Digital Reading | June 8, 2022

A Summer of Wonder: From Learning Loss to Reading Opportunity


It’s summer in many parts of the world, and children are on a break from school. Unfortunately, when school is out many children in underserved communities are at risk of learning loss. Together, we can turn the school holidays into a time of wonder, learning, and growth.

Child on swing holds tablet while smiling

Is the summer slide real?

Educators are very familiar with the term ‘summer slide’, which describes the learning loss experienced by students when taking extended breaks from school – most typically, during the summer. Some studies show that children may lose two months’ worth of school-year learning in math and reading skills during school holidays. Critically, income-based reading gaps often grow over the summer, meaning that lower-income students are at risk of experiencing greater learning loss during school closures.

But school holidays are far from unproductive. They can represent a great opportunity – to explore, learn, socialize, and in many cases, even help close individual learning gaps developed during the school year.

In fact, some researchers go as far as saying that the summer slide isn’t real, as children need downtime and playtime to learn effectively and acquire crucial skills outside of school. And students who keep reading during their time off have been shown to beat the summer slide altogether. Plus, standardized test-based studies carried out in the 1980s are still used today to inform summer learning, with potentially misleading results on the ‘summer slide.’

Instead of focusing on potential summer learning loss then, we can take advantage of this special time of the year and use reading to promote a summer rise and help all students soar. The sense of wonder books offer can ignite the imagination of young readers and help them take advantage of their time off school to learn more about the world and themselves.

But for books to work their magic, we must first make sure they reach the children who need them most.

Why the summer slide doesn’t affect all children equally

Access to books is critical. According to the Colorado Department of Education, students from low-income households who have access to books over the summer see significantly more gains in reading scores. Researchers found that a home library increases children’s academic success, vocabulary development, attention and job attainment. Owning 80 or more books helps children grow into adults with significantly higher levels of literacy, numeracy, and IT skills.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for the many children whose families cannot afford books. Young readers in underserved communities may not have access to a public library when schools are closed and some have too many responsibilities and chores to take care of to be able to visit one. Many parents and caregivers do not have the time or financial resources to make sure their children benefit from summer programs and learning opportunities and cannot buy education materials to keep in the house.

This results in what the resource faucet theory describes as a slower flow of resources during the school holidays. According to this theory, the “resource faucet” is on for all students during the school year, but during school holidays, the flow of resources slows for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Higher-income children do not experience significant learning loss because they have access to financial and human capital resources (such as parental education) when school is out, keeping the flow steady.

The solution is as simple as it is crucial – giving the wonder of books to all children. And the right technology enables us to reach more readers, faster.

Is technology the key to beating learning loss?

Digital resources give students the chance to keep learning all year round, carrying a library with them wherever they go. However, not everyone has equitable access to technology – expensive devices and internet connectivity mean that many are left behind as two-thirds of the world’s school-age children have no internet access at home.

At Worldreader, we believe that technology should serve people’s needs, regardless of their background. With 7.2 billion people using mobile phones, and almost the entire world population (97%) living within reach of a mobile cellular signal, we decided to take a low-cost, high-tech approach – our digital reading platforms are completely free and available across devices, from basic mobile phones and smartphones to tablets, Chromebooks, and desktop computers. When families do not have access to the internet at home, they can download our books on their devices and enjoy them offline.

And it’s not only digital books – the key to supporting a child’s learning journey outside of school is in the people who are closest to them. When families read together, students thrive and build the confidence they need to reach their full potential. Plus, parents who read raise healthier, more educated kids.

Our diverse collections are enriched with engaging activities for children to complete with their friends and family. From building strong reading habits and developing a love for stories to learning about the world and the people who inhabit it, our play-based learning activities help children grow into strong readers and thriving adults.

How you can help children read anytime, anywhere

Throughout the years, we’ve seen time and again how stories can change everything. When children have access to the wonder of books, they can build wonderful futures for themselves and the people around them. Equitable access to reading means academic success, better health, and employment opportunities for all.

Since 2010, Worldreader and its partners have distributed over 70 million digital books to more than 20 million readers. And we’re planning to reach 25 million by 2025. By helping us give young readers the gift of wonder, you’re supporting millions of children to reach their full potential and unlock a world of opportunities for their future.

Are you a reading champion? By supporting our work, you’ll keep children in over 100 countries reading even when school is out.
Are you a teacher? Partner with us and discover how to use innovative, low-cost technology and world-changing reading programs to empower your students at home and in the classroom.
Are you a reader? Sign up for our newsletter to receive a world of wonder directly in your inbox.