Menu

It’s science: Summer brain drain is real—but there’s an easy way to stop it

Worried about learning loss due to school closures and summer? Research proves there's an easy, effective and practically free way to fight learning loss this summer—and it works for every age.

summer brain drain during pandemic

For parents and kids, this summer is going to be different from any summer we've known before. While many of the usual summer activities are still on the menu, from sprinklers to sleeping in, many are not, including the camps and summer programs parents have relied on in years past to keep kids busy and engaged.

Add in several months of lost academic progress due to pandemic-related school closures, and you may be wondering if your child's run-of-the-mill summer brain drain is going to be a serious concern once school starts up again.

As it turns out, there's a simple solution for summer brain drain that is readily available and costs practically nothing. It's reading.

Reading is one of the best brain-building activities you can do to help ensure that your kids don't lose vital academic skills as a result of school closures and the "summer slide." Research tells us that reading can reduce the learning loss, or brain drain, that kids experience when they are out of school for an extended period of time—like during the summer… or a pandemic.

FEATURED VIDEO


Yes, summer brain drain is real.

Research spanning over 100 years shows that kids typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer. And based on standardized test scores, a 13-study meta-analysis found that, on average, kids lose about a month of learning skills and knowledge each summer, no matter their race, IQ or gender.

But learning isn't just about what can be measured at school.

Kathleen Lynch, an education policy researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has found that home-based activities, like reading, are more indicative of academic learning than any other activity.

In fact, research tells us that reading independently—and talking about the books and stories your child is reading—seems to have an even greater influence on your kids' academic growth than summer camps or vacations. What makes the difference is "the daily conversations that are sophisticated and expand children's vocabularies, and being read to regularly by seasoned readers, one-on-one," said Dr. Scott Davies at McMaster University. Bonus: Encouraging older kids to read to younger ones is a win on every level.

Reading is the best way to boost your child's brain power when they're not in school.

In fact, kids who read during the summer gain an average of one month of reading proficiency over kids who do not. Those kids who don't read lose an average of two to three months proficiency, and over time, those lost months can add up to years. By high school, two-thirds of the reading achievement gap in particular can be attributed to summer learning loss during the elementary years.

So don't worry if your child isn't participating in their usual summer programs, mama. These quiet days with family can enrich your kid's time away from school and offer valuable learning moments, too. Read, talk about stories together, play games and remember that kids don't need to be in school (or camp) to learn. The skills kids pick up during the summer from their families and communities aren't as easy to measure, but they are real.

Bottom line: Brain drain can be a concern, but don't underestimate the value of what you can do outside the classroom to help fight a summer academic slide. Connecting with your kids through reading and through slowing down and savoring this summer will help keep their minds sharp and relationships close.

If you're looking for more resources to prevent summer brain drain, here are some of our favorites:

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

    So, what's new this week?

    Happiest Baby: Baby sleep solutions designed by the experts

    Created by renowned pediatrician, baby sleep expert and (as some might say) lifesaver Dr. Harvey Karp, Happiest Baby has been helping new parents understand and nurture their infants for close to two decades. Building on the success of his celebrated books and video The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block he's developed groundbreaking, science-based product solutions that conquer a new parent's top stressor—exhaustion.

    WSEL Bags: Dad-designed diaper bags that think of everything

    WSEL stands for work smart, enjoy life—an ethos we couldn't agree with more. Founded by a stay at home dad who struggled to find a diaper bag that he not only wanted to use, but one that would last far beyond the baby years, these premium, adventure-ready backpacks are ideal for everything from errands to week-long getaways.

    Codex Beauty: Exceptionally effective sustainable skin care

    Codex Beauty's line of sustainable plant-based skin care blends the science of plant biology with biotech innovations, to create clinically proven, state-of-the-art products for all skin types. They're all vegan, EWG and Leaping Bunny verified and created in collaboration with Herbal Scientist Tracy Ryan who uses concepts dating back to the 8th century leveraging plants like sea buckthorn and calendula flower. Not only are we totally crushing on the innovative formulas that are in the packaging but we're in love with the sustainable sugarcane-derived tubes as well.

    Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

    Keep reading Show less
    Shop

    100 unusual + surprising baby name ideas

    From Adelia to Ziggy.

    Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

    Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

    Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


    Keep reading Show less
    Learn + Play