Summer brain drain. Summer setback. Summer slide. Summer learning loss. Most parents have heard a version of the idea that over summer vacation, kids lose some of what they learn during the school year. But they’ll be happy to know there are actually realistic (and affordable!) ways to combat it.
Dr. Katrina Lindsay, a clinical and pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, is the director of the hospital’s School Success Clinic, which specializes in helping kids who struggle in school. She told HuffPost that students lose about one to two months of learning over the course of the summer. For kids with learning disorders, that loss can be even larger.
Reading is a go-to choice for keeping kids engaged, and many teachers encourage it by giving summer reading lists. Public libraries are also a helpful resource for families during the summer. We talked to experts about a few more ways to prevent the summer slide ― some of which are activities your kids probably already do.
Baking and cooking
Lindsay told HuffPost that cooking is “one of the best things you can do for kids” because it combines science, art and math. She encouraged families (and summer babysitters) to help keep the STEM skills sharp by discussing different measurements and physical processes, such as what happens when the food is actually cooking.
“If you think about the chemical reaction ― liquid goes in the oven and comes out a solid ― it’s amazing learning for kids,” she said.
She also noted that while she understands parents can get more done at the grocery store without the kids in tow, the supermarket can be an ideal place to discuss numbers while looking at prices and counting coins.
Playing video games
Hear us out. Screen time for kids is a highly debated issue, and there isn’t a lot of research on its effects on kids just yet. Hilary Scharton is the vice president of K-12 product strategy at Canvas by Instructure, an educational technology company. She noted that kids shouldn’t be wrapped up in screen time all summer, but suggested that parents occasionally lean into their kids’ love of video games by talking about the shapes of the characters.
“The animations in video games, those are all shapes, changing and morphing,” she said. “All of that shape-changing is like algebra and geometry and trigonometry.”
Lindsay also recommended video games and pointed out that there are many educational apps available to keep kids learning while they enjoy some screen time.
“If they have to be wired in on a rainy day, that doesn’t mean they have to stop learning,” she said.
Research shows that volunteering can teach kids a variety of important skills. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteering throughout the year can help kids develop leadership skills and become more patient. And as research from Michigan State University shows, working with others in this way can also promote social skills, which can be especially important for kids taking time out of the classroom during the summer.
Another benefit? Volunteering can make kids more empathetic and help them understand more about the world.
“Practice helps with anything,” Lindsay said ― including writing. Caretakers may want to promote an activity in which kids write often, especially students who may struggle with it. She’s seen the benefits of writing repetition firsthand with a patient of hers who wrote to a pen pal overseas. She also suggested having kids keep journals over the summer so they can both improve their writing and have a way to look back at everything they did.
You read that right. As a summer activity, Scharton recommended “anything where kids have a chance to just spectacularly fail.” Why?
“We know from research that problem-solving skills really are one of the most important things that kids need to learn,” she said.
She noted that this doesn’t have to involve anything elaborate like a science experiment with a volcano. It can easily happen in the kitchen.
“My daughter has made chocolate chip cookies, making every possible mistake,” she said. “They’re always super fun, and it’s a great learning experience.”