By Sylvia Hannah, Reading Consultant

Should Summer Be A Catch-Up Time for Your Child?

I’ve often spoken with parents who have been informed that their child is behind his/her peers academically.  They wonder if they can catch their child up so that he/she will be able to easily handle the next grade in the fall.

I think that my usual response likely seems discouraging.

I tell parents that this is probably not a very realistic goal for their child’s summer. If their child is making less-than-expected academic gains when he/she is attending school full-time, I don’t think it is reasonable for parents to expect their child to make greater-than-expected gains during his/her summer vacation.

  • That puts a lot of pressure on their child.
  • That adds stress to parents’ lives.
  • No one needs undue pressure and stress during the summer.

Expect that you and your child’s school will plan an appropriate academic program in the fall.  I also hope that you and your child’s school have already worked out satisfactory academic placement for your child.  (See my article on “Split Grades”.)

Summer Be an Enriching Time for Your Child

If your child is struggling academically, of course you want to help.  And you can help, but not necessarily by trying to duplicate the school experience over the summer. You, as a parent, have so many more hours with your child during each week than a classroom teacher ever has.  You can choose wonderful, enriching options for your child, ones that build relationships, experiences, background knowledge and confidence.

Here are some ways to support your child:

  1. Engage A Tutor

If you can manage, you might choose a summer tutoring experience. When I ran a private educational clinic, many parents chose this option for the summer. Some parents called it “summer school camp”! Regularly scheduled teaching/learning sessions helps your child maintain his/her knowledge and interest in learning.

Summer work is particularly helpful if it focuses on your child’s underlying learning difficulties, rather than on merely going through workbooks and worksheets. At my educational clinic, for instance, we developed phonological awareness with students who had difficulty learning to read and spell accurately. We also developed comprehension and writing, using imagery and organized sketches.

Parents often find that using another person to help teach their child takes the pressure off the family. The one-to-one relationship between tutor and child sets up an emotional bond where the child feels confident and secure, and there is no comparison with classroom peers.

  • Join Your Local Library

Community libraries are very helpful to families during the summer.  They organize weekly group story time activities. If your community doesn’t have a library nearby, you could set up a weekly neighbourhood story time. 

Perhaps several families could join in. Each family could select a story-of-the-week.

  1. The first day, the children could go to one house to listen to a new story, e.g. “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”.
  2. During the first part of the week, children could make hand puppets and re-tell the story with their parents.  Children could also make dioramas of the setting.
  3. During the last part of the week, children could meet to act out the story.
  4. Each night, parents could tell (or read) the story at bedtime.  Insert your child’s name in the story and add new adventures, to engage your child.

A travelling library van could come to your community.  They might offer weekly book activities, as well.

  • Read to Your Child Each Day

You might wonder why I even mention this, because it seems obvious. Parents are always encouraged to read to their children. This establishes a closeness between parent and child. It also exposes your child to language which is more like school language, more literate and less conversational.

The wonderful routine that you’ve set up during the school year might disappear during vacation time.  Try not to let this happen!  Remember that most everyone loves to listen to stories, no matter how old they are!

  • Travel

Travel in and around your community or farther flung adventures allow the opportunity to talk with your child. Travel exposes your child to new vocabulary and experiences, creating essential background knowledge.  You can keep a travel journal that both you and your child write and/or draw in. Taking photos of the experiences and creating a photo journal is also a way to document your adventures.

  • Enroll Your Child in Summer Activities

Most community parks provide free summer day activities where your child can have organized fun. Your child will continue to learn how to play with peers, and will engage in group songs, crafts, sports, etc. Other activities, like day camps, sports camps, music camps, art camps, swimming, etc., will likely charge fees.  Check out something that will excite your child.

I can remember the busy summers I had with my two girls, as we explored a range of events each summer. Over the years, they had numerous opportunities to find out what they really liked doing, and this ultimately guided them in selecting high school options and making career choices.

  • Talk!  Talk!!  Talk!!!

A number of years ago, I met an educational researcher, Gordon Wells, who wrote a book called “Collaborative Meaning Making”.  In it, he describes how parents can best help their children understand the world.  They can do this by acknowledging what their children are interested in, and by extending their children’s knowledge a little bit, each time a conversation takes place.

This sounds obvious, perhaps.

I found that knowing the power I had, as a mother, to influence and expand my children’s thinking, continuously affected what I said to my children, and how I said it. We were engaged in collaborative meaning making during every second of every day when I was with them.

Notice what your child is interested in, e.g. cars, beetles, dress-up clothes.  Each time your child says something about what they know and like, add a bit more information to help them understand, for example, how cars move forward, what kinds of wings beetles have, what dress-up clothes you need for each character you want to be. This is important because:

  • You will be allowing your child to be important.
  • You will be developing their thinking.
  • You will be increasing their vocabulary.
  • You will be enhancing their knowledge.

All of these things will make them more confident learners.


The suggestions made are intended to make summer an enjoyable time for your child and for you.  What you do with your child can be fun, and a learning experience for you both. Everything you do WITH your child, and FOR your child, can help him/her to be successful as a learner. 

Ultimately, this will lead to academic confidence when he/she returns to school in the fall.

To learn more about early identification and intervention of literacy challenges in children, visit

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