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…

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!

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.

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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!


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. 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!


– 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.


– 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.

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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