How to Avoid Summer Brain Drain
The summer “Brain Drain”, also known as the “Summer Slide,” is a term commonly used by educators and parents alike to describe the learning loss that takes place for many students during summer months.
Brain Drain occurs when the extended break from structured learning and scheduled academic work makes the mind lazy and makes it easier to forget material that has already been learned. It is a major concern for American legislators, educators, and parents alike. We’ve paneled some of the top experts in education to get the best advice for parents to help kids avoid summer Brain Drain. From CEO’s to Technologists to PhD’s and more, we’ve got the expert advice to help kids of all ages stay sharp all year long.
1. “We’re always learnings, but what are we learning?”
First thing’s first: take time to get to know your child’s interests. Dr. Alice Wilder, Chief Content Officer at Speakaboos, is a huge proponent of tapping into children’s interests to maximize their learning potential. Dr. Alice is a leader in children’s media and research, with senior production roles on landmark franchises and programs like Blue’s Clues, Super Why!, Speakaboos, and Amazon Kids (to name just a few of her many projects and accomplishments).
Dr. Alice says parents should allow their child to be bored at times to uncover their interests. “See what they come up with. Watch them play and get to know what they’re into, so you can support them in their interests. If you’re doing something together, listen to them about what they like and don’t like. The research suggests that how you play as a child helps define the person you become as an adult.”
When asked where she sees the direction of education going, Dr. Alice believes that personalized learning will change the game. “The truth is that we all as learners are unique. Our interests are unique. What captures us is unique. Technology helps us understand individual needs and interests; takes away from the mass schooling culture towards finding ways to inspire or spark each and every child.” Parents need to look at ways to see what sparks their child, and personalize their learning specifically.
2. Read, Read, Read
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again- make sure your child is reading! Dr. Alice Wilder suggests taking your child out and reading under a tree together, with stories they’re interested in. “Children are more likely to read, if what they’re reading about is of high interest to them. Speakaboos are centered around a library of stories with different interest areas. Children can learn on any medium, as long as there is the connection to ‘text’.”
Research consistently shows that children who are not reading and practicing the skills they learned during the year will lose many of the skills and information gained during the school year. This is why Tracy Zampaglione, Public Relations Administrator for the Orange County Library System, encourages parents to utilize their public libraries and let kids participate in at least one summer reading program. “Virtually all libraries offer some sort of such program, and it's a free, fun way to keep learning while school is out of session. Many programs even include contests and other incentives to keep children reading.”
The library can be a solid alternative to forced assignments, says Brian Stewart, President of BWS Education Consulting, and author of the upcoming Barron’s ACT Guide. “One of the most common complaints kids have about homework assignments, especially those given over holiday breaks, is that they seem to be totally pointless and do not seem to have any bearing on their education now or in the future. It can be hard to see how three chapters of math homework over the summer has any bearing on future success, so an important thing for parents to remember is that they need to help their kids see how the things they are learning impacts them now and in the future.” Brian adds, “rather than forcing students to read certain books, take them to the library or a bookstore and allow them to choose books they would like to read for fun.”
3. Join a Summer Camp
3. Join a Summer Camp
Another easy way to make the summer both fun and intellectually productive is to sign kids up for summer camp. Although in many locations across the U.S. it may be too late to hop on a full session for summer 2014, there is still plenty time to enjoy half of the season or more. April Whitlock, CEO of the Fundanoodle learning system, says a child’s mind can benefit from camp experience that is designed to enrich the brain. “Most children have already signed up for some sort of camp this summer involving sports, dance, or exploring other new skills. But there are many great camps that will not only provide a fun way to keep your children busy for a week but keep their minds busy as well. Fundanoodle offers two fun and interactive camps in early August to really get back in school mode.”
Diana Lebeaux, Curriculum Manager at The Boys’ Club of New York, says well-planned activities at camp can engage and enrich the mind. “At The Boys' Club of New York (BCNY), explicit academic activities like early literacy and STEM are paired with creative problem-solving competitions, art clubs, and rigorous physical activity in the summer, ensuring that our members are not only keeping their skills sharp, but also gaining a much-needed supplement to the more limiting, test-oriented school experience.”
4. Remember: Technology is Not Evil
An important part of getting kids motivated to learn and stay active during the summer is to take advantage of the platforms and media they are already using on a day to day basis. There are many innovative mobile apps and digital programs that can help kids learn from the comfort of their computer, iPhone, or iPad. These apps allow kids to explore areas of interest and learn new things in an interactive, engaging way. Andrew Cohen, Founder and CEO of Brainscape, knows the value of fun learning and has put this concept to work with the Brainscape learning app. “It’s a study tool, not a game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Kids don’t have to have their nose buried in a textbook to learn, there are opportunities all around us. You can disguise the learning process by using a hands-on activity your kids are already eager to take part in.”
“We see the do-it-yourself aspect of Brainscape really come into play when our users are trying to combat the summer slide with their kids. It’s another way to get kids more eager to learn during the summer - teach them something they actually want to learn about. We’ve seen users create things like dinosaur flashcards or time-telling cards to use with their kids. The subject possibilities are endless and we’ve seen some users create some really interesting content. It’s a great way for parents to spend time with their children in a way that keeps the kids entertained while still stimulating their brain.”
Michael Edlavitch, CEO of Hooda Math, echoes these sentiments. The key to getting kids to learn is getting them to have fun! "Kids can lose a lot of the progress they made during the school year if they're not keeping their minds active over the summer, but who wants to sit around doing boring math worksheets or flash cards? Our games are so fun that most students don't even realize they're learning!" If you can find a way to make learning into a game, whether it’s through a game like Hooda Math, a mobile app, or a family game, your kids will be more open to learning and will have a more productive summer too!
So what works better, traditional books or digital media? Dr. Alice Wilder recommends a mix of both types. “Hardcover books are great because you use your own imagination to see. Others can be animated by digital media. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading a book or participating in digital media. The trick is to create a connection.” Dr. Alice believes digital media can excite and inspire children to want to learn more, and “that’s what the beauty of digital really is. Spark their desire, imagination, and curiosity. This creates the depth of learning.”
5. Let Kids Explore
Exploration may just be the key to keeping a child’s mind sharp, says Ellen Robinson, Program Director of Real School Gardens. “Let kids explore outdoors to avoid brain drain. Let them grow their own veggies to watch over time – sunflowers would also work well because they grow so quickly (use the Mammoth variety for the most spectacular results). Try capturing bugs and count their legs/body parts to determine whether or not they’re a “true” insect (3 body parts, 6 legs, and a pair of antennae).”
Logan LeCompte, Educator at Real School Gardens who also goes by the name “LeCompost”, agrees that Mother Nature is a perfect environment for learning. “Encourage kids to keep a summer reading log or a summer nature journal to write all of their observations during nature walks. There are several yard projects and problem solving that happens naturally when kids are outside. Find a problem in your landscape, and encourage the child to research solutions and then actually fix it and do it. For example, if you have wanted to create a drip irrigation system in your garden, this would be a fantastic parent/child project to teach about conservation, the water cycle, and plant needs.”
Brian Stewart of BWS Education Consulting recommends letting kids explore with educational trips. “Allow them to plan a family field trip to a nearby historical or scientific site.” Older kids can use the summer to learn about careers. “Find a professional in the area who would be willing to let them job shadow for a day so they can see the connections between school learning and real world applications.”
6. Promote Language and Listening
If you have a young child, learning a second language may be a great way to keep their brain sharp during the summer months. “One of the best things parents can do for their kids this summer is to start teaching them a second language,” says Julia Pimsleur Levine, founder of Little Pim. “Once kids turn six, their brains become much less receptive to foreign languages — the window on language learning basically starts to close pretty dramatically — so this is the one thing parents need to jumpstart even before kids go to PreK.”
Good listening skills may help as well. William Weil, Co-Founder and CEO of award-winning audio book service Tales2Go, cites a link between being a good listener and being a good reader. “Effectively, there is a link between listening to fluent words, vocabulary acquisition and retention and proficient reading, which is why the Common Core State Standards elevates listening to a skill equivalent to reading, writing and speaking. Listening to an audio book adventure on a drive to the beach or during some down time is a great way to spark a child's imagination and combat the summer learning slide."
"Another great idea is to have your children…listen to a title or two above grade level. Audio books allow students to access literature up to two grade levels above their current reading level since listening takes away the burden of having to decode complex words. When they are later required to decode more complex text, they'll have an easier time since the words will already be familiar to them... this is a great example of the link between listening, vocabulary and reading proficiency."
7. Make Fun a Part of the Mix
As alluded to before, it is vitally important to make sure that educational activities are engaging, fun and interesting to children. At the end of the day, they also need time to relax and simply enjoy summer as kids. Jeff Knox, Educational Counselor at PrepMatters knows how much kids look forward to summer break and how important it is for them to have a good time. Neither kids nor parents have to totally surrender their summer plans, according to Jeff. “Instead, students should focus on balance: go to the beach; play sports; take naps – just be sure to mix in some more academically inclined activities, too. Camps, summer programs, volunteering – your options are plentiful; the key is to find something that engages your interests as well as your brain cells. This way you can enjoy your summer while still staying mentally limber for the return of school in the fall.”
Andrew Cohen of Brainscape believes gamification can inject fun into your child’s learning. “We see this being utilized a lot now on mobile apps and websites to get people to complete things faster or more accurately, but the same strategy can easily be applied in everyday life.”
Ultimately, it’s up to parents to bring the right opportunities to life for children, whether they are just starting pre-school or are nearly finished with high school. If nothing else, let them dive into something totally new and give it a try.
Diana Lebeaux of The Boys’ Club of New York dreams of a world where all parents and kids take advantage of these opportunities. “The question is not how kids can learn in the summer - it's how so many kids don't. Anything can be a learning opportunity and whether it's a parent, a summer program, summer school or a babysitter taking the kids to the park, it's important that these opportunities are maximized.”