May 5, 2011 by Norene Wiesen

Summer brain drain antidotes

Last month Terri Zezula doled out tips for math skills practice over the summer.  But what about keeping up in reading and “staying in shape” for learning? 

Here are 5 more ways you can help your child stay sharp over the summer:

  1. Read, Read, Read…and Understand

    If your child is working on basic reading skills such as phonics and decoding, provide plenty of opportunities to read silently and aloud.  Generate excitement about reading by helping your child create a reading list at the beginning of the summer.  Ask for recommendations from your child’s teacher and friends and from the children’s librarian at your local library.  If reading is a struggle for your child, take turns reading a story to each other.  Talk about the story.  Ask your child questions—what might happen next, and why?  What does your child think about what has happened so far? 

    If your child is good at decoding, broadening her exposure to life may be the key to improving reading comprehension [i] .  Find creative ways to associate new experiences with reading—such as pairing a field trip with a book.  After a trip to an art museum during which your teenager is taken by Matisse, visit the library for a book about Paris in the 20’s.  Or visit an observatory and follow up by reading about the constellations; then, take your child out into the dark night and see if you can identify the constellations yourselves.

  2. Take Up a Musical Instrument

    Decades ago, families gathered in the evening to play music together.  Revive the tradition!  However poorly you might play, you’ll have fun together and stimulate your child’s brain to develop in beneficial ways.

    Research has shown that actively playing a musical instrument has positive effects on the brain.  In one study, six months of formal musical trainingresulted in positive changes for participants, such as improved perception of pitch in spoken language and improved processing of speech. The study authors concluded that a relatively short period of brain training—just 6 months—can have a significant, positive impact on the organization of children’s brains.

  3. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

    Regardless of your child’s ability, the right attitude is essential in fostering risk-taking behavior and perseverance in learning. Research has shown that learners with a “ growth mindset” who believe that their ability is fluid and that life is filled with opportunity thrive on new and challenging experiences, while those who believe their ability is fixed and unchanging are more likely to balk at challenges.

    To help your child develop a growth mindset:

    • Explain that the brain develops new neural connections in response to challenging learning experiences.
    • Give your child a challenge, and provide support by praising effort and progress rather than intelligence.
    • Model a growth mindset for your child– take on a challenging learning opportunity of your own and be up front when you encounter difficulties.  Talk with your child about how you plan to overcome obstacles that you encounter, and then follow through.
  4. Give Your Child Stronger “Learning Muscles”

    All learning takes place on a foundation of critical cognitive skills, including memory, attention, processing, and sequencing.  A child must be able to hold information in working memory in order to complete all the steps in a multi-step task, and to stay focused on the task long enough to complete it.  A child’s brain must be able to process information rapidly enough to keep up with new incoming information, and to put all the elements in the right order to comprehend and use that information.

    Fun, web-enabled learning programs like Fast ForWord Home® software with consulting (for learners who are below grade level and need some extra help) can help strengthen your child’s cognitive skills to accelerate learning.  Learners using these programs typically improve up to 2 years in reading level in just 12 weeks and often see improvements in other subjects that rely on reading as well, such as math and social studies.

  5. Unstructured Play

    While it’s easy to write off summer vacation as downtime from learning, it’s important to remember the importance of unstructured play in a child’s development.  Summertime can provide your child the freedom and opportunity to grow and explore in ways not possible during the busy, and often over-scheduled, academic year.

    Your child uses play to develop a host of important characteristics such as self-confidence and creativity, as well as social skills like negotiation and working in groups.  Opportunities for active, physical play set the groundwork for lifelong healthy habits and promote physical well-being.  Physical activity is an effective way for the body to rid itself of the stress hormones [ii] that build up during the challenges of daily life.  Make time for play.

  6. [i]Strauss, Valerie. Active Summer, Active Minds: Educators Seek Ways to Prevent Learning Losses During Vacation. Monday, June 15, 2009.

    [ii]Cotman CW, Berchtold NC. Exercise: a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in Neurosciences.  2002;25(6):295-301. doi:10.1016/S0166-2236(02)02143-4

    Related Reading:

    5 Reasons You Should Limit Screen Time

    Fit Bodies Make Fit Brains: Physical Exercise and Brain Cells