Avoid Summer Brain Drain Without Drama and Pain

Avoid Summer Brain Drain Without Drama and Pain

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Seven tips for fun summertime learning

School is almost out for summer, and moms are exhausted. But unlike in generations past—when kids were dismissed from school to spend a free-range summer riding bikes, watching TV, and essentially checking out—we are now cautioned about summer brain drain, or the loss in the summer of learning gained during the previous school year. We’re warned that kids can lose as much as two months of progress in reading and math over the summer and that the loss can be cumulative, leaving them a year or more behind academically by the time they’re high school seniors.

It’s tempting to dismiss these warnings and argue that what our kids really need is rest and fun in the sun. But at a time when schools assess students early in the school year and expect them to return in the fall prepared, there is good reason to encourage learning over the summer. If you’re struggling with conflicting desires to have a fun versus a productive summer, here are some suggestions for avoiding brain drain while also giving your tired children a break.

1. Read out loud. Of course, some kids are natural readers who look forward to summer as a time to curl up and race through a stack of books. Not all kids are like that. But whether or not your children can read or like to read independently, you can expose them to new vocabulary words, wonderful stories, great literature, and maybe a bit of history by reading out loud. Most educators agree that reading out loud is a foundational part of teaching reading, both to convey a sense of fluency and instill a love of reading. And it’s the perfect activity for summer, when we want to extend the learning of the school year without insisting our kids work as hard. So choose a book that both parent and child can enjoy, ideally one with a somewhat involved story that will sustain you over several weeks and provide something to look forward to. Plenty of resources, such as Scholastic’s 100 Best Read-Aloud Books, are available to help you get started.

2. Find a hybrid camp. Working moms who have to put their kids in camp anyway might want to consider a camp that combines academics and fun. The day is long, and even those camps that teach algebra or writing in the morning, usually offer sports, crafts, and/or pool breaks in the afternoon, which makes the learning go down a little easier. Also consider that in addition to camps that help your kids review the basics of “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” many others offer subjects that may not be offered at your child’s school, such as coding and video production.

3. Make the most of road trips. If your kids are prone to asking, “Are we there yet?” while you can still see your house in the rearview mirror, keep in mind the countless road-trip games that are fun and educational, and promote family bonding. A classic is to look for license plates from different states, with many ways to expand on it. If you spot a license plate from Nebraska, for example, see if your kids can come up with the names of three other places that begin with the letter N. Once you’ve covered New Orleans, New Mexico, and Nicaragua, you’ve introduced some new places and perhaps, depending on your kids’ ages, offered a simple lesson on the difference between a city, state, and country. Or use the inevitable “Are we there yet?” to talk math: If we have 300 miles to drive, and we drive 50 miles an hour, when will we reach our destination? You can find many online resources for fun road-trip games, but they are just as easy to make up. And I’ve found that children often prefer this all-in-the-family activity to using electronic devices. For more ideas, check out this article on Niche: “Six Educational Road Trip Games for Kids.”

4. Commit to a summertime project. The formal school year can feel like an endless treadmill of running out the door; dropping off and picking up the kids at school; racing to various sports practices and events; doing homework; and then going through the dinner and bedtime routine until you collapse in front of the TV, turn on a cooking show, and wonder, Why don’t I ever experiment with new recipes? Summer usually provides at least a bit of a break from homework and sports practices, and if we’re being honest, a time to be less rigid about the evening routine. So consider picking up one of those projects you never get around to, and involve your kids. Learning new recipes, planting a garden, and volunteering are all stimulating activities that will expose your children to something new and, yes, teach them something valuable. This list, “25 Activities to Keep Kids’ Brains Active in Summer,” is a great resource for educational summertime projects.

5. Become a tourist in your hometown. My hometown happens to be Washington, DC, but I can’t tell you how many monuments and museums here I’ve never visited. Your hometown might not have such an abundance of institutions that are both free and educational, but most likely it has some that you’ve never explored. Places such as local nature trails, aquariums, and historical monuments become so familiar to us that we often forget to take the time to visit them, read the plaques, and learn something new. Summer is the perfect time to do this.

6. Start a summer journal. Learning good writing might seem like less of a drudgery if the subject matter were summer vacation and adventures. Give your children a journal at the beginning of the summer and ask them to write semiregularly. To add a little structure, you may want to encourage them to spell correctly, introduce new words, or just try to adopt a lively style. Learning to write clearly helps children learn to think clearly, and the practice they get throughout the summer should stay with them when the school year starts. And finally . . .

7. Don’t try to replicate the school year. Remember, this is summer vacation. Despite all the admonitions about brain drain, kids have summer break for a reason. Young brains need breaks to recharge. When I watch my daughter gain independence by riding her bike to the beach or even just walking with her friends to the local market, figuring out how much they can spend on candy and still have some left over for the next day, I am reminded that learning—and real growth—often happen in the quiet moments.

So by all means, incorporate some stimulating activities into your summer, but also take time to cherish the days in which there is no homework and the sun sets late. The formal learning will resume soon enough.

Looking for more ways to enhance your child’s brain power? Here is another article you might be interested in: “Science Says Board Games Are Good for Kids.”

This article was updated on 11/9/18.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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