Buzzword time! As the school year comes to an end around the country, there’s a whole lot in the news and on the web about “Brain Drain” (formally known as“Summer Slide”). What is it, do we need to be scared of it, and what can we do to prevent it?
Brain Drain, or “summer learning loss,” is real… but it’s not new. It’s been found that students lose up to three months worth of reading and math skills between school ending and when they get back onto the bus in the fall. Teachers find that they spend up to a month at the beginning of each school year reintroducing those skills, in order to get back on track to their curriculum schedules.
A mantra we consistently advocate, family involvement is vitally important for your child’s education. Supporting learning and continuing learning at home can give your kid an extra boost academically. In fact, children who have parents active in their learning earn better grades and are more likely to continue their educations beyond high school.
However, we’ve also harped on the importance of not being a helicopter parent, giving your kids the freedom to play, and disconnecting them from both highly structured activity and their devices. What if we told you that you can avoid the Summer Slide while still providing your kids the hard-earned and absolutely necessary decompression time that is summer break? It’s all about finding the teachable moments.
Think of the brain as a muscle—you must exercise it to strengthen it, but it’s equally as important to rest it. Summer is your kids’ time to decompress, and that time is important. Allow them that unstructured time to get outside, exercising and socializing. Even teenagers need to play—whether it’s going on a hike, painting, or visiting an escape room. And don’t think these leisure activities can’t be educational… they build important skills like critical thinking, creativity, socialization, and more.
2. Plan Trips
Not every family has the flexibility or means to go on a European vacation or tropical cruise, but day trips are certainly manageable. Simple trips to a museum (many libraries rent out museum passes), the movies, historic towns, or simply a new place can result in teachable moments and a widening of horizons. Plus, the actual planning of a day trip, weekend away, or vacation can turn educational—include your kids in the research and planning, budgeting process, shopping, and packing.
3. Make Conversation
Talk about the things you do throughout the summer. Did you do a historic tour, visit a museum, see a new movie, or read a good book? Discuss it with your kids! What did they learn? What did they like? How will they apply their new knowledge to their lives? Your kids can have fun and think critically at the same time.
4. Cook & Bake Together
Just like planning a trip, working in the kitchen requires planning, responsibility, and a little bit of work. These activities also require math skills through measurements, temperatures, and time management, as well as reading and critical thinking skills as they follow recipes. It doesn’t hurt that you get a little bit of help in the process.
5. Give Some Freedom
Parents are terrified of letting their kids, even their teens, out of their sight, as we discussed in our latest post about “Tugboat Parenting.” Letting your kids off the leash gives them the opportunity to build executive functioning skills, which will definitely help them throughout their academic careers. Remember that there is safety in numbers—try giving your kids some parent-free time, but it helps to make sure they’re part of a group.
6. Start A Book Club… With a Twist
When kids hear the phrase “book club,” it probably conjures up the image of dowdy middle-aged librarians sitting in a circle, knitting sweaters for their cats. Encourage your kids to ignore the stereotype and start a summer book club with their friends. They can pick out the books that interest them, and they’ll have the encouragement and accountability of their peers to keep reading. When they finish a book, they can hang out and talk about what they read and you can help them put together thoughtful questions to reflect on. Not interesting to them yet? Try adding a media element—choose books that have been adapted to film and the kids can watch the movie together after they’ve finished the book, comparing the two versions and discussing differences and parallels. Each book can culminate in a movie-night sleepover, complete with popcorn and candy.
7. Attend Camp
There are so many camps out there, for every type of kid. While you shouldn’t over structure your kids’ summer (if you can avoid it), a week or two of camp is a great way to keep their brains busy. Whether it’s a STEAM, drama, writing, art, or outdoor camp, it’s good for the brain!
8. Screen-Free Car Rides
Have you ever looked in your rearview mirror, only to see your children zombie-faced and zoned-in to their phones or devices? What else can they do on a long car ride, right? Wrong. Make a new car rule: Choose an audiobook as a family, or rotate who picks a podcast, and put the phones away. They’ll come to find that these forms of media are not only interesting, but they can be entertaining, too.
9. Make Media Educational
Speaking of brain drain, what’s more of a drain on the noggin than smartphones and television? It doesn’t hurt to limit media use or to encourage brain-positive apps. The whole family could download Duolingo. A half-hour a day could turn into a summer-long race to fluency. Talk about exercising the brain!
If you go away on a trip, encourage your kids to write postcards to their friends and grandparents. Have them start summer journaling, which should only take a small portion of time out of their day. Reading and writing require practice, and these are just a few easy ways to do that. They might even realize they like it.