Beating the Summer Brain Drain

BY JON CHURN, Head of School at The Montessori School of Winston-Salem

The research is there; parents and teachers see it first-hand. “Summer Brain Drain”—children losing months of learning over the summer. We can all agree that we don’t want our children to lose the learning they’ve gained, but isn’t there a way to stem summer brain drain without stealing the joys of summer for our children? I think there is, and the key is staying engaged. In addition to paying for day or overnight camps, here are a few suggestions I have found to help keep your children’s brain engaged over the summer.

Play and play together! Open-ended play engages creative and problem-solving areas of the brain—for example, building forts, creating new games, building with blocks or Legos, painting and drawing, etc. Creative play also provides invaluable settings for social interaction and growth for older children when playing together.

For elementary-age children, board and card games are of great interest and provide fun avenues to engage the brain. Some of my family’s favorites include Pay Day, Math Dice, Monopoly, Crazy 8’s and Phase 10.

Read, read, and read! Whether your child is an accomplished reader, just beginning to read, or still learning the sounds of the alphabet, reading aloud to or with your child is one of the best activities for keeping your child’s brain engaged. For those with limited time for reading aloud, or for trips, audio books are wonderful, too.

If your child is already reading, it is important that you help him or her choose material that they can read without help to avoid frustration and discouragement with reading. The “Five Finger Test” described below is an easy test to see if a book is at the right reading level for your child.

Have your child read any page aloud. When they come to a word that they don’t know the meaning of or have a lot of difficulties pronouncing, they put up one finger, stopping if they get to five.

0–1   finger up means this will be an easy read.

2–3 fingers up mean that this will be just about right to read independently.

4–5 fingers up mean that this is likely too difficult and might be a good book for mom or dad to read aloud.

Make learning real! Applying learning to real life engages your child’s brain to use knowledge and skills in new ways. Cooking, for example, may require reading a recipe, measuring ingredients, multiplying quantities to make larger portions. Shopping may require budgeting, arithmetic, working with money. Planning a family trip may require map reading, planning, budgeting, researching sites and events.

Taking trips is an excellent way also to make learning real for children. We are fortunate here in Forsyth County to have so many resources for fun day trips. From touring Old Salem to visiting one of the many area museums, a fun and brain-engaging day is easy to plan.

Have a plan, even if it’s a loose one! Summer time is certainly a time to relax and have some fun, and some unstructured time is important. But deciding on, and keeping to, a relaxed but predictable summer schedule helps to accommodate brain-engaging activities and ensure that your child continues to get the important sleep that they need.

Chores are not a bad thing! Like schedules, the routine responsibilities that children have at home during the school year often drift away during the summer. Having age-appropriate expectations for the work of the home, whether making the bed, doing dishes, feeding the dog, etc., helps children stay engaged and gives them a way to make real contributions to the family.

Don’t forget to write! Writing letters and/or postcards can be fun and engaging for children, especially when they are receiving them, too. You may try arranging with some family or friends to write your child letters over the summer, encouraging your child to reply. Including a self-addressed, stamped envelope and stationary makes this even easier for your child to engage in.

So, relax, have some fun, but stay engaged!