Have you heard this phrase “summer brain drain” yet? It’s the concept that kids’ knowledge slips during the summer when they’re not in school. But is that something parents should be worried about? Are kids totally forgetting what they learned, or is it just a simple lapse? We spoke with Whitney Clark, the executive director for academics at the Leadership Academy Network—through Texas Wesleyan University—about summer brain drain.
Fortunately, Clark says what she sees isn’t necessarily a complete loss of what the kids learned. “Rather, [it’s] a lapse in what they remember once the summer comes,” she explains. “They might forget strategies or skills they were taught and have to be reminded.”
Clark says she sees this in especially difficult subjects, such as math or science, where educators are constantly building on previously taught skills and information.
On the bright side, Clark says this lapse is natural anytime you pause learning for an extended period of time. “Educators are used to the ‘summer slide’ and know that the start of a new school year will always begin with a reset,” she says.
PREVENT THE DRAIN
There are some ways though to combat the drain, or the summer slide. Clark says that most educators will tell you one of the best ways to prevent the drain is to have your child read throughout the summer. “Even 10–15 minutes of reading exposes [them] to new vocabulary, extends their comprehension and can generate creativity,” she adds. Take some time this summer to read with your child, read to them or alongside them.
Another way to get them reading is to find what interests your child and help them pick out books that focus on that interest. Then they’ll be even more excited about reading.
Are the kids not that interested in sitting still long enough to read a book? Clark says try incorporating reading into everyday activities, from building a new toy together to reading a recipe.
“Speaking of recipes,” Clark adds, “having your child help with cooking a meal exposes them to measuring, counting and other skills.” Two birds, one stone.
Another way to keep the learning going throughout the summer is to focus on writing skills. Clark says she sees this area as another spot where her students tend to struggle when they come back from break.
She recommends having your child start a summer journal or a diary. “If they want to share this experience with you, you can write them questions or notes in the journal such as, ‘Which part of your day was your favorite, and why?’” she suggests.
Finally, consider keeping things simple during the summer. Clark says a great way to keep kids engaged in learning is to just observe aspects throughout the day with them. She says that finding opportunities to ask children questions based on what is observed with them will help stimulate thinking.
STRUCTURES AND SCHEDULES
Of course, structure is always important for kids—no matter the time of year. Structure and routine provides kids with a sense of security and comfort, so Clark says establishing that daily routine will encourage healthy choices and teach healthy behaviors that will set kiddos up for life.
Some things Clark says are simple to incorporate—especially during the summer for a child’s brain—include adding in a daily exercise, set time for reading and writing and planned family meals, if possible. (This would also be a good time to set screen time schedules too.)
TO WORRY OR NOT TO WORRY
Remember, summer brain drain is not a complete loss of information but more of a lapse—but should parents really worry about it? Yes and no. Clark says that if parents stress about the “summer slide,” that could unintentionally project a sense of anxiety or stress onto kiddos.
“It’s important for kids to see that their parent or parents are confident about the child’s future, and help to make summer learning fun and memorable,” she adds. “[They] should be able to enjoy their summer without the fear that they will drift further behind. Focus on encouraging natural experiences for learning at any opportunity.”
Looking for some resources to use during the summer with the kiddos to keep their brains engaged? Whitney Clark from Leadership Academy Network shares these favorites of hers:
- Audiobooks: “Audiobooks are a great way to take your reading on a road trip; find a classic that you and your child will enjoy, roll the windows down and enjoy.”
- Time for Kids: This is a great resource Clark recommends for exploring current events, news and nonfiction text from around the world.
- Online programs. Some free or inexpensive programs Clark suggests include BrainPop, National Geographic Kids, Project Noah, PBS Kids Lab and NASA Kids’ Club.
This article was originally published in June 2021.