Gear Up to Fight Summer Brain Drain!

When my kids were young, I knew they were safe and learning during the school year. When summer hit, well, that was a different story. I was like every other mother in town, trying to find things for them to do while I was at work. I was focused on keeping them out of trouble and somewhat entertained.

Back then, I was focused mostly on the physical dangers, but I didn’t realize that there was another problem lurking, one that I didn’t even consider. The experts today call it Summer Brain Drain, and it’s what happens when young people lose months of knowledge because they aren’t exercising their brains for three months.

Teachers tell us that lack of mental stimulation over the summer often results in children unlearning much of what they were taught over the school year. Then, when they return in the fall they’re behind the curve and likely to lose a month or more of classroom time catching up.

Summer slide hits particularly hard among young people from low-income or single-parent households or those where both parents work. During the summer when school is out, many young people don’t have ready access to positive influences like museums, libraries or theaters. There is usually a shortage of positive role models and that’s where community-based organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs come into play to fill the void. For me, the Club was a safe haven where my kids were always encouraged to dream big, mixing study time with play time. The staff always found a way to inject learning into fun activities, making it relevant for my kids.

Shaquille was mischievous, curious, and energetic — a real handful. But in our home, we had a rule: No pass, no play. If you didn’t pass the grade, then you weren’t allowed to play the extracurricular activity. So, during the summer I made sure my kids read every day. I would ask them questions about what they read so there was no way to pull one over on me. I taught them there is NO vacation from learning — that it should always be a constant — because it is the best way to prepare for a successful future.

Benefits of Quality Summer Learning Programs

Summer learning programs have been shown to raise math and reading performance, increase attendance, reduce dropout rates, decrease involvement in crime, improve behavior at school and heighten interest in learning.These programs also increase parental involvement, a critical factor to a child’s overall academic success. And these effects last for at least two years.

The economy is tough. Many parents are working two jobs just to provide the basics for their families. The reality is that this summer, many kids will find themselves with few structured activities, caregivers who are working all day, and too much unsupervised television and video game time.

Young people in those situations are more likely to accept lower standards of academic achievement, with lower aspirations for higher education. But summer learning loss can strike kids from any demographic:


  • When students report to school in the fall, they perform on average one month behind where they left off in the spring; the effect is more pronounced for the most at-risk students, who may lose several months, according to the After School Alliance.
  • More than 15 million U.S. children are alone and unsupervised after school throughout the year, and those numbers jump over the summer.
  • Summer learning loss is cumulative, with the effects growing worse each year the child is in school, according to the After School Alliance.


What Can Parents Do?

The key is to create a positive (but fun!) summer learning experience for your kids. Here are three summer learning ideas:

Community Organizations – Look for organizations in your neighborhood that offer safe, structured, and stimulating summer activities.

Engaging Activities – Look for high-yield learning activities, such as games that use cognitive skills, writing activities, creating short plays, skits or musical pieces. Get your kids to read books, comics, the Internet, etc.Have your child teach you something they know how to do, such as creating something on the computer or drawing a picture. Create projects where kids work together.

Routine – Keep to a regular routine during the summer and look for volunteer opportunities that teach the importance of giving back.

We should encourage our children to be open to learning 24/7. No one can ever know enough and with knowledge comes a kind of power that nobody can ever take away from you. Learning should be a lifelong journey!

Lucille O’Neal is the mother of NBA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal and volunteers regularly with organizations that support families and youth. She is a national ambassador for Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Education Nation: Gear Up to Fight Summer Brain Drain!.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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