As the school days wind down and summer rears its lazy head,
parents and teachers struggle to find creative ways to combat summer learning
loss, or “brain drain,” drawing a thin line in the sand between sunstroke fun
and intuitive instruction.
“The data shows that nearly every student in this country
experiences summer slowdown,” says Matthew Boulay, Interim CEO
of the National Summer Learning Association and the co-editor of Summer
Learning: Research, Policies, and Programs. “It’s more severe in math but it
still happens in reading.”
According to researchers, children spend two or more months
playing catch up at the beginning of each school year. And keeping young minds
active throughout the entire year, especially in comprehension, proves to be a
key factor in overall student success.
“Summer is really the time when you can innovate,” Boulay
says. It’s more about creative learning, rather than more of the same.
Since parents deserve a much-needed break during the summer
too (we see you nodding), it’s important to make learning engaging throughout
the warm weather months, leaving the stress and deadlines far behind for both
parties. It can be as easy as having your child read up on anticipated vacation
spots, play word and math games, or oversee an entrepreneurial adventure. Think
of it as a treasure hunt—á la Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry
Potter or The Goonies—discovering buried treasure of enticed learning in the
simplest of places.
What’s Old Is New Again
Smaller children gravitate towards the familiar. Finding
activities that morph into bigger and more mature versions of themselves
guarantee a child’s long-term devotion. In as little as ten minutes, parents
can teach a child an important lesson in reading, science, social studies,
spelling or math.
Try turning a morning breakfast routine of eating Cheerios
(or sugar cereal of choice) into a spelling lesson. Kids can create letters and
words out of multigrain loops before devouring their bowl. Challenge your
little ones to build three, four, and five-letter words like d-a-y, h-e-a-t and
And if you’re craving something sweet: “You can teach
fractions with a Hershey’s bar,” suggests Dr. Judy Blankenship Cheatham, Vice
President of Literary Services for Reading
is Fundamental, the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United
States. “I did—of course, I kept eating up my teaching materials.”
Children between the ages of 3 and 5 crave learning new
concepts. If your little ones haven’t started using a computer, it’s a good
time to make the introduction. Many programs are available for free online,
like funbrain.com or pbskids.com, and provide toddlers with basic computer
skills while they learn numbers, colors and beginner’s phonics.
“I think there’s good screen time and there’s bad screen
time,” Boulay acknowledges, “You want to limit the bad but encourage the good.”
Parents should use discretion in setting appropriate limits—if you see your child
browsing YouTube for the latest Lady Gaga video or checking out Jersey
Shore episodes, suggest they go outside
instead for some Vitamin D. It’s the better option.
Stop, Drop And Read
Then there are books—the reigning king of summer stimulation
(and heck, all-year-round) for all ages. For the younger set, we like Me…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick
Goodall. Its softly drawn pages bring naturalist Jane Goodall to literary life.
“The goal for the parent is to teach some type of literacy every day,” says Dr.
Cheatham. For the middle range, we suggest Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth,
the series’ fifth go-round for comical relief.
“Do something every day,” says Cheatham, warning that
everyone becomes “rusty” when skills become dormant.
Whether near or far, exploration provides an excellent
opportunity for 6-8 year olds to help plan and document family visits, day
trips and vacations. Use a globe or map to locate areas you’ll be exploring
during the summer months. Have children create (and more importantly, be
responsible for) photo journals and scrapbooks with pictures, captions,
souvenirs and mementos. This project, like so many others recommended by
educational experts, grows along with your child, from scrapbook creation to
PowerPoint presentations. Instead of battling one another over the top vacation
spot, each family member can build their own presentation, including tourism
links, pictures, videos, and reviews, culminating in a preview night where
everyone presents and ultimately votes on the winning trip.
A teacher for more than three decades, Cheatham knows
firsthand the importance of continued learning during summer months and
encourages parents to keep it simple, exploring opportunities in their own
houses, neighborhoods or cities. “One of the greatest gifts we can give to
children,” Cheatham says, “is to talk about the world around us.”
As children age, the willingness to engage in any form of
learning over the summer diminishes. You remember what it was like—too young to
hang out with the teenagers but way too cool for the kids table. Inspiring this
group involves out-of-the-box propositions. So why not promote the next young
Some of the more popular and easier businesses include
walking dogs, helping with groceries, tutoring younger kids, babysitting, or
watering plants and checking mail for traveling neighbors. Invest in your
child’s business venture with time, a bit of money, and most importantly, by imparting
your own work experience. Guide your tween in marketing skills, lending a hand
with making business cards, flyers, t-shirts, a company name and/or logo. This
is a prime opportunity for enhancing math skills and teaching financial
night is a part of our daily routine where as nobody is practicing math over
the summer,” says Boulay. Open a savings account at your local bank branch,
introducing your mini-mogul to the staff, and set a certain time each week for
making deposits. Together you can use the online banking site for checking
balances and savings dividends.
Summer learning occurs naturally if parents and children
welcome the break from a productive perspective. Concentrate on reconnecting
with your children and rediscover the wonderment of youth. Feed the brain,
don’t drain it.