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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.


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:

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

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