Avoiding summer ‘brain drain’


How parents can help children minimize learning loss

With school soon letting out, teachers, administrators, and parents will be thinking about summer “brain drain,” also known as summer learning loss.

elaine-tan-comeau-jj15Many studies show that there can be a significant regression in a child’s academic skills during the 10-week break from the classroom.

Elaine Tan Comeau, a Canadian mom, former teacher, and founder of Easy Daysies magnetic schedules for kids (www.easydaysies.com), shared her thoughts on how parents can encourage learning all summer long.

Q: What are the most significant consequences of summer brain drain?

A: Studies have shown that children lose one to three months of learning over the summer vacation, two to six months in math skills, and 26 per cent in reading skills.

There is also a strong socioeconomic correlation. Mid to higher-income families can enrol their children in programs that model traditional learning concepts. Those children typically don’t lose as much in learning skills.

Q: Do you believe that summer brain drain is inevitable? Irreversible?

A: With most skills, there truly is a “use it or lose it” mentality. Brain drain is inevitable if we don’t provide opportunities for our children to practise what they learned during the school year. We lose skills when we don’t get to practise and reinforce them. Some parents may find this daunting, but it can be fun and easy.

Summer brain drain is not irreversible, but it takes time. When kids head back to school in September, it takes teachers four to six weeks to establish routine, which is necessary to being able to teach new material.

There are other impacts of summer brain drain that are cause for concern. When you take away routine, children experience greater levels of anxiety. That’s why we hear, “What are we doing today? What are we doing next?” Time away from school can also impact social skills. Some kids may have access to more screen time and less face-to-face interactions with their peers. Different levels of social skills are affected.

Q: What countermeasures do you propose?foc-edu-3-jj15

A: I propose three must-dos to avoid the summer brain drain:

1) Have a plan of attack. Do make a plan for each month and a daily routine as a guideline. You’ll be so glad you did, and teachers will be grateful in September. Grab a calendar for July and August. First, select a week to enrol your children in an awesome camp. Next, plan something once per week, like a trip to the farmer’s market, a visit to local museums, a family hike and a picnic. It gives kids something to look forward to. Then be sure to leave lots of time for unstructured play.

You can use a white board, or you can use a product like Easy Daysies, a visual planning resource I created. Children naturally feel anxiety when they don’t know what they’re doing or when they don’t know what’s going to happen. Create a visual routine and your child will cooperate more, experience less anxiety, and feel more empowered. Lay out a plan for the day.

The key, however, is to not stress out. It’s a visual guide, not a strict schedule. You don’t want to indicate that they need to wake up at 7:30, eat at 7:45, and so on. Invest time to plan out the summer. You’ll be glad you did.

foc-edu-2-jj152) Have the resources ready. The more readily available you make the materials, the easier it will be to get kids on board. James Kim of Harvard University found that children who have books available will read. Reading four or five books over the summer is enough to prevent the decline in reading skills.

Many libraries offer great reading incentive programs over the summer months. Make the newspaper available to older children, great for Grade 5-6 reading level and higher. Practise reading and comprehension, and discuss world events.

And as an added bonus, the newspaper often features recipes. Cooking is a great activity for reinforcing math and science skills.

Also: make play items such as bicycles, balls, and badminton rackets readily available. Have lots of art supplies on hand, and watch creativity and learning flourish.

3) Have fun playing. Don’t underestimate the power of play. Unstructured outdoor play will help children be healthier, improve gross motor skills, develop problem solving skills, increase self-esteem, teach cooperation, and help instill self-discipline and self-regulation.

Card games and board games tackle many of the same skills development. Teach your children games you loved as a child.

Games will also teach your children to plan ahead, solve problems, follow rules, be good winners/losers, be a team player, improve social skills, learn strategy, improve math and reading, and so much more. Try having a family game night and have fun playing with your children. article-end-jj15-30px

Photo: Courtesy of Elaine Tan Comeau
Photo: depositphotos.com © andresr
Photo: Courtesy of Elaine Tan Comeau
Photo: depositphotos.com © sam741002