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Summer brain drain vs. summertime freedom

"Divertimento" by Harold Navarro via Flickr

Now that summertime is in full swing and all the kids are out of school, figuring out what to do with the kids all day can be overwhelming. Should you worry about summer brain drain and give worksheets and lessons throughout the day? Should you sign the kids up for a number of sports and activities to keep them busy? What's the best way to get through summer vacation?

Summer Brain Drain is Real

Plenty of studies have been done on the subject and the results show that kids who aren't learning during the summer can lose up to two months' of school work that teachers end up making up for in the fall. The most common subjects where kids fall behind are reading and math because there are fewer opportunities to practice these skills during the summer, and because these skills require fairly regular use to keep up.

Kids Need a Break

On the other hand, kids need a break. Continual studying can be overwhelming and can lead to missed opportunities to experience all that life has to offer. Education and success are definitely important and should be a priority for your kids throughout their childhood, but eventually landing a great job shouldn't be the driving factor behind every parenting decision.

Finding Balance

How, then, can you find the balance between limiting the amount of summer brain drain and giving your kids a full life that isn't solely focused on their eventual adulthood? The first and easiest way is to encourage reading. It seems so simple and it's at the top of every list of summer activities, but only because it is that effective. Try having a regular down time every day where the kids read, and let them read whatever they want - comics, picture books, books below their reading level - it doesn't have to be heavy content for it to be effective.

Incorporate Math into Daily Life

Building "math time" into the day doesn't have to look like school. In fact, it can be even better for kids to learn how to apply some of their skills in real-life so they can learn the value of their lessons. Little kids can help you count in the kitchen or count the number of red socks in a load of laundry. Older kids can help you keep a running estimate of the amount you're spending in the grocery cart. Let them estimate the amount of space the Slip 'n Slide will take up and try to find a good spot for it, or host a lemonade stand and tally up profits and expenses.

In other words, it doesn't have to be a worksheet of problems for it to be considered math. Simply asking questions about whatever is going on at the moment will give kids a chance to apply the lessons they have learned.

Plant a Garden

A simple garden gives kids the opportunity to learn so much. From learning about dirt and earthworms to plant cycles to nutrition, a garden is a classroom in itself. Have them help you measure out the space, estimate how many plants to put in, form a hypothesis about the results, and then let them get in and dig around.

Remember: You're Only a Kid Once

I'm sure there are very few adults who wished their parents had considered a six-week summer school course or remember fondly the worksheets they were able to complete over summer vacation. On the other hand, most of us remember vacations, trips to the beach, picnics, and the feeling of freedom that summer gives. Kids also learn a lot by being let out to play, and they learn the kind of social lessons that can't be taught in the classroom or guided by adults. They learn how to work with others, how to trust themselves, how to entertain themselves, and how to keep fit without going to a gym.

Summer brain drain is something that parents should work to minimize, but try not to sacrifice a well-rounded childhood to do it.

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