5 Ways to Avoid “Brain Drain”: Keeping Your Kids Engaged During School Vacations

As the days grow longer and the weather gets warmer, it seems that everyone is looking forward to the long, lazy days of summer — especially the kids. And while almost everyone agrees that some time to relax and recharge is a necessity, when “lazy” is the only word you can use to describe each day, you might be setting your kids up for trouble when the school bell rings again in September.

A number of studies from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tennessee and others, have found that kids can lose up to three months’ worth of learning over the two-and-a-half months of summer vacation.

school vacations

Known as “brain drain,” the phenomenon is far more severe among minority and low-income children, but researchers note that nearly all students fail to retain all of the skills and knowledge they gain during the school year.

Many teachers report that they have to spend several weeks at the beginning of each school year reviewing basic concepts to get their students up to speed — valuable time that they could be devoting to teaching new ideas and concepts.

While a few might argue that shorter vacations are the answer (and some school districts have shifted to a year-round schedule with shorter, evenly spaced breaks throughout the year), a more workable solution for many parents is to take steps to keep their kids engaged even when they aren’t in school. The good news? You won’t need to set up a home classroom or spend all day with flashcards; these ideas are actually fun.

Provide Opportunities to Apply Knowledge

Raise your hand if you remember what you learned in high school algebra class. Chances are you don’t remember much of what you learned there or in many of your other classes, primarily because you don’t use algebra or anatomy or geology on a regular basis.

When you apply your knowledge to everyday tasks, you will improve your skills in that certain area and you will retain the information. Use that same principle with your kids over the summer: Give them the chance to use what they learned in school and apply it to real-life situations.

Let them help plan your summer vacation by researching your destination and using maps to plan your route; math skills are reinforced when you challenge kids to help with the budget or figure out gas mileage. Find ways for your kids to use their skills and have fun, and they won’t realize they are learning.

Model Learning Behavior

Kids learn by watching their parents, so what better way to keep them engaged in learning than by being an active learner yourself? Sign up for a course or two and start working on that master in public administration degree you’ve been talking about for years.

Take a workshop or course for a new hobby, or sign the whole family up for a course like water safety or first aid. Showing the kids that you too are trying to expand your mind will inspire them to keep learning.

Take Up a New Hobby

Taking up a new hobby, whether it’s collecting, gardening, skateboarding or anything else, can be a great way to keep kids’ minds engaged. Encourage your kids to think about what they would like to try, and then look into lessons or other social groups for your kids to participate in.


Almost every educational expert recommends reading as a means to prevent brain drain — there’s a reason for school summer reading lists. Many public libraries offer summer reading programs and challenges, so sign up for one and encourage your kids to read (or read to them) for at least 20 minutes a day. Set a structured time where everyone in the family reads each day — perhaps after dinner — and then discuss what you’ve read with each other.

Go Out and Explore

Even if you can’t afford to go away during the summer, chances are your local area has plenty of places to explore. Visit a state park, or attend an event that you’ve never gone to before and expand your horizons.

Many public libraries offer free or discounted tickets to local attractions, so take advantage of them and try new places and experiences. You never know — the trip to the local history museum could end up being the highlight of the summer.

Again, no one expects parents to become educational drill sergeants over the summer, eschewing all fun in favor of educational and enriching activities. But mixing in a few learning opportunities in between the amusement park and beach days will set your kids up for a success when they head back to class.

About the Author: Georgina Thorne is the mother of three and looks forward to her kids’ summer vacation each year, so they can spend time exploring the parks and hiking trails near their home in the Northeast.

Photo Credit By: thitotnghiep.com


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