With summer vacation in full swing, thoughts of warm weather fun, sleeping in and spending time with friends tend to top most kids' to-do lists. For too many youngsters, however, one essential activity is missing: retaining much of what they learned during the previous school year.

While society tends to stress academic achievement from August to June, there is a reality we all must face — that summer months play a crucial role in the continuing education of our youth. Otherwise, much of what they learned during the previous school year gets lost. The impact of this learning loss is likely to be experienced in the short and long term regarding school, and in some instances, life itself. Therefore, support is needed in and outside the classroom both during the academic school year and over the summer.

The Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association says all students experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. In fact, education experts say students on average lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills.

Starting the school year with an academic deficit can put students at a serious disadvantage. That's why the Enoch Pratt Free Library, in partnership with supporters like Verizon, is taking steps to ensure that students in Baltimore stay ahead of the curve again this year with the launch of Enoch Pratt's Summer Reading program.

Summer Reading is an incentive and theme-based reading program offered at all Enoch Pratt locations across Baltimore. Every year, more than 16,000 children and teens register for the reading program, and more than 30,000 participate in the free activities. The goal for registered participants is to read at least one book a week during the eight-week session. Through branch-based activities and performances — some of them featuring musicians and storytellers — the program is designed to help children build a love for reading, promote family reading and help students continue to learn over the summer.

Studies have shown that children who read over the summer are better prepared to continue their education when they return to school in the fall. But it's important to emphasize that reading is also fun. To encourage reading, we must entice students by making reading an intriguing, enjoyable and satisfying choice of options this summer.

The Pratt library and Verizon have a proven history of encouraging students to strengthen their literacy skills by reading more. In fact, during the "Read More, Be More!" campaign, both partners worked with Baltimore City leaders to urge students to get library cards, regularly visit a local Pratt library and read often. During this campaign, a record number of library cards were issued.

Of course, books are not the only means to learn. When competing with summer sun, technology also can be a parent's best friend in helping to keep children learning. Type "summer learning resources" into a search engine and you'll find thousands of options to keep your kids learning and maybe even having a little fun.

One place to check is Verizon Thinkfinity (www.thinkfinity.org), a free website that contains thousands of educational resources, podcasts and educational games, including a special summer learning feature to help parents find such resources as online math games where students can challenge their friends and summer science projects. The site was created by a who's who of educational leaders such as National Geographic, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In today's competitive global environment, learning cannot end with the school year. If every student devoted an extra 15 minutes a day during the summer to read a few extra pages of a favorite book, or play an educational math game, just think how much further along they would be when the new school year begins.

And, thanks to paper books as well as the wonder of technology — whether it's a netbook, a smart phone or a laptop — great educational resources are at your fingertips in a classroom, at home or on a beach.

Carla D. Hayden is chief executive officer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. William R. Roberts is Verizon's president in Maryland and Washington, D.C.