The Importance of Summer Learning


By Julie Kelly-Detwiler, Assistant Head of School

Last week’s Parent Insight event focused on the topic of Summer Work. In this talk, Inly Librarian and Middle School teacher, Shelley Sommer, and I spoke about the why, how, and what of summer work at Inly and offered many resources to guide parents. What follows is a brief synopsis and links to important reference material. To view a live-streamed recording of the event, click here.


As educators, we know that continued practice with reading, writing and math during the summer, yields significant and important returns. Studies from John Hopkins indicate that, on average, students who do no summer math work, lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation over the summer months. Students who do not read routinely can see their skills slip by as much as an entire grade level, while those who read at least six books during the summer maintain or improve their reading skills. And writing ability needs to be exercised like a muscle, or it will atrophy.


To optimize the benefits of summer work, it should happen regularly, joyfully, and rooted in a growth mindset philosophy. The benefits of summer work come from practice and consistency. Putting off the work until the week before school begins not only causes stress, it is counterproductive. The goal of summer work is NOT to get it done, it is to retain the learning and to exercise the brain. How you structure this learning for your child will go a long way in creating positive work habits and continued engagement with learning.

The growing field of positive psychology links learning and happiness is dramatic ways.  In Shawn Achor’s book, “The Happiness Advantage,” the relationship between success and happiness is explored through the lens of positive psychology. His contention is that we now have scientific evidence to make the case that happiness leads to success, and not the other way around.  “…cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative and productive, which drives performance upward.”  “Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us to organize new information, keep the information in the right brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And they allow us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allow us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.” So make work fun, share a happy memory before a task is begun, and weave learning into joyful family time.

Shelley and I also shared Carol Dwecks research on growth vs. fixed mindsets. A brief but important takeaway for parents as they support their child over the summer is to focus on the effort and not the achievement. Celebrating the effort and approach to work is much more valuable than pointing to a child’s ability to “get it right.”  As a child progresses and the work gets more complex and difficult, a child who has been recognized for their effort is far more likely to persevere in the face of setbacks than the child who has been told they are smart. According to Dweck and others in her growing field, a fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence is static. This belief leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result, children who adopt this mindset may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential. On the other hand, a growth mindset, which is the belief that intelligence can be developed, leads a child to embrace challenge, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.


Children at each level of Inly have a summer work packet that our faculty has thoughtfully prepared.  Each packet begins with the Inly Summer Work Philosophy that stresses the importance of family time and learning by doing. If you are mindful about reading to or with your child each day, playing games together that require sequencing, logic or strategy, and are having discussions at dinner, on the beach, in the car, or during summer travels, your child will be learning and will solidify the academic gains made at school. We encourage you to keep the joy of learning alive in your child and to embrace Montessori’s understanding of indirect preparation this summer.

Indirect preparation –“The way nature has of preparing the intelligence. In every action, there is a conscious interest. Through this interest, the mind is being prepared for something in the future. For example, a young child will enjoy the putting together of various triangular shapes, totally unaware that because of this work his mind will later be more accepting of geometry. Also called remote preparation. The deeper educational purpose of many Montessori activities is remote in time.”  Association Montessori International

The summer work packets offer specific suggestions about developmentally appropriate activities, but are not mandatory and are not exhaustive. In the younger grades, they are meant as a resource to parents, in grades 4-8, there are work requirements that we hope you will encourage your child to complete a little at a time throughout the summer months.

For some children, focused time each week on specific literacy and/or numeracy skills will be required for them to retain what they have learned or to make the necessary gains to start the year feeling confident and prepared. If this is true for your child, you would have heard that from your child’s teacher at end of year conferences, and resources would have been suggested.

All toddler-Upper Elementary students were also given an “Independence Guide.”  We consider this the most important work for both you and your child this summer. As the Adult Montessori Guide this summer, your homework will be to prepare the environment and the time to allow your child to grow in independence. Help your child to continue the learning they do at school to complete practical life tasks independently. Create expectations and routines for care of self and care for the environment. Invite your child to participate in the family as a contributing member—not with incentives of reward or threat of punishment, but as a natural part of his or her day. This might be difficult and time consuming at first, but the benefits will last a lifetime.

“The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.” Maria Montessori


Summer Reading Programs Boost Student Achievement, Study Says By Carole Fiore and Susan Roman

Helping to Prevent Summer Reading Loss By Julie M. Wood, Ed.D.

School Library Journal: Why read?

For The Children’s Sake, Put down That Smartphone By Patti Neighmond

Family – The Guide By Ingela Ratledge

Independence Guide: Benchmarks to aid the development of independence in your child

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