Turn Summer Brain Drain into Brain Gain!

While summer break is a fun time packed with family activities it’s also when a phenomenon strikes that teachers know all too well—the “summer slide” or “Brain Drain” – the loss of knowledge and ability that occurs when formal education stops during the summer.

Research shows that all young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer. In fact, the average student loses approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in math computation skills over the summer months. This learning loss affects children when they begin their new school year in September because teachers typically spend four weeks re-teaching or reviewing material that students have forgotten over summer break. Playing ‘catch-up’ as the school year begins can also negatively effect your child’s self esteem.

While your brain is not a muscle, the adage ‘use it or lose it’ certainly holds true for your brain too. Mental exercise can keep the brain strong, just as physical exercise can keep the body strong.

Here are some ideas to help your child get their brain “exercising” before school starts:

Tips for Grade Schoolers:

20 Questions.  Think of a person or thing and give your child 20 chances to guess what it is by asking yes or no questions. Sharpens memory, logic and reasoning skills.

Rhyme Time.  Have your child choose four rhyming words and use them to create a poem. For younger kids, simply say a word then take turns coming up with words that rhyme with it. Builds auditory analysis, verbal rhythm and memory.

Needle in a Haystack.  Take a page from a newspaper and time your child as she circles all occurrences of a specific letter or word. Improves visual processing speed and sustained attention.

Counting Counts.  Encourage your child to count by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s etc. when they go up stairs, dribble a basketball, swing on a swing set or jump rope.  Builds math fluency, processing speed, divided attention and memory.

Play Time is Gain Time.  Play is crucial to healthy brain development. Prioritize play with your kids to keep their creative juices flowing and minds working.

Pick a Pen Pal.   It doesn’t matter whether it’s a family member or friend, near or far, writing letters  will give kids a chance to rehash and share their summer adventures and practice their writing in the process.

Teach mini-lessons.   Transform everyday activities into learning opportunities. Children can count change, read directions for a trip, write a shopping list, or calculate a recipe’s measurements.

Gather activity books.   Give children their own activity book with crossword puzzles or number games customized for their specific age group.  Set a “due date” to keep them on track, but let them work at their own pace.

Strategize screen time.  Educational computer games or apps can engage students’ minds, but make sure your child is spending enough time away from the screen.  Assign a daily block of time for family members to turn off phones, computers, and the TV, and instead play a board game or read together.

Talk to your child.  So many conversations between parents and kids during the school year are directional: “Get up; get in the car; do your homework.”  Before you are back in the grind make some time to chat. Spend time getting to know how your child feels about going back to school, any concerns they may have.

Have Kids’ Dinner Night.  Once a child is 10 or 11, have him be fully responsible for dinner one night.  That means coming up with the shopping list (Mom or Dad still has to pay), setting the table, preparing the meal, deciding on the dinner conversation topic and cleaning up afterward. It involves math, organizational and, perhaps most importantly, life skills.

Tips for Middle-schoolers:

Middle school is a huge transition and, for many kids, can be fraught with academic and social insecurity.  But it’s also a time when kids are discovering different ways to learn, and that can make summer learning especially important.

Do something new. Middle school is all about exploring new interests. Your child may discover an interest that you never imagined. So expose them to a new sport, a new hobby, a new class.

Be nontraditional. If you want your child to start reading before school starts, great. But don’t force him to do the reading you think he should be doing. Going online to read something and having a discussion about it can be just as educational as reading a novel from a book list.

Help make connections. For middle school kids, relevancy is so important; if they have experienced something, then they can understand it better. So go downtown, visit a museum or an art gallery. Social learning is important for kids this age.

Tips for High-schoolers:

It’s very difficult for adults to understand how stressful high school is. The amount of stress high school kids put on themselves to get into college means that they are thinking about their future constantly. By the time kids are in high school, you want them to understand that learning is a lifelong pursuit.

Start a store.  Use math skills and organization to plan the store and “sell” goods.

Explore “Going Green.” Your carbon footprint and whether recycling is all it’s cracked up to be: These activities involve not only math skills, but applying research to higher level critical thinking and analysis.

Go to an outdoor movie festival.  It doesn’t feel like learning, but watching ‘Casablanca’ absolutely is.  And so is the shared experience of discussing it afterward.

Be the editor of your family newsletter.  Practice journalistic and writing skills, including interviews, news, pictures, advertisements and even cartoons.

Grow your own food.  Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as gaining knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating.

Do something that opens your world.  Not everyone can study French in Paris. But there are so many opportunities to learn by accident.  And if you’re having fun and you learn something, you’ll remember it forever.

Take some positive steps to ensure the brain is ready, willing and able when school starts!

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