Summer Brain Drain and How to Stop It

Keep your kids' skills sharp over summer break

A boy is confused by a math problem.
A boy is confused by a math problem. Image Source/Getty Images

Some people call it the “summer slump,” teachers call it “summer learning loss.” But whatever you call it, summer brain drain is a real phenomenon. This regression in skills happens to kids over the summer and, though it’s common, it’s neither inevitable nor irreversible.

How Much Learning is Lost?

According to a study conducted by Dr. Harris Cooper of the University of Missouri-Columbia, the best case scenario is that your child won’t make any measurable academic gains over the summer.

That is to say, he won’t show any growth in learning, but he won’t lose any skills either. In the worst case scenario, your child can lose the equivalent of one to three months worth of learning.

This learning loss is more likely to happen in math skills than any other subject. Specifically affected are computation skills—your child’s ability to interpret and calculate math problems. The second most common area of loss is in spelling.

What’s the Big Deal?

You may think if it’s happening to every kid, what’s the big deal about summer learning loss? The answer is that it doesn't happen to every child: Some children go to summer school, some go to summer camp and others continue their learning at home over the summer. But more importantly, skills loss over the summer means that teachers often end up spending the first month to month and a half of the school year reteaching skills. It can be a tremendous loss of classroom time and resources to have to catch up some kids while others are ready to get down to the process of learning the new year’s material.

Stop Summer Brain Drain With Enrichment Activities

Your child doesn’t have to fall victim to summer brain drain. You can make an effort to keep her brain engaged during the summer and provide enriching experiences without even trying all that hard. Here are a few easy ways:

  1. Encourage your child to read. Take your child to the local library, many of which have summer reading programs, to pick out books to read over the summer. A summertime theme may keep him more interested in reading, so talk to the librarian about books that focus on summer activities and ideas.
  1. Take educational family vacations. Even if you’re not going to historical sites, you can make your summer trips educational. Even a trip to the zoo has learning potential. You just have to plan ahead to figure out how to sneak some learning in with the snacks and attractions.
  2. Consider an academic summer camp. Some summer camps not only provide socialization opportunities for kids, they also give kids the chance to keep their minds running and be engaged in everyday problem-solving.
  3. Send your child to summer school. There are cases in which summer school is the appropriate option for your child. Talk to your child’s teacher and the curriculum coordinator to find out what types of programs are available and which would be best suited for your child.