Preventing Summer Brain Drain

preventingsummerbrain

Kids should experience relaxation and leisure over the summer months, and they benefit by pursuing their interests and unstructured time with friends. But learning can be disguised in a variety of summer activities, and enrichment programs are plentiful in our area.

Studies show that students lose anywhere from one to three months of learning during the summer. This phenomenon, formally called “Seasonal Learning Loss” and informally referred to as “Summer Brain Drain,” affects all K-12 students. According to the National Summer Learning Association, summer enrichment opportunities improve academic outcomes, including high school graduation rates.

We also know that children benefit from relaxation and leisure time during the summer months. Kids need time to pursue their own interests, and they benefit socially from unstructured time with their friends. Here in the Washington D.C. area, it is especially important that we give our kids a rest from the fast-paced, highly-scheduled, academically-competitive culture that has become the norm during the academic school year.

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Here are some inexpensive and fun things others have utilized for keeping their kids learning all summer long:

Bring the summer reading list to life. Ashburn mom Elizabeth Vermette was concerned about her third grader’s lack of interest in reading, so she created a “Book Club for Boys.” She invites some of her son’s classmates to join in.

Over the summer, the boys read books and meet as a group to discuss them. Once the group is finished discussing each book, the boys choose an activity related to a particular book’s subject area. For example, after reading about sharks, the boys visited the National Aquarium’s Shark Discovery Lab for a behind-the-scenes tour. Elizabeth says during the first year of the club, her son began reading slowly, and by fall he was reading above grade level. Elizabeth is now considering starting a business around the summer book club concept.

Enroll in camps with an education bent. No matter what your child’s interests, there is likely a day camp in your area that specializes in that subject. Most programs incorporate hands-on learning into the curriculum. At Mindframe Education (mindframeeducation.com), a STEM learning center that recently opened in Loudoun, students who are interested in digital photography are given camera parts so they can build their own digital cameras before they ever take their first picture. Bobby Girdher, Mindframe’s founder, says, “I’m a father in addition to being a technologist. I want to provide kids with an opportunity to have fun while they learn about the practical application of science, technology, and engineering.”

preventingsummerbrain4Volunteer. Many not-for-profits have programs where teens can help out on projects during the summer months. One such organization is Serve Camp (teenservecamp.com) in Leesburg. Founder Sal D’Agostino says, “Our campers participate in organized activities where they serve a person, family, community or organization. The teens take the lead in creating, organizing, and implementing a project during the week of camp.” This faith-based program is affordably priced beginning at $100 per week. Sal adds, “Parents often see their teens as selfish, but I see these campers working hard to help others. Parents are amazed when their kids come home after working all day and say they can’t wait to come back for more.” This year, the D’Agostinos are also launching a camp program for elementary-age children.

Play board games instead of video games. Susan Talbott, an Ashburn mother of two, always brings board games along on family vacations. She says the games provide a lot of laughs, but they also lend themselves to unexpected educational opportunities. “One time we were playing the game Apples-To-Apples,” Susan recalls. “The card said ‘Ernest Hemingway.’ I started telling my kids all about Hemingway’s writing, and they were riveted.” The Talbott children have grown so accustomed to playing board games while on vacation that Susan’s son recently asked his mom not to get Internet access at their beach house so he could avoid the temptation of online video games. Susan incorporates the educational benefits of playing board games into her professional life, too. As Executive Director of Loudoun School for the Gifted (loudoungifted.org), she encourages faculty to use games like Axis & Allies to help teach history, military strategy and diplomacy to the school’s middle and high school students.

Go to Summer “School.” As the leader of Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students (locopogs.org), a nonprofit for families with exceptionally bright children who attend public, private and home schools in Loudoun County, I know that many of our area’s highest-achieving students spend at least part of their summers taking online courses, summer school classes and studying independently to prepare for the following school year. Most public schools post their curricula by grade level online so students can download the reading lists and course outlines for the upcoming year. Doing math exercises or watching a video about science on an iPad by the pool is a much more relaxing way for your child to master challenging material than when they are back in the pressure cooker at school.

Kids can have fun while learning this summer. As an added bonus, by providing summer enrichment, you will likely earn points with your child’s future teachers who often spend four to six weeks at the start of each school year reviewing material that students have forgotten over the summer.

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