Is your student looking forward to leaving textbooks behind and trashing Stack Of Books Representing Learning And Educationthose pesky worksheets for the summer? 

As a teacher, I watched each year as students slam-dunked notebooks into trashcans, happily turned in textbooks, and enthusiastically waved goodbye, from open school bus windows, as they left school for the summer.  Some were more than excited to embark on a summer filled with video games, TV, and vacation.  However, I couldn’t help but notice that many students came back to school with a little less than they left with.

Have you also noticed signs of the summer brain drain in your kids?

It’s probably not your imagination.   Although your kids brain did not actually shrink from summer induced atrophy, it may have shifted into reverse.  Meaning that all that hard work and frustration it took you to get though the school year, may have been for nothing if you let your child just sit around over the summer.  Over a hundred years of research demonstrates that students who do not practice academic skills over the summer are at risk of losing ground academically. According to Dr. Harris Cooper, Professor of Psychology at Duke University, after the summer months, test scores reflect, on average, one month’s loss in knowledge, as compared to the previous spring.  This reveals that, a break from all academics might do more harm than good.

Which areas are the most affected?

The skill areas most impacted are those that require repetition and practice, such as spelling and math computation.  In fact, regardless of income level, students lose an average of more than two months of math skills over the summer. This may be because unlike reading, math is less likely to be naturally embedded in a child’s environment. Consequently, over the summer, they may get very little math practice, causing a significant loss of math skills. Similar to how a musician or athlete must practice to maintain their skills, a student must sustain a certain level of practice to stay in tip top academic shape. When a student is lacking this academic practice over the summer, significant learning loss occurs.

So what can parents do to prevent this brain drain?

A research synthesis by Cooper et al. (2000) revealed that summer programs focusing on remedial, accelerated, or enriched learning have a positive impact on the knowledge and skills of participants.  Parents can look for ways to maintain students’ academic skills over the summer, especially those that involve facts and procedures like math and spelling. The most effective programs according to Cooper’s research are those that are small and offer individualized instruction. So, seek out these opportunities in your community.  There are a wide variety of programs available in the Fredericksburg area. Taking this small step may save you months of hassle and frustration at the beginning of the next school year.

Need some ideas?

Here are ideas from Dr. Cooper (with my added input) to get you started:

  1. Check out the local library to stock up on new books each week.  In addition, they often have free summer programs and special events for kids.  Visit:   My daughter enjoys getting to pick out her own books on each visit.  We also joined the Summer Reading Club!
  2. Check to see what your kids will be learning next year, and consider this when planning family trips and outings.  Visit a local state park, battlefield, or museum that relates to next year’s curriculum.  With Fredericksburg’s rich history and Washington DC and Richmond right next door, we live in a great place for educational day trips!
  3. Try to find math related activities to do with your child or find ways to incorporate math into everyday activities.  For example, with my two year old, this means that we count everything: cars, fireworks, people at Walmart…. For you it could mean baking with kids to practice measuring, fractions, or conversions or maybe practicing percent, discount, tax and tip during a shopping trip and dinner.
  4. Consider summer school or tutoring.   Struggling kids can benefit immensely from summer remediation.  All students can benefit from accelerating learning in areas where they show an interest, instruction to maintain skills, and tutoring to get a preview of what is coming up next year.
  5. Find out what educational programs are offered in your area over the summer by contacting local colleges and universities, the local school system, or Parks and Rec.

Good luck!  I would love to hear your thoughts on this article and what you are doing over the summer to prevent summer brain drain in your kids.   Teachers and parents, please comment with your own creative ideas on how to prevent summer brain drain.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Here are the articles I read that inspired this post:

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.


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