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Summer is a vulnerable time for kids. Lost access to reading material, structured play and daily nutrition lead to summer learning loss and poorer health. 

While the summer may be a time for kids to enjoy a much-needed break, it doesn’t mean their development takes a vacation. Children’s bodies and minds are still growing when school is not in session and they need nourishment, exercise and mental stimulation to reach their full potential.

Summer slide risks

“If a child is hungry at any point in their life,” says Stacey McDaniel, project manager of the YMCA’s Anti-Hunger Initiative, “they’re 2.5 times more likely to have poor health 10-15 years later compared to kids who have never had to go without food.”

Making sure kids stay on a healthy schedule of sleep, exercise and nutrition throughout the summer is important, but these aren’t the only things that slip in the summer. Kids can actually experience drastic losses in learning.

“Kids can have up to two months academic loss during the summer months,” says Bela Mote, VP of Evidence-Based Youth Development Interventions at the YMCA, “which is critical when you think of youth who are already academically behind.”

Community impact

These barriers to children’s success are particularly concerning in the United States’ lower-income neighborhoods.

“Kids lose regular access to books and enrichment activities because they aren’t in school,” says Barb Roth, national director of Youth and Family at the YMCA. “This access is particularly limited in lower-income communities where the ratio of books to children is significantly lower (1 to 300) than in middle-upper income communities (13 to 1).”

Lack of school resources also hurts lower-income families when it comes to nutrition. Millions of families who rely on free or reduced-price meals often have a harder time finding access to affordable options. This affects kids’ physical, cognitive and social-emotional health. “There’s definite anxiety as well,” adds McDaniel, who witnesses the effects on the children she works with. “They’re worried about where they’re going to get that next meal from.”

Making a difference

Even with pressing academic and health risks, summer can still be a beneficial (and fun) time for kids. But, raising healthy kids takes community-wide, holistic support to help fill the gaps.

“If we want kids to continue to be active participants in their environments, we have to make sure that we’re nurturing all of their development,” says Mote, who heads up the YMCA’s Power Scholars Academy and Summer Learning Loss Prevention programs. These six-week classes combined with healthy eating and physical activity, have proven 2-3 month gains in reading and math skills.

The Y’s intentional approach to support youth development, including working with families to ensure that gains are maintained by healthy habits at home, is helping ensure all kids have the best summer ever, year after year.

As with any outreach effort, these programs need public support to continue thriving. It’s important for all of us to think about how we can give back. Summer can be a great time to make a difference by donating our time and talents to youth development experiences. If we all get involved, a little support will go a long way in raising healthy and happy kids.

Dash Lunde, [email protected]

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