School’s Out, Brain Is Not (How to Avoid Summer Brain Drain)

Ahhh…It’s summer break from school.  These few months for school-age kids circle around trips to the lake, long walks in the sun, pick-up baseball games, maybe even a sleep-away camp – any and all manner of fun!

As parents we’re happy for our kids to have some time to just be kids. But we know we have to creatively help them keep their academic skills sharp while still keeping summertime fun. Children who spend summer forgetting all about words and numbers and other academic pursuits start the next school year in a deficit. Research has shown that if you don’t keep your child’s brain engaged throughout the summer break, she could lose, on average, 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in math, and as much as a year (yes one whole year!) in language arts skills.

So how do you keep summer brain drain from happening and your student ready to dive in come September? You have to make learning fun! Most times you can do this without the child knowing they are actually learning. It’s all about fun layered with learning. It’s easier than you might think the first time they utter they are bored. Here’s seven ways to keep your kids reading, writing and arithmetic skills sharp over summer.


  1. Play.  Yes, play with your kids. Play scrabble. Play Connect Four. Get out all the board games (especially when rain washes out your picnic at the beach plans). Counting money in monopoly or the game of life may seem trivial, but it all works to hone those skills. Do crossword puzzles together. Find some “Mad Libs” and really work on nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in a super silly and fun way. Most children learn more through play. Take advantage of that this summer.
  2. Follow the Boys of Summer. Yes, I’m talking baseball again. See, baseball is, to a degree, a game of statistics. Nothing more mathematical than statistics Take your kids to a baseball game. If you can swing it, a pro game is always a special treat. But local parks are hosting all manner of all-star, travel-team, and other community leagues. Or even just watch the race for the MLB World Series Pennant via television. Pick a team to follow. Then visit the sports section of your local newspaper, or via the MLB web site. Which team will win the most games? What is their win/loss percentage? What is your favorite player’s on-base percentage? For the player that has the most homeruns, how does his homerun percentage compare with his strike-out percentage?  Which pitcher has the most strike-outs and how does he compare mathematically to another pitcher on the same team.. (Yes, you could do this with the Olympics, soccer, or another favorite sport, too.)
  3. Competition of the Mind. Nothing like making a game of something to get the kids engaged (much like tip one). Plan to host a neighborhood spelling bee. You could even give away small prizes procured at the dollar store for the top speller. Gather together some of your fellow parents and host a BBQ with the main activity being a game of parents vs. kids in “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader” or “Jeopardy” game. Followed up with some three-legged races that make kids think about motion and physics is even better.
  4. Science Camp. No, I’m not saying you have to send them to NASA. But you can use some of the resources on the NASA Edge web site to come up with other science-specific ideas for summer. One of the easiest ways is to host a back-yard camp out and focus on things like astronomy, nocturnal animal life, even the science of how a marshmallow melts. You can also take a calendar and track the weather – forecast versus actual. And when summer is over you can compute the forecaster’s accuracy. Look science AND math. Check also for special community events like fishing clinics, conservation district classes, or outreach events that agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration put on. They host many science-focused, kid-friendly events, and often for free.
  5. Volunteer. Teaching our kids to be future leaders is just as important as the traditional three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). But we also need to teach them about the other three R’s:  Respect yourself, respect others, respect your community. Find an organization that sparks their interest – an animal rescue, the children’s hospital, the local food bank, trails association or other environment-focused group, heck, even the local library sometimes has great volunteer opportunities. Pick one, volunteer, and have them experience something new. They will learn good citizenship, leadership, and sometimes how fortunate their own lives are.
  6. Rewards. Tie in reading with rewards. Many local libraries already do this, but you as a parent can up the ante. Ghost stories read to them around the campfire, audio books while you travel to grandma’s house on the other side of the state (or country), or the promise of a trip to the Tasty-Freeze after they finish and discuss with you the last book they wrote. Maybe get some other families together and start your own summer book club. Pick age-appropriate titles and meet at a local playground or park to get the bodies as well as the minds moving. If you’re not reading along with them, you’re doin’ it wrong. Good readers follow good examples. So, challenge yourself – parents – to read as many or more books than your children do.
  7. Writer’s Clubhouse. Summer is a great time to journal. Make a big deal of procuring a new notebook, too, if you like. If they pick out which one they will be writing it, it may help to keep them vested in the project. You can set up a calendar and for each day that your student journals, they can get a sticker on the calendar. You can set a reward system for a certain number of stickers (journal entries). Again these can be simple things (it does not have to be expensive) like a trip to the lake, a bike ride together, a matinee movie – many times the kids will come up with something as simple as “watch a movie with me.” This is where you can also encourage them to write their own stories. Again, grouping with another family to maybe have a “story” day. The kids write their stories and then you gather for a picnic, BBQ or play date and everyone tells their stories. For older students (teens), you can even try to send them out to get them published. Creative Word Lab does offer inexpensive mobile workshops to get kids excited about writing. Creative writers are normally better academic writers, too. So any time spent in poetry, novels, or even short stories, makes things like book reports, research papers, and the like easier. If you’re interested in these mobile workshops, just email us at


Whether you choose to do one or all of these tactics, the whole point is to avoid the summer slide in academic skills. The point is you can help your children continue learning and keeping their skills sharp and still have a fun-packed summer, which makes for a much more successful September.

What ideas do you employ to keep the summer brain drain from happening to your children? Tell us!