How to Avoid Summer ‘Brain Drain’

Research suggests that kids tend to lose math and reading skills over the summer. Here are some fun ways to keep them curious and engaged.
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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Make housework fun! No, seriously.

Think of summer’s more relaxed vibe as a time to empower your kids in the day-to-day life of running the household, says Judy Apostolico-Buck, principal of Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington. Put them in charge of planning a weekly meal—deciding what to cook, going to the grocery store and staying within a budget to purchase ingredients. Or have your children design a chore list, with each person assigned to a particular chore on a particular day. Ask your middle- or high-schooler to schedule every family member’s annual doctor and dentist checkups. “Give kids the opportunity to problem solve, and give them the opportunity to plan,” Apostolico-Buck says. “That’s accessible at any income level and any age. If you do that, you will set them up for academic success.”


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Resurrect the lost art of letter writing.

Annabelle Dunn,  Lower School Academic Dean and a K-1 reading and learning specialist at The Potomac School in McLean, offers this cool concept: Have younger kids choose a relative as a summer pen pal; then plan an in-person visit (or FaceTime) to follow up with a list of questions sparked by that correspondence. What do they remember about the Vietnam War? Where were they on Sept. 11, 2001? What was it like growing up in the 1950s? Record those “interviews,” pair them with photos and video, and spend the rest of the summer making a movie to show at Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah.


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Make the vacation itinerary a family affair.

On trips, Dunn says, the possibilities are endless. Research the place to which you’re headed (be it beach, lake, mountains, city or perhaps a foreign country), then create a kid-oriented scavenger hunt of local landmarks, natural formations or cultural artifacts, with the prize being a meal at a restaurant of the winner’s choice. Have your kids map (remember those?) a route to each destination while calculating the distance in miles or kilometers. Give them a budget for each stop and let them determine how much everyone gets to spend on food, museum tickets and souvenirs.


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Practice observing stuff.

At The Langley School, a private, pre-K-8 school in McLean, teachers and administrators have created an entire calendar of summer enrichment activities. Rising first-graders are encouraged to do something kind for someone in their family, and to write stories (perhaps about a playground, their favorite toy or about a bug they can hold in their hand). Other suggestions include making a pattern outside with found natural objects; counting and recording shapes they find in their houses and backyards; and recording what the weather looks like. “We’ve moved away from reading logs because they seemed too parent-driven, and we wanted kids to have a choice,” says Megan Rounsaville, a reading specialist at Langley. “Our parent population benefits from downtime, too. A majority of our families really enjoy the break from homework.”


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Schedule some adventures.

Establishing a routine, even if it’s a loose one, is critical for younger kids over the summer, say educators at The Langley School. If you’re a stay-at-home parent or you have a babysitter or nanny who can drive, try museum Mondays, trail Tuesdays, waterpark Wednesdays, theater Thursdays and free-choice Fridays.


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Combat boredom with projects.

Set a “learning theme” for the summer that incorporates math and literary concepts for kids of different ages. If your kids are into food, for example, keep a recipe or tasting journal, create a family cookbook and introduce one new international food per week. Plan a grocery trip and estimate the total amount of ingredients and money needed to turn a recipe into a meal.

If they are partial to exploring, choose a destination close to home and determine how long it takes to get there using only one mode of transit (bike, car, bus, electric scooter, Metro, water taxi). Plan a weekend road trip and calculate the amount of gas needed and the time it will take to get there. On road trips, challenge kids to complete calculations using only numbers from license plates. See how many calculations they can do in a set amount of time.

For youngsters who are into art and architecture, take photos of monuments (local or elsewhere) and discuss the proportion between the photo and the actual size. Design a family monument honoring a family member, tradition or trip.

Related Stories:

The Case for Shorter Summer Breaks

The Homeschooling Option

Learning the Hard Way: Student Stories from the Spring of 2020






Categories: Parents & Kids