Summer brain drain has been a common fear of parents and educators for decades. Research shows that students return to school approximately one month behind academically.

Some students lose more of what they've learned, and some lose less. For example, students from lower income families tend to lose more ground in their reading skills, while those from higher income families may actually gain skills. In addition, it has been found that all students lose some mathematics knowledge over the summer.

"Most disturbing is that summer learning loss is cumulative; over time, the difference between the summer learning rates of low-income and higher-income students contributes substantially to the achievement gap," according to the RAND Education report from 2011

That said, there are ways children can use the summer to not only maintain their academic knowledge, but expand it as well. This is the perfect time for them to regain their love of learning and explore what excites them. They can then reflect on what they've learned and why it is important.

Exercise for the brain is part of a healthy lifestyle, just like with physical exercise. Good exercise routines include training, warm up stretches, the exercise itself, a strengthening component, and a cool-down stretch. Here's a workout plan designed to strengthen your child's brain this summer:

1. Train the brain by keeping it active and alert as well as teaching it when to rest. This works the bottom of your child’s brain. Staying on a healthy sleep schedule is just as important for children as ensuring that their brains are active throughout the day.

2. Exercise your child’s motivation and pleasure networks! This is a whole-brain activity. Focus on making learning fun again. Stimulate your child’s creativity by choosing topics in their area of interest or letting your child pick the vacation destination. Follow their lead and show them how the things they learn in school are applied to their favorite activities. For example, if your child loves playing bean bag toss, talk with them about the angle of their throw and how to predict the location of the landing.

3. Strengthen your child’s learning and memory. This enhances the middle of their brain. Slow down and incorporate learning into everyday life. This will enhance the brain connections they currently have by giving children more avenues for how to use and relate information.  For example, strengthen math skills by asking your child to figure out how many pizzas to order to ensure everyone at your picnic has 3 slices. Strengthen reading and writing skills by asking your child to help write the grocery list or a persuasive letter to Grandmom asking her to visit, or by asking your child to read the instructions on how to use the pool.

You can also pre-teach by finding your child’s curriculum for the following year, and then exposing him or her to those concepts. For example, if you child will be studying similarities and differences, have him or her compare the weather on different days.

4. Stretch the front of your child’s brain by helping them learn how to start a task, problem solve, organize their thoughts, and finish a task. This is both a pre and post brain workout activity! For example, you could have your child keep a journal with varying topics. He or she could figure out how to organize the writing, what topics to include, what to do if there was no time to write that day, and how to use the journal to talk about the summer’s activities.

Although this brain workout can help your child grow and develop, remember that overtraining is a concern, just as with physical workout programs; try to use everyday events to grow your child's brain.

But most importantly, summer is about fun, love, friends, and family. Growing your connections with others is just as essential as maintaining your academics. It could even be prevention for later damaging brain drain. Simply spending time with family or friends can foster social-emotional growth. They’ll learn how to get along, structure their own activities, and how to regulate their own emotions. It’s essential to healthy brain growth and development in our kids.

Check out this resource for additional summer brain strengthening activities!

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