How to combat summertime “brain drain?” Talk amongst yourselves (and possibly end up on TV)

ABC News Now: Moms Get RealSummer vacation: does it fry our kids' brains? That's the worry behind summertime "brain drain," or the loss of academic skills while school's out. Kids spend months lolling around in the pool or in front of the TV, while the previous year's education seeps out of their ears.

Tomorrow, I'm going to be interviewed on this topic for the ABC News Now program Moms Get Real, and I would love to include your opinions along with mine.

I hesitate to skew the conversation too far, but it seems to me that "learning loss" is a misleading term. Sure, kids may get rusty on a few skills — they might forget how to factor, or how to spell certain vocabulary words. But learning loss? I don't think so. Summer gives kids the time, space, and activity level to rev up their brains and integrate what they've learned throughout the school year. I would argue that, as sleep is a crucial part of the learning process, so is the learning modality break summer provides. (Not just summer; kids in year-round school get breaks, too.)

Which is not to say kids should sit for weeks, slack-jawed, in front of a screen. There are hundreds of ways kids can "learn" over the summer, most free and all fun. Here are just a few:

  • Active play and exercise
  • Time in nature
  • Library reading programs
  • Hours of social time with friends and neighbors
  • Gardening
  • Construction projects
  • Camps, classes and summer sports teams
  • Exploring the neighborhood on foot or bike
  • Travel (all travel is educational)
  • Camping!
  • Cooking projects
  • Photography
  • Board games
  • Summer jobs (including those at home)

Amazon: Calligraphy for Kids I'm getting a calligraphy book and a set of pens for my daughter who's having trouble with her lettering, and we're going to spend afternoons making fancy cards and magical scrolls…and practicing her writing. I don't see it as "combating brain drain." I see it as "brain building," as I do most everything else my kids do over the summer, even if it has nothing to do with school.

What about you? How to you help your kids keep their academic skills strong during the summer?

Leave your comments here, and I'll do my best to include them in my interview tomorrow.

If you're game, submit a video offering your advice and you may appear on the program along with me!

The deets:

  • Casual, camera phone videos are just fine!
  • 30 seconds or less
  • Email your video submission to producer Katie Slaman (
  • Deadline: Monday, June 13, 2011.

Let's talk!

Related: Tape combination to padlock so it won't be forgotten over the summer


  1. says

    When we went on our summer vacation, I packed a few workbooks for my daughter to work on if she wanted to. She only did them one day, but totally on her own. Travel and a little math, all in one! We also sign up for the library summer reading program, which is a big hit with my girls. She is spending lots of time swimming, which I believe is a definite “must” life-skill. I think kids need a break from all of the hustle, bustle, and busy-work of the school year. A few weeks of relaxation is good for everyone.

  2. says

    I really don’t worry too much about brain drain. As my kids get older, with the 180 days of the school year (and most breaks) packed with projects and homework, I’m more and more aware than they need serious downtime over the summer. They each get to do 3 camps, and we don’t do a lot of weekly activities like sports and lessons(we don’t do those anyway because we can’t get homework done during the school year if we do). Since I work for myself, I can accommodate this by trading kids with other parents to schedule meetings and timeshifting concentrated work.

    That said, I don’t let them completely vegetate. Everyone in our family participates in our library’s summer reading program. We have additional family rules that you have to read books you’ve never read before and no more than two graphic novels (out of 10 books) is allowed. They work independently on badges for Scouts. They make crazy stuff out of broken things.

    This year I also asked each member of the family to make a list of 3 things they need to do over the summer & 3 things they want to do. my daughter’s list included working on her handwriting(letter writing)and long division. My son’s goal is to be ready to be enrolled in algebra class when he enters middle school in the fall. A good portion of their online time is spent pursuing that goal.

    and the rest of day? chores, video games, and goofing off. as it should be.

  3. says

    I’ve done library reading programs with my kids every summer since my oldest was 3yo. I’ve found that as he has gotten older, the prizes they offer are less motivating. This year we made our own and both my kids are doing it (3yo and 9yo). We agreed on their rewards and they are loving it. You can see or download it here.

    Reading keeps them sharp, and we choose books that are challenging and offer good learning opportunities.

  4. says

    I think “Brain Drain” is real, but I heard it’s not so much the loss of what they learned as much as it’s just their brains getting lazy (not thinking at all over the summer). So your list of activities is great. Also if they are going to be playing (and for kids, young and old :)… playing CAN be learning) to get just the right toys/tools/creative outlets to help them do that. That’s why I’m excited about my new business (selling Discovery Toys) because they’re Fun, they’re Educational and did I mention Fun. :) You can check my site out here – I already ordered something from the Summer Sale (that’s going on now) for my preschool daughter to keep playing (and practicing, but she doesn’t know… it’s just fun) with letter recognition and phonics. And the rest of the toys, well let’s just say the Kit I use to demo gets a lot of play (pun intended) by my girls! :)

  5. says

    My strategy is to be overly generous. For example, I take my kids to a bookstore and tell them they can have anything they want. I don’t judge what they pick, I only express enthusiasm. They eat up my enthusiasm and that energy results in them voluntarily reading the books. Everyone’s happy.

  6. Nicole K says

    The summer reading programs at local libraries are wonderful. We have a fantastic zoo (Brevard Zoo, Melbourne, FL) less than 2 miles from our house. We have a membership and go frequently. It’s not as intense as the learning at school but it’s still a meaningful experience. Our zoo has great summer camps as well that are highly educational. I agree that children need downtime but focusing on some area of knowledge for the summer is a great way to keep them using their minds without completely overloading them. You could pick a topic to research all summer long just for enrichment. There are tons of homeschooling resources on the web parents can tap into if they want to enrich the summer.

  7. Shauna says

    Kids can and do learn outside of the classroom, and that learning is just as authentic and genuine as the learning done at school. We take advantage of real, everyday learning opportunities throughout the year in the kitchen while cooking or doing science experiments, at the grocery store while calculating the cost per unit; on the couch as we read good books together; and in the van as we travel to local historical sites, museums, and sports and community activities. Joining the summer reading program is a fun way to keep reading skills progressing. Writing letters to friends and family helps kids practice writing skills. We have a large collection of educational games, books, and other resources at home and encourage the kids to explore their interests. (I actually resent homework during the school year because it’s so often just busywork, and my kids learn so much from other types of learning. But that’s a topic for a different discussion!)

  8. says

    Finally our kids get 10 weeks to just be kids and parents are obsessing about “brain drain”. Its time that we let our kids just be kids and do the things we did in the summer – ride bikes, visit family, eat junk food, relax and enjoy quality family time. We are creating a generation of over programmed kids who don’t know how to have some down time and have good old fashioned fun – running through a sprinkler, baking cup cakes because you can, playing tag and four square. I am not advocating that you put your kids in front of a TV for 10 weeks and let them play video games all day long. Get them out in the fresh air, provide them with opportunities to have fun that does not only involve enhancing their academic skills, laugh with them and shower them with love. We need to teach our kids to be kids so we can raise a generation of great human beings not robots whose batteries are always operating over time.

  9. says

    I’ve gotten permission to take my oldest (6 year old) daughter to work with me a couple mornings a week. She’s going to use an extra computer to work on typing. We tried to start programming with her last fall and she totally understood the logic and syntax, but couldn’t find letters on the keyboard. Tomorrow all three kids will sign up for the library reading program that they love. My two oldest also picked out new workbooks to play with when they are bored.

    We plan on getting pool passes and are blessed to be helping some friends that will include lots of traveling this summer. I downloaded some fun iPhone apps for getting more out of our summer camping (SkyView Free – to find the constellations, and Leafsnap (also free) to help with plant identification, since that was my worst class in college – I have a Wildlife Biology degree.) We will do a light relaxed unschooling home school type thing all summer to keep the boredom at bay.

    When I was a kid I really disliked the boredom of summer of not seeing my friends and it being too hot to do anything. I hope we can help direct my kids into the kind of single subject intensive self exploration they just don’t have time for with classes going.

  10. says

    Design and play RPG adventures. Imagination, gameplay, and social interaction. It also includes reading, and if the game is set in a real life and (optionally) a historical location, you can do research and learn some interesting facts, as well.

    I don’t know how well this will work for most people though. {:0p

  11. says

    It’s sad but a lot of kids don’t get have those experiences over summer break – they spend it indoors, in front of a screen, probably with a care giver.

    We’re fortunate to have a stay at home parent dedicated to enrich their lives through play, adventures and new experiences. They’ll go on nature walks, visit the zoo, ride bikes, do kitchen science experiments, get dirty working in our vegetable garden, cook with us, and run in sprinklers giggling wildly. Of course we’ll read a lot and they’ll both look forward to writing stories and letters about their adventures, other “lessons” will come naturally as we play. I’m not worried about my kids slipping at all.

  12. says

    My parents used to take us to the bookstore every couple of weeks during the summer. We could pick whatever books we wanted. When we finished reading a book, we had to write a report on it. This was actually a lot of fun for me. (I turned out to be an English major in college!)

  13. says

    I really think parents over-worry about this stuff. My parents didn’t even plan educational activities for me and my siblings yet we all got good grades and went to very good colleges.

    We watched way too much TV but we also went to the library and read a lot. We played amongst ourselves using our imaginations. We did some road trips, which allowed for exploration and is another kind of learning. If you feel like that you must encourage learning, I think using your local library is the best bet.

  14. says

    When did we stop trusting the natural learning process? When we talk so emphatically about the importance, in adulthood, of flexibility, creative problem-solving, critical thinking, and social skills…why do we downplay its importance outside of school?

    Also, the foundations of learning are sleep, exercise, fresh air, food, and time. All are in short supply during many kids’school days.

  15. says

    My older daughter will finish first grade tomorrow, so today I created what I’m calling the “I’m Bored” Board, which I hope will prevent brain drain as well as the dreaded whining as the summer days stretch longer. (I blogged about it tonight, actually: I look forward to the lazy mornings and the unscheduled days, but my girls like a little structure to their days, too, even in the summer.