June 7th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

Keeping students sharp through summer

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN)  Call it the summer slide, the seasonal slump, the brain drain or the summer slowdown.  Just don’t call it new:  The two-month period when students lose some of their academic edge has been observed for over a century.  The good news here is that experts and parents have come up with a number of ways to keep kids sharp through the summer, and we’re sharing some of them with you here.

Learn something new

“We would all expect an athlete’s or a musician’s performance to suffer if they took a long break from practice, and the same is true for our nation’s young people,” says Ron Fairchild, founder of the Smarter Learning Group.

One way to keep your student’s brain in shape is to keep the learning going.  It doesn’t have to be out of a textbook.  Swimming or SCUBA or horseback riding lessons, practicing a language while driving to your vacation destination – it all counts.

In a summer camp – particularly an outdoor one – kids take part in activities they might not otherwise do.  Some learn how to build a fire; some learn to paddle a canoe; some team up to complete a rope course.  (And even if students learn they can’t actually trust others in a “trust fall,” they’ve still learned something, right?)

Picking up a new instrument can also help keep kids engaged with learning, and there are many studies linking music with mathematics.  So if your child has always wanted to play guitar or drums (heaven help you), summer may be the perfect time to do it.

Leverage learning on vacation

Everyone wants to have fun over the summer, and the beach, water parks and theme parks can help provide it.  But challenging your student to find out a few facts about tides or amusement ride physics can bring in elements of academics and application.

And while the theme park is fine, consider visiting a national park as well.  Why?  Because people have to learn something about it to get the most out of the visit.  Whether that includes facts about California’s redwoods or the Colorado River or butterflies at a Florida garden, these locations are nature’s libraries.  And the National Park Service has a searchable website of all the parks in the country, so you can easily find what’s available near you.

A zoo is also a good spot, especially when students are encouraged to read the pamphlets or signboards about the animals they see.


This brings us to reading, in general.  This can be a tough one, especially since students are forced to read throughout the school year and may not have it at the top of their summer fun list.  But reading doesn’t have to include William Shakespeare or the biography of – well, anyone.

Whether it’s a book for adolescents, a magazine or even a comic book, it’s great for students to routinely pore over the printed word.  (It may be best to avoid reading on a computer, tablet or smartphone, though, as these devices come with games and other distractions.)

Reading regularly can also smooth out the transition back to textbooks in the new school year.  Experts say starting with a minimum – say 30 minutes every day – is a good idea.  And many students will find that they’ll want to exceed the allotted time, which is even better.

Up your game(s)

It’s ironic that many of the games that are lower-tech are often better for learning.  We’ve reported before on how Boggle, Scrabble and Bananagrams are good for spelling; they’re good exercise for the brain in general.  And while many students will tell you that Monopoly can’t compete with Modern Warfare, there are distinct values in the family time and basic business fundamentals that accompany the board game.

One thing you don’t want to do is to let the summer drain away under the glare of a TV.  Interacting with your students and finding activities that they can learn from will keep their brains active through the dog days, and it may give them an advantage in their new classes while some of their friends are still catching up.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Ben

    I love the emphasis on family time and the wide scope of "learning". This is unfortunate that it doesn't embrace the ability of an ebook, apps likeFliboard, or even CNN for that matter where kids can learn about modern events. The nonfiction will no doubt have a sophisticated level of information, the text complexity can be challenging, and the students would have to think critically to challenge bias.

    June 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  2. Jorge

    I recall, as a kid who attended an inner city school 43 years ago, being pretty sharp and motivated on my first day of school after every summer, in my expectation that the new grade would be better than the grade before. That would quickly change as I realized that I would come up against the same burnt out, enmitous teachers, budding sociopath bullies and droning, draining cookie-cutter curriculum, hence that razor-sharp knife of motivation and recently-refreshed youth would slowly dull and school once again just became one drawn-out battle of attrition for grades. Thus is the American educational system...ain't never gonna change.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • Ben

      Yikes. You didn't go to the right school then. The students at my school love coming, the curriculum is innovative and a deemphasis on grades. Sad to hear you've become jaded.

      June 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  3. Flamespeak

    As an avid reader, I would like to stress that the bulk of modern works of literature are pure garbage for minds. There is a lot of talented writers out there, make no doubt, but really popular reads these days are basically caustic tomes of mental acid.

    Playing video games doesn't automatically equate to horrible mental experiences either. Having your child play a strategy game or something akin to tetris will actually flex their mental muscles as well.

    You want to keep your child focused during the summer though? Have them give you a two-page report about any person, place, or thing in history every other week. It will offer your child a sense of freedom and let them find out what it means to research something in their downtime. For example, my nieces love ghost stories and monsters, so they did research on local ghost stories and legends and were happy with their results. This lead to me asking them to make up their own monster or ghost. It had to have a description of the ghost and monster, had to have a history, had to be a way to avoid or get rid of it, and a reason for why the ghost or monster exists. This is creative writing, but the children don't know that, they just know they are using their imagination to create something they think is neat and scary.

    June 8, 2012 at 4:13 am |
  4. Marie

    Summer Reading Programs are awesome motivators! My kids have gotten free shirts, books, toys, and passes to the local children's musem just for reading.

    June 8, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  5. Jay

    A great summer reading slump buster: Check out helloancestor.com. I think I've stumbled upon the best kept secret in YA storytelling (it's WAY more than an awesome book), and the next big thing to take over the world after Hunger Games is wrapped up. You won't believe it.

    June 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm |