Minimizing the Summer Brain Drain

Every year, at the end of the school year, kids flock out of the classroom and spend the summer playing around and enjoying the weather before heading back to school in the fall.  As they leave the classroom in June, teachers are often heard saying, “Try not to empty your heads too much!” to which many kids laugh and parents ignore.  What people seem to forget is that it is actually kind of true.

Many kids spend the summer regressing, losing knowledge they had gained over the course of the year.  From a sociological standpoint, it’s a much bigger issue for children who come from low income families as wealthier children are able to take part in camps that, although they don’t increase the knowledge, at least helps retain what knowledge there was.  However, in today’s economy and with the cost of camps, it’s hard for most middle-class families to make sure their kids are getting this type of environment.  Add to this that older children often don’t want to go to camps, but instead spend their time playing with friends, we can see that this regression is likely influencing far more children than previously thought.

What can you do?  Here I present three things that will actually help any child at least maintain the knowledge they gained the previous year by working those neural pathways as best as possible.  Oh, and did I mention it should be fun too?

Learn something new.  As broad and basic an activity as this sounds, the areas of the brain that focus on learning need to be consistently active; it’s like working a muscle.  Kids who spend their summers doing nothing new aren’t working their brains in the same way.  This is potentially one of the things camps offer: New experiences and challenges.  However, it’s not limited to camp as kids can try and learn a new instrument, how to climb a tree (or trees), become an amateur photographer, make movies with friends (and learn to edit said movie), learn to cook, etc.  The ideas are limitless, but the point is to make sure they engage in the full learning process and this is where parents come in.  We don’t want it to be “like school” but rather something self-directed, but guided and will often include trips to the library for reading resources or time online to learn the tricks of the new trade.  Remember: Reading and researching is something good when it’s for something kids love.

Encourage your child to read.  Reading is one of the greatest ways to expand the mind, learn new things, work your imagination, and increase vocabulary.  I know reading’s importance, but I always struggle when school makes reading a chore because I see too many kids turned off it at a young age because of this and then it takes longer to get them back into it.  Getting books that will engage your child (for some examples, see here) is a way to keep them reading.  Starting young by reading to them, and reading good stories to them (not phonics books – sorry phonics book people), will help introduce them to the world of literature.  If your child is resistant to stories, find something they are interested in and get them a book on that.  Reading a book on video games is still better than spending all day in front of the TV.

Get outside and be active.  This is perhaps the most important one.  Children spend most of the school year indoors, shuffling between school, daycare, and perhaps clubs or activities.  Free time outdoors with friends is essential to their well-being and yet is often lost in the dust.  Summer can be that time where kids get together and just do what kids do best: play.  It doesn’t mean children can’t watch TV or play video games, but as parents it’s our job to encourage other activities.  Before summer starts, talk about the limits on TV (both watching and games) and try to make TV time a social time for family (see here for a discussion) instead of a solitary activity won’t help your child come September.  I remember my own summers as a kid were filled with endless games of capture the flag with all the neighbourhood kids (we often didn’t do too many camps, maybe 1-2 weeks of the summer).  The hours spent outdoors running, hiding, and searching are some of my fondest memories.  I also remember going for bike rides, playing baseball, or just hitting the park and playing.  I developed a spatial sense from biking around, I used my deductive reasoning in capture the flag when searching, I worked all my muscles climbing and playing at the park, and I don’t remember thinking any of it was “work”.  This is the importance of play.

By Tracy Cassels

June 16, 2014