Summer brain drain? Tips to help children, teens learn all year

Even when kids are out of school, UAB’s Lynn Kirkland has tips on how parents can keep them engaged, interested and ready to learn.

School’s out for summer, but that long break doesn’t have to mean holiday brain drain.

nycu_summer_brain_drain_sSolutions are easily found for most families, if they know how and where to look, said Professor Lynn Kirkland, Ph.D., chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education.

“Research shows us that children can lose anywhere from 22-30 percent of what they’ve learned in school each summer,” Kirkland said. “Children most affected by that loss are children of poverty, typically.”

Using a few tips, parents can instill their own fool-proof methods to help their children retain what they’ve learned in school. While summer camps and trips to places like the zoo are very helpful for children, Kirkland’s tips won’t break the bank for families watching their budgets.

  • Hit the local library. “Check out books or DVDs for free. If a child has a favorite topic, author or activity, check out materials that focus on those interests,” Kirkland said.
  • Write it down. Provide paper, pencil and colored pencils or crayons, and encourage children to write, draw and color about what they do each day. Talk them through the experience. “Reading and writing are so interrelated. Keeping a journal during the summer is a great way to keep those writing skills going. Plus, for younger children, it’s a great way to get ready for school.”
  • Take a hike and stop to smell the roses. “Just taking a walk around the neighborhood, there are so many things children do not notice until you point it out. Tell them that today we will look for things that fly, things that are round, things that are blue, so they can tune into their surroundings. Help your child notice that spider web in the shrubbery, those ants in the anthill, how they are working. Get a book on ants from the library.”
  • Turn an everyday activity into a learning activity. “If you plant a garden with a child, that’s a learning experience. The child can journal about it, they are learning all kinds of math, setting things up in rows. How many inches apart do we put each plant, how many cups of carrots did we get from the garden? There’s lots of science and math in very simple, inexpensive activities you can do with your child.”

For older kids and teens, parents should collaborate with their children on activities. Kirkland has useful methods for even the busiest parents:

  • Make a list. “At the beginning of the week, make a list with your child of things they might like to do that week. Let the child put some things on the list, and then you put some things on the list,” Kirkland said.
  • Read a book together. “It’s a great motivator when a parent reads a book with the child. You read two chapters, I will read the same two chapters, and then we’ll talk about it. Not a book report, that’s not what real readers do. If you can connect what they are reading or writing with what they are doing during the week, that makes it even better.”
  • Get involved and make connections. “It’s really important for children in the upper grades that parents get them involved in programs like the YMCA or for example, a swim program. All of those things can be connected to reading and writing, science and math activities. Encourage your child to keep up with their time when swimming laps in the pool, check out great fictional books and biographies on swimmers — there are a myriad of ways to make those connections to children.”

Kirkland’s parting advice: stay away from incentives, such as stickers, gadgets or cash.

“If you want children to become lifelong learners — which is what we want them to do — you have to create in them an intrinsic motivation that learning is cool,” Kirkland said. “Learning is going to get you somewhere.”

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