Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed our community coming together to meet extraordinary needs.

Again and again, I’ve found myself thinking of how, over the past decade, community members have dedicated themselves to supporting education. Thanks to their efforts, many of our children have received much-needed support and encouragement as they learned skills that are essential for success in school. At this challenging time, when so many aspects of life are changing quickly, we again find ourselves facing a unique opportunity to help our children succeed in school.

What is this opportunity? And who is best positioned to take advantage of it? Read on.

For many years, experts have warned of the danger of the “summer slide” — a loss in learning gains that occurs during the summer break. At the beginning of each school year, many students face the challenge of re-learning material from the previous year while also struggling to keep up with new material. While the summer slide is a challenge for our students every year, this year’s summer learning loss could be greater due to the impacts of COVID-19. The early closures of schools combined with the significant challenges of virtual learning at home mean that many of our students are at higher risk for summer learning loss.

This is particularly harmful to our youngest students, who are still learning to read. Reading is a crucial component to learning; it is essential for our early elementary students to continue reading during school breaks so they have the skills necessary for school success.

The good news is that our community has long demonstrated a commitment to education. We applaud the parents in our community who have been working so diligently over the past few months to help their children keep up with schoolwork from home. Many parents have sacrificed a great deal to provide this support, often while facing uncertainty about jobs, finances and health concerns. Many other community members, including caring neighbors and family friends, have also encouraged and helped our children. Support like this from caring adults has a significant impact on our children’s educational success.

There are many ways that we can each make a difference this summer in a child’s education. Taking time each day to read with a child, whether that reading takes place over the phone, over the internet, or in person (when safe), is an excellent way to build literacy skills while building relationships. Small things like sending cards in the mail or emailing can also help our kids read. Now that many of our local libraries have reopened, summertime can be filled with regular visits to these exceptional facilities. Our librarians have been highly creative in adapting regular summer reading programs to meet current health needs, and the virtual resources they have available are tremendously impressive.

Other ways to support learning involve simple activities that you can do at home or in the neighborhood. Ada Wilson, a school board member with Alpine School District and a volunteer with Women United, has many suggestions for activities that you can do to support learning. For example, if your child is interested in the Guinness Book of World Records, use that interest to create simple family activities at home. She recommends doing things like looking for tallest trees in the neighborhood when on a family walk. “Explore the possibilities and discover your limits,” Wilson says. By incorporating your child’s reading interest into your activities, you can help build your child’s love for learning. Neighbors and friends can also incorporate similar activities into their interactions with the children in their lives.

So who besides parents can prevent the summer slide? Who may be best positioned to help our children succeed this year?

It’s the grandparents, foster grandparents, and other caring adults in our community who give generously of their time and experience to help young readers.

Grandparents really are the secret ingredient for reading success.

Their care and concern for the children in their lives is inspiring. During these times, when health concerns necessitate precautions like social distancing, it has been wonderful to see how many of our seniors have adapted to these changes and found ways to continue loving and supporting our children. Whether it is by reading books together via videoconferencing or mailing copies of their favorite picture books to young readers, our grandparents continue to make a significant difference in the lives of our kids.

These past few months have changed the way we live our daily lives. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the way that our community takes care of each other. As we look toward the future, we can each help make sure that our kids have the tools they need to succeed no matter what the next few months may bring.

If you’re a grandparent or other caring adult, please encourage learning and help children practice their reading this summer. Your investment of time and energy will pay off in more ways than you can imagine. For information and literacy resources in Utah County, please visit unitedwayuc.org.