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Summer Brain Drain: Tips for Parents, Students , and Teachers

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Academic Planners at House of Doolittle


That one word can conjure idyllic images of swimming in a pool or ocean under a hot sun, the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers on a grill, or the excitement of Fourth of July fireworks. For many of us, summer was and is a magical time to slow down and enjoy simple moments like catching fireflies on a humid evening.  

One very real part of summer doesn’t create feelings of nostalgia, it creates concern for both parents and teachers - summer brain drain. This concept has been in the educational lexicon for decades but has gathered new traction as teachers, parents, and students have had to deal with extensive effects of brain drain while attempting to maneuver through a global pandemic. Teachers, armed with their academic planners, as well as parents scrambling for ideas to fill in the gaps their children may have acquired, have legitimate reasons for worry.  

While summer may feel like a time to relax and forget about what happens in the classroom, this dismissive approach is detrimental to students, parents, and teachers. It is not enough to expect a reset when the school year begins; decades of research have shown that brain drain or “summer slide” is real to an extent and has consequences but does not need to happen. There are many strategies to prevent the months of summer break from impacting students’ retention and future performance.  

Create a Plan to “Stop the Brain Drain” 

Sometimes the start of summer break is a reward allowing parents to breathe a sigh of relief and forget about school for a while. But there is also that creeping thought about preventing kids from losing any momentum they acquired in the previous year.  

Think about your time as a student and what the summer break meant for you. You weren’t thinking about brain drain. You were wondering if there were any orange popsicles left or if you could organize a backyard sleepover under the stars. It’s safe to say you were not worried about losing math or reading skills. 

Now place your kids in this same mind frame. The last thing they want to think about is more schoolwork. Parents can take part in activities with their children that engage children throughout the summer so that brain drain doesn’t take hold and undo the hard work of the prior academic year. 

Read. Read by example and supply reading options. Reading a book to or with your child stimulates their imagination and connects you to their interests. Parents don’t have to take a traditional route. Reading comes in many forms including student-appropriate magazines, blogs, and other online resources. Mixing up traditional and digital reading options can be a fun yet effective approach. Additionally, many libraries offer summer reading programs. Visiting your local library and taking out books is a way for students to take ownership of what they want to learn. And readers make better writers.  

Write. Offer your children ideas for writing practice and keep a supply of pens and paper. Letters or emails to grandparents or a handwritten thank you for a gift are practical writing examples upon which to build skills. Encourage kids to keep a journal throughout the summer to record activities, vacation memories, and personal stories. Providing them with writing prompts will awaken their imagination to improve their ability to express themselves through the written word.  

Listen. Maybe reading books or looking at online written material doesn’t quite fit in with how to spend time in the summer. There are so many audiobooks and podcasts available that kids will probably have a hard time choosing where to start. Ask them what subjects they are interested in and there will most likely be audiobooks and podcasts that focus on these subjects.  

Math. Summer brain drain can sometimes affect math skills retention, particularly because this subject requires building upon already learned skills. Keeping the mathematical part of the brain engaged is not difficult and can be helped even for those of us who might not be “math people.” Math-oriented activities can include cooking and baking because both require math and reading skills. Double recipes so kids must determine the correct proportions. Similarly, gardening is another practical way to include math skills by plotting the size and shape of a garden, timing the planting of seeds, and weighing the eventual harvest.  

Go. Whether you are staying locally or travelling to places known and unknown, take your children to interesting, educational places. We are fortunate to live in an incredibly diverse society deeply rooted in history and creativity. Spend time at museums, historical landmarks, and state and national parks. Stimulate their thinking by asking engaging questions and encouraging them to explore each place and learn more unique details. These tips would be remiss if “the license plate game” was omitted from a list of educational activities. Kids can record (writing) and count (math) each state license plate they see which can prompt interesting geography conversations.  

Do. Introducing your children to new hobbies is an exceptional way to keep them engaged without activities feeling like more school. Create a photographic scavenger hunt using the camera on cell phones. Assemble lists of trees, flowers, bugs, and birds they need to find and then verify in field guides that you checked out from the library. Learning basic words of a foreign language is especially stimulating and easy, most notably for younger children. Set a goal for your children to learn the numbers 1-10, hello and goodbye, and “my name is” in Spanish, French, and Italian. For an added brain boost include some languages with different writing systems.     

Summer does not have to be so relaxing and unstructured that it causes our kids to fall into the malaise of brain drain. Engaging their interests combined with a little planning can keep summer fun and educational. Teachers can encourage students and parents throughout the school year to prepare for the summer so everyone can have a little more fun and a lot less worry. Stay educationally organized through the summer with academic planners as well as daily, weekly, and yearly planners.