Fighting off the “summer brain drain”

By NANCY WHYTE

The phenomenon has many names, and none of them is favorable: brain drain, summer slide and summer learning loss, to list a few. It is the decline of skills and academic achievement that typically occurs while children are out of school during summer vacation. Basically, it is evidence of the “use it or lose it” cliche. The good news is that not only can it be prevented, but with some planning and effort on both the part of the parents and the children, a student can begin his or her next school year academically ahead of where they were at the end of the previous term.

A number of studies have shown that on average, a student who does not read and engage in learning activities over the summer break will lose two months of reading skills and two and a half months of math skills. Rather than quibble about the methodology of the tests or bias in interpretation or whether unique characteristics of certain subsets of students skew the results, common sense may be a wiser approach. Athletes know they will get out of shape if they don’t continue exercising; musicians know their abilities will diminish without regular practicing. Skills learned during the school year, particularly reading and math, are probably no different.

This week, students in both the Northgate and Avonworth school districts attended their last day of the of the 2018-19 school year. These students will have over 70 days of vacation before they return to the classroom. But just because they don’t have to attend school each day, there is no reason for their learning to stop. There are infinite interesting topics to explore and many easy and fun ways to do it.

Almost anything can be found on the internet. There are hundreds of free Web sites offering worksheets (perhaps they should be renamed “fun sheets”), interactive games and activities, ideas and quizzes for any skill level in practically any subject. For students who don’t have computer access at home, with a library card, a computer can be accessed for free at a local library.

Reading is important throughout the year, and with extra free time during summer break, children should be encouraged to visit the library where they can explore various genres and select books that interest them. Many libraries have story times and other activities for younger children and often book groups for older kids and adults. Children should observe adults reading and enjoying books, too. Adults should read aloud to kids as well as have the children read aloud to them. Books should be packed to take along on vacation trips.

Math is not only useful, but extremely important for future success in many areas. Reasoning and calculating skills can be reinforced in a number of subtle ways. Adding, subtracting and measuring various things can be fun. Children can practice counting money and making change. In the kitchen, they can assist in measuring ingredients.

Learning can and should be fun. Outside the classroom walls, during summer vacation, with a bit of motivation, academic progress can be maintained and increased in all subject areas. Seventy-some days of summer vacation shouldn’t be wasted.

A couple of suggestions to consider are to set a goal of learning the definition and how to spell one new word a day. By the time the new school year begins, one’s vocabulary will have grown tremendously. There are almost 200 countries in the world – learn the capital of and the map location of just three a day, and you’ll be world-wise before school starts.

Summer vacation should be enjoyed by being active and having fun. Set a personal goal to learning something new each and every day. Keep a calendar or chart where one’s achievements are recorded. By the time the new school year begins, you’ll feel proud of what you accomplished and confident that you did not allow yourself to fall victim to brain drain.

This summer, The Citizen will feature a series of of creative ideas to assist parents and children explore various fun ways to learn.