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No More Brain Drain: 4 Summer Tips for Parents

brain drain

So many parents are having the same thought right about now: When school is out of session, what am I going to do with my kids to make sure they don’t forget everything they learned this year? Each year, students go on summer vacation and parents develop a whole new appreciation for teachers. It’s not just that summer days are hard to fill with children driving everyone to distraction. It can also be tremendously difficult to avoid what is commonly known as summer “brain drain,” when so much of the carefully cultivated knowledge students have learned in their classes is at least partially forgotten in two short months. Luckily, with a few teacher-approved tips, parents do not have to worry about the past 10 months of learning disappearing into the void. There are plenty of ways to keep current knowledge sharp, and to help children build new skills. 

Independent Reading 

During the early months of the pandemic, I asked my children to read a little every morning on their own. It was nice to start the day with some quiet time, but there was a benefit beyond just peaceful moments. When they returned to school several months later, each of them showed marked improvement on their reading assessments, and the only thing that had changed was the independent reading time that was set aside each day. Rather than having parents fret about losing out on literacy gains, teachers can reassure them by sharing that any child will make progress over the summer with one small step: 15 to 30 minutes per day of dedicated time for literacy. It doesn’t matter what the text of choice happens to be. Anything from a comic book to a magazine (and novels too, graphic or traditional) will keep skills honed for the upcoming school year. The key is to ensure that reading material is self-selected. If kids can’t choose what they read, they will be far less likely to get on board with participating in reading time. 

Current Events

There is a wide array of age-specific resources that allow students to access current events and stay informed about the state of the world around them. Several local newspapers have sections devoted to younger readers, like the “KidsPost” section of the Washington Post. Television news networks provide similar offerings, such as the “CNN10” 10-minute feature geared toward students in grades 6-12. While it’s important to carefully curate news exposure based upon age and stage, providing kids with an outlet for learning about current events enriches the conversations they have with their parents, and it also heightens their overall grasp of what the world around them is looking like each day. True, that can be a tricky proposition, but as children get older, their “need to know” status with daily headlines grows with them.

Math Facts

When my husband combs my daughter’s hair each morning, he drills her on multiplication. If I’m baking with any of my children, I use that as an opportunity to reinforce fractions and how they help us ensure that the brownie batter will not explode in the oven. The acquisition of math facts might be considered a given once students learn them, but it is surprisingly easy for anyone to forget information that is not being reinforced on a regular basis. It doesn’t take much to give kids that little bit of a reminder each day. The best way to make sure a regular review of knowledge actually happens is to pick a specific time of day or action that is tied into going over math facts, like asking counting questions on a ride to camp or setting aside five minutes of dinner conversation for decimals. That way, it becomes a regular part of the day, and is also quick enough not to cause dread or resentment. As an extra support for parents, teachers might consider sending home suggestions for what information to review, and even providing a few “cheat sheets” for parents so that nobody has to reinvent any wheels.

Experiential Learning

Not every day of summer can be a field trip, but there are so many opportunities to teach children about the world around them just by leaving the house. Local botanical gardens showcase plant science in action. Museums are hotbeds of education in all areas or topics of interest. Monuments memorialize important historical events or people. More accessible activities found nearer to home, like planting a garden or learning to sew, teach kids new skills that translate beyond the classroom to enrich their lives and build capacity. Even more important, getting out into the world takes kids away from technology, providing them with a much-needed break from the digital world. The message sent through experiential learning is also an important one: not all learning occurs in a classroom, and exploring unfamiliar places or hobbies is a valuable way to spend time. 

With summer upon us, parents everywhere rely on teacher expertise to share ideas for keeping children engaged and away from “brain drain” in the months ahead. Luckily, there are plenty of engaging options that mitigate endless screen time and give kids multiple opportunities to learn about the world around them. Teachers might be responsible for educating students for most of the year, but now it’s time to rest, refresh and prepare for what lies ahead. Providing parents with suggested options to occupy kids makes it more likely that everyone will reunite in the fall with stories about how they spent a memorable summer.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

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