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Earl Martin Phalen

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School's out... but Parenting's Always on

Posted: 06/29/11 03:38 PM ET

The brain is like a muscle.

When it's used, it develops and grows.

When it's not, it regresses and atrophies.

Every June -- as the school bell rings for the final time in several months -- millions of American children are at a fork in the road that will lead to their intellectual development or deterioration.

More than 100 years of evidence shows us that all young people experience learning losses when they don't participate in educational activities during the summer.

Children nationwide -- of all socioeconomic groups -- lose approximately two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills during the summer months. Students living in low-income communities also lose more than two months in reading achievement.

School may be out for the summer, but parenting is still on.

And it's never too early to get into the habit of making sure that summer means more than playgrounds and ice cream for your children.

To drive that point into homes across the country, the school readiness organization Reach Out and Read launched its second annual "Summer of a Million Books" campaign on June 21. The campaign unites pediatricians at more than 4,600 hospitals and clinics -- and parents -- in their joint mission to make sure children stay connected to learning.

The "Summer of a Million Books" aims to provide one million families with the tools and the guidance they need to prepare their children to succeed in school. In order to accomplish that goal, Reach Out and Read's doctors and nurse practitioners must purchase and distribute 25,600 books every day between the start of summer, and International Literacy Day on Sept. 8. There's a Virtual Book Drive to help make that happen.

Most importantly, the campaign includes a reminder to read to the children in your life every day. Childhood development experts tell us that the most important thing that parents can do to prepare their kids for the future is to read aloud to them every day.

It's essential to see reading as a piece of summer learning. Build on the books with summer trips and activities that encourage learning. They don't have to be expensive or elaborate. A nature walk gives you a chance to talk about animals and flowers. A visit to your city's museums allows you the opportunity to bring up art and creativity. A trip to the beach is the perfect time for your children to ask about ocean life and sea creatures.

Summer learning is NOT summer school. Summer learning helps children grow academically, stimulates them socially, and keeps them physically active. Summer learning raises children's exposure to an array of new ideas -- from books and from life experiences.

So, welcome our "Summer of a Million Books" into your family. Make it yours. Be part of this greater effort to ensure that come fall, every child returns to school ready and prepared to excel.