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13 Summer Brain Boosters

Cari Wira Dineen
July 18, 2017

Kids loose 2 to 3 months of learning over the summer. Here's how to stay on track and prep your child for fall -- while still having fun.



The lazy, hazy days of summer are a welcome relief for kids from the chaotic school year routine. No more last-minute homework assignments. No more forgotten permission slips. And no more dreaded pop quizzes.

But while your kids are looking forward to letting loose this summer, you (and your kids' teachers) want to make sure that they don't fall into the dreaded "summer slide" -- the loss of academic skills during the vacation months. A recent study by the Rand Corporation, found that children lose two to three months of reading and math skills while on break.

"Our brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised and engaged regularly," says Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., a psychotherapist and Care.com expert. "One of the ways we maintain our kids' learning curve is to make sure they're engaged in some way shape or form-even during the summer months," Dr. Ludwig explains.

"Like any other skill or sport, reading requires practice and it's crucial that students take time over the summer to read and keep their minds sharp," says Francie Alexander, a former teacher and Scholastic's Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer.

And while it might make sense to simply enroll your child in a summer school program, Dr. Ludwig doesn't recommend it. "Kids are pressured enough. They need the summer to recharge," she says. Instead, she suggests that you look for fun ways to keep your kids on track and prep your child for the next school year.

Here are 13 great ideas to prevent your lil' ones' brains from turning to mush this summer. Want more? Check out what other moms are doing in this list of 101 Fun Things to Do with Kids This Summer.

  1. Hit an Interactive Museum
    We're not just talking listening tapes. "Look for exhibits that engages all of their senses," says Dr. Ludwig, who suggests checking out science-based or living history museums near you for interactive and educational components geared toward kids.

  2. Go to a Historical Site
    Try a battlefield, historic location, presidential home. Before your visit, head to the library or bookstore for some kid-friendly reading material on the topic. When you visit, your child can have a perceptible experience that complements what he already read.

  3. Plan Summer Reading Lists
    "Studies show that when children who read four or more age appropriate books over the summer, they can maintain the level of reading skills they achieved during the preceding school year," Alexander explains.

    Before the school year ends, ask your child's teacher for a recommended reads for the summer. Then, let your son or daughter choose what they want to read from the list. "Ninety percent of kids who picked out the books themselves, were more likely to read them and finish them," says Alexander. (Use a program like Scholastic Summer or Chuck E. Cheese points to tally and reward reading goals)

  4. Work with Workbooks
    Pick up a few age or grade appropriate math, spelling, or grammar workbooks from a teacher supply store or a toy store. Or simply print some out from sites like Kids Learning Station or Education.com.

  5. Do Puzzles and Mind Benders
    Another option is to pick up puzzle books, such as crosswords or even Mad Libs. "They make kids think differently, solve problems and expand their vocabulary," says Dr. Ludwig. Detective books and riddles are also a fun way to challenge their minds.

  6. Cook up Some Fun
    Dr. Ludwig suggests getting your kid to sign up for a cooking class or help you or your nanny make dinner at home. In addition to learning how to make meals for themselves, "cooking engages a child's artistic sensibilities and gives them tactile lessons in math and fractions through measuring," she says.

  7. Hire a "Teaching" Nanny
    If looking for a summer sitter or nanny, why not hire someone with a background in education? Post your requirements as looking for a teacher or tutor who can make play a learning experience. Ask that at least three daily games or activities have a curriculum, with clear goals as to what the child will be learning, asked about and challenged with. The kids may never know. It should all be based on fun and adventure (Think: science-based scavenger hunts and baking with measurements).

  8. Take a Reading Journey
    Map out the places your child wants to visit around the world and find books that take place there. "It is a great way to learn about far away places right from your own backyard," says Alexander.

  9. Self-publish a Book
    Encourage your child to pen their own story. "[This] encourages kids to tap into their imagination, organize their thoughts and communicate their feelings," says Dr. Ludwig. Give your kids a theme-say, your family vacation-and have them write their own books. They can write, illustrate, design and even publish them as actual books on Scribblitt.

  10. Encourage Creative Play
    Plan interactive "out of the box" play for kids to challenge their own minds. The more independent this is, the better. Help them make a video they can share on YouTube, produce a play with some neighborhood friends, or plan a scavenger hunt. Check out this scavenger hunt site for ideas.

  11. Make Music
    If you're child's schedule is too packed during the school year to begin music lessons, make this summer the time to get them started on lessons. According to 2008 research children who study a musical instrument for at least three years outperform children with no instrumental training on non-musical tests of vocabulary and non-verbal reasoning. Does your kid already play the piano or guitar? Don't drop the lessons just because it's summertime. "Make sure your child continues practicing instruments through the summer," says Dr. Ludwig.

  12. Play Games
    Make tonight a game night! "Playing card and board games with dice make math and spelling more tangible for children-all while having fun," says Dr. Ludwig. Any board game will work, but a few of our faves: Scrabble for Kids, Boggle, and Bananagrams.

  13. Hire a Tutor
    If you're really concerned that your child might be behind come fall, consider hiring a tutor. "Just make sure that the experience is light and unpressured," says Ludwig. Perhaps the tutor and your child can work outdoors or you can team your child up with a friend.

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