one of the reasons they receive special education services (individualized instruction through their IEP) or additional support (related services) during the school year. 

During the school year your student can keep practicing necessary skills needed to gain mastery. Accountability and repetition are key tools for combating regression.

However, when a student suddenly stops practicing these skills, all the hard work your son or daughter put into school year might be lost if those skills once learned are not continually addressed over the summer. 


How Much Learning Is Lost Over the Summer?

Most children who already struggle academically will most often see much more information loss, and, as a result, their self-confidence takes a significant hit every fall!

Information loss happens to all of us; that’s true. But what do the statistics say?

How exactly do researchers know how much information is retained, learned, and subsequently lost?

Check out our Youtube video for parents Debilitating Effects Of Summer Break to answer that question. 


What Causes Summer Learning Loss (Or Academic Regression Over Any Break in School)?

Maintaining competency in multiple skills requires practice over time. For example, a child doing math word problems supports reading comprehension and reinforces math concepts. 

Because so many of our children already struggle to keep pace during the school year. When they don’t have the routine practice of these skills like in the classroom, they will be more susceptible to regression.

This can be;

  • Academically
  • Socially
  • Communication
  • And So Much More!

Skills can wane when a disruption in practice or routine occurs. For example, the Pandemic left many special needs children with gaps in their learning that will take years to relearn.


Other Causes of Academic Regression

  • The skill in question has been mastered but has not been generalized for other situations
  • New behavior is interfering with the child’s ability to make progress in different skill areas
  • Reinforcement not being effective anymore, which has led to decreased motivation
  • An extended illness 
  • Life changes like a divorce, a new baby, or a move to a new home


Regressing Can Lead to More Setbacks

A child’s self-esteem is affected when they regress. The impact of this self-doubt can lead to regression in other skill areas. 

For instance, a child regressing in math concepts may start wetting the bed at night even though they have been toilet trained for several years.  

When parents can predict what might cause their child to regress, intervening before the situation becomes a crisis is less challenging. 

There are signs that your child might be academically regressing. But keep in mind that he may be engaging in behaviors that are symptoms of regression in other skill areas. 


What Are Signs of Regressive Behavior?

  • Refusals to begin or complete schoolwork
  • A decline in speech gains
  • An upsurge in tantrums
  • An increase in aggressive or impulsive behaviors
  • Increased anxiety
  • Difficulty with previously mastered skills such as toilet training
  • A noticeable change in sleeping or eating patterns 
  • The emergence of behavior such as pacing, hand flapping, etc 


What to Do When You Realize Your Child Has Learning Loss or Regressed Behavior?

When you identify that your child has regressed, your first step is to devise a plan to address your child’s specific needs. It would be best to ask for help from all of your child’s providers.  

Request a meeting with:

  • Teachers
  • Counselors
  • Behavior specialists
  • Therapists 

These professionals can help parents form the most well-rounded plan to support the diverse needs of each child. 


How to Avoid Summer Regression? 

A break from school is needed to improve academic achievement and not have children get burnt out…

However, taking a break for the whole summer is too long!

Going that long without any learning will most likely hinder your child’s performance when they return to school in the fall.

This is especially true for children that already struggle in school. 

But the intensity of continued learning over the summer does not have to be as rigorous as when your student is in school. 

A few hours a week or even daily practice for 15 minutes is sometimes all your child needs to keep those skills he has learned at the forefront of his mind.

Luckily, you have options to avoid Summer learning loss. 


– Specialized One on One Online Tutoring

Instead of having your child fall behind even more this summer, they can catch up on their academics with once or twice a week tutoring sessions. 

With our Special Education Tutoring Program taking just one hour a week… you can ensure your child doesn’t regress academically!

What’s the best part?

Tutoring sessions can be from ANYWHERE the internet is available! Start with a no-cost, no-obligation chat with an expert today!


How Online Tutoring Helped Mark

Consider Mark, a 3rd-grade student. When Mark began tutoring, he didn’t know: 

  • Days of the week
  • Left from right
  • B from d
  • Frequently used sight words  

Mark was reading significantly behind grade level. He was getting interventions in school, but they were boring! Mark practiced, but it didn’t click.  

He frequently commented, “It’s too hard! It’s so boring!” When Mark started online tutoring, he shared that he was interested in sharks and dinosaurs.  

His tutor developed lessons that included new information to learn about his chosen topic every session, and Mark was suddenly interested in reading! He looked forward to each session and wanted to be able to read the material himself.  

After a few months of hard work, Mark surpasses his school goals and meets his personal goal of learning about sharks without an adult to help! 

Now, when Mark encounters a challenging word, the first thing he says is, “I can do it; I don’t want help!”

– ESY – Extended School Year

Ask your child’s school about Extended School Year services to see if that is an option. If your child has an IEP, they might be eligible for these services. 

The goal of ESY is to keep children on track with their learning throughout school breaks. The law stipulates the school must provide ESY at no charge to parents (If Qualified).

Beyond that, however, the national law is vague on everything, including: 

  • How this special education program should be implemented
  • Who qualifies
  • What must be documented to qualify a child for the service

It is equally important to understand what ESY is not. It is not summer school or an enrichment program.

What Else Should I Know About ESY?

  • It may not occur as frequently as your child received services during the school year. 
  • Your child may not have the same familiar teacher nor take place at the expected or even a close location. 
  • Your child’s IEP team should be gathering data to support if your child NEEDS the support – will they regress without it? 
  • These services are ONLY provided to students with disabilities, not general education students.  
  • Read more in our ESY – Extended School Year For Special Education the Ultimate Guide

– Summer School

Summer school may or may not be a viable option for your child. You will need to check with your school district to determine if the program is right for your child. One of our special education experts works in summer school programs. 

She wrote this blog you may want to check out: What are the Benefits of Summer School For Special Education Students?


– Create a Summer Filled With Routine and Learning Activities 

One of the most frequently asked questions at the end of the school year is…

What can I do to get my child to do some work over the summer so they maintain skills?

  • Perhaps your child doesn’t qualify for ESY.
  • Or, perhaps they do, and you just want to do a little more than that.
  • Or, maybe, you want to provide some structure and consistency to the summer months to make August/September a little less of a transition.


What other options can you do at home to prevent your child from learning loss over school breaks? Let’s break this down into common subjects that typically have a summer slide. 


#1 Sit down and read with your child every day!  

  • Read everything like signs in the car, menus in restaurants, movie headlines, and commercials
  • Read books aloud and have your child read to you!
  • Have your child read to the family pet!
  • Audiobooks and graphic novels are still helping kids practice literacy skills! 
  • Watch TV shows based on books (and read the book with your child before or after).
#2 Play the “I Spy” Game

In this article,  How to Play “I Spy with My Little Eye” you’ll find 72 examples of I Spy Games to try.

#3 Video games

Yes, for real! Video games can help with: 

  • Reading comprehension (can’t complete quests if you don’t follow the directions)
  • Vocabulary
  • Social skills
  • Math
  • Planning & Organizing
  • Fine Motor coordination
  • Following directions

Here are 50 Educational Video Games your child will love.

#4 Start a “Book Club” With Your Child
  •  Ask them what they think about specific parts, events, actions, and how those things made them feel. 
  • Have them make predictions about what will happen next.
  • What would they do in that situation?
  • What could the character have done differently?
  • Don’t just ask for plot points; have a conversation!


#1 Count everything! 
  • Coins
  • Beans
  • Beads
  • Food items
  • Tires on cars and trucks! 
#2 Talk About Math Concepts Like:
  • Pairs
  • Dozens
  • Dollars
  • Cents
#3 Practice Paying for Items With Real Money 

This utilizes multisensory learning. When kids can feel the tactile differences between objects and manipulate them realistically, it creates longer-lasting connections. 


Using various vocabulary words while playing games helps kids have a memory to connect to in the future.

Play board and card games – 

Target always has great sales! Find one your child wants to play. 

Games help with:

  • Social skills
  • Counting
  • Following directions
  • Comprehension 


  • Tell stories, retell stories, add on crazy endings to familiar stories!
  • Practice writing what happened during the day in sequential order (first, next, last)
  • Draw picture stories!

More Fun Learning Activities to Avoid the Summer Slide: 

  • Science experiments
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Puzzles 
  • Escape rooms
  • Online games
  • Virtual field trips 

 No matter the reason, getting your child to (gulp), work, during the summer can be quite the undertaking!

Below are seven ideas that will increase your child’s motivation to do that 4-letter-word (work!) over the summer and, hopefully, make it a little less painful for you too!


7 At-Home Tips to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

I know what you are thinking… How do I help my child learn in the summer? 

Here are some tips. 


#1 Start RIGHT AWAY!

Ok, maybe not the FIRST day of summer break, but don’t wait until two weeks into the summer to try to get your child to start summer learning activities. 

By starting a routine the first week of summer break, you set the stage and expectations for the rest of the summer.

Yes, kids need a break to recharge, but they are still in the “swing of things” from the school year, so piggyback off of that and set up what your routine will look like immediately.

As the school year winds down, talk to your child about what this “work” will look like over the summer. Then, you can build a plan together and get started on week one of summer break. 

Check out our tips for how to plan the best summer schedule


#2 Have a Consistent Routine

Do whatever you can to keep this routine the entire summer. Sure, you may have a vacation or two planned, and that’s ok to take that time off.

(Maybe play some education games while away!?)

But when you set up the routine and schedule, pick a day(s) or time(s) that will be the least interrupted from other summer fun activities.

Maybe it’s the first thing in the morning before the day starts, or it’s after lunch on Wednesdays.

Whenever it is, stick to this time and schedule other appointments, playdates, and get-togethers around this time.

Yes, we all love not having to set our alarm clocks and sleeping in every once in a while.

But, having no routine EVERY day can be damaging…

Kids need routine.

They thrive under routine.

By keeping a regular bedtime, wake-up time, and some simple routine activities, you can keep your child in “ready” mode. Ready for whatever they need to do that day.


#3 Provide Reminders

Throughout the week, and even the day of the “work session,” remind your child of what they’re expected to do.

Just a casual, “and tomorrow we’ll do our work and then ____” is fine. 

Or, if your child does better with more concrete reminders, maybe buy a special timer, and set it to go off an hour or two before the work session begins.

These reminders will result in less fighting when the time comes because your child knows what is coming and won’t be surprised that they need to stop what they’re doing and complete some work.


#4 Location, Location, Location! 

Pick a location and stick with it!

You can;

  • Go to the library
  • Set up a desk or “school” area in your house
  • Work outside at a picnic table

Walk around the house or talk about other ideas with your child and decide together what will be best.

But picking somewhere special to work, and if you allow your child to participate in that decision, will be both more fun and more motivating.


#5 Rewards Required (maybe)

Don’t hesitate to make this as fun as possible and set up a reward system. It doesn’t have to be crazy or cost a lot of money – it just has to motivate your child!

Maybe it’s as simple as going out to a picnic lunch or a favorite lunch spot after their work is done, or perhaps it’s earning stars (or points or smiley faces) for each work session, and those add up to a particular activity or dinner treat, but make it fun!

After all, it is summer, and while it’s so important to maintain skills learned throughout the year, kids also deserve to be kids, so there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a little extra motivation.

And you deserve the reward, too!


#6 Better Sleep 

Studies have shown that using your brain can help you burn calories and make you as tired as exercise.

Many children who are on a routine and use their brain during the summer will have a better night’s sleep and choose not to stay up late at night, even if you don’t set an early bedtime…

Children who are not on a routine and do not use their brains during the summer are more likely to stay up late and have a more challenging time getting back into a routine when school starts.

Looking for tips on getting your child better sleep? Check out our Ultimate Guide to a Better Bedtime Routine for Kids.


#7 Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

You don’t have to take this all on yourself. It takes a village, right? Look into school or community learning activities for your child to participate in this summer. 

And if you’re just not sure what exactly to do… in as little as;

One Hour A WEEK…

Our special education experts can help your child improve over the summer months and eliminate all forms of summer regression! Schedule a free consultation call to see how. 

Finding a balance between doing work over the summer and letting kids be kids is so important yet challenging…


Additional Resources to Prevent Summer Slide

You can do many activities over the school break to help prevent academic regression. Check out our other resources below.

What activities have you tried? Let us know in the comments.

Here are additional ideas for fun summer learning activities: 


Do you have a child that needs one on one assistance?  

We offer one-on-one special education tutoring that can be done from anywhere the student is! Why? Because our special education experts conduct their sessions online!

Get started with a free consultation today!

Child suffering from academic regression sitting at her desk in class at school after a long school break.
Academic regression in kids is real, and it can set them back in their academic journey! Here is what you need to know as a parent.

Shannah Holt

Shannah Holt

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