Summer has finally arrived and with it, the inevitable summer brain drain. In our home with three children ages 9, 10, and 11, brain drain not only exists but the lack of learning structure affects everyone, even my wife and me. Since summer brain drain affects students of every age, we have been exploring simple, free ways to keep our minds active and engaged.
A number of studies have shown that during the summer students can lose one to three months of learning if they don’t read or have enrichment activities. According to a study by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, many kids across the board lose math, reading, and spelling skills during the three months they’re not in school. To prevent students from falling behind before the next school year begins, they must continue to actively engage in learning during summer vacation.
So in between baseball, beach days, and all the glorious fun of lounging around, we’re dedicated to keeping the whole family engaged in learning this summer—a noble idea but admittedly lofty in its goal. How do you engage three kids and two parents who just want to kick back to keep those learning synapses firing?
On the hunt for creative solutions to preventing our brains from draining into mindless sludge, my family is experimenting with a daily task list. Our kids engage in activities focused on the three key areas of reading, math, and spelling for half an hour each and every day. We know there’s no one-size-fits-all technology tool to keep us all interested, but we can take advantage of many free resources, depending on the learning style and interest of our kids.
Here are some of our strategies for creating a bit of structure at home and encouraging mental stimulation so that students of all ages don’t lose valuable educational ground. Truthfully, these ideas can help any learner—adult or child—keep the brain drain closed.
5 Free Ways to Prevent Summer Brain Drain
1. Explore your curiosity in a free class.
Discover thousands of free courses from some of the most distinguished colleges and universities in the world. Called the “GPS of online learning” by AARP’s Life Reimagined, LearningAdvisor.com is a learning hub with an easy-to-use search tool where you can find free online classes for just about anything. Simply search any interesting topic and find classes from Harvard, MIT, Yale, or Kaplan University (to name just a few). From “The Science of Happiness” to “The Music of the Beatles” to “Developing a Personal Finance Plan,” an intriguing or useful topic lies waiting to keep your mind immersed in learning this summer. Our favorite free course is “Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit,” a class that helps students evaluate their learning outside the classroom and get assessed for college credit. For the 37 million Americans who took college classes but never finished a degree, this class is hugely valuable.
For those of you who want to get a leg up on your careers and stop the summer brain drain at the same time, LearningAdvisor also features low-cost certificate and professional development programs. Thinking of starting a business? Take an affordable entrepreneurship course to solidify your business plan. It’s online and self-paced, so you can study when and where it’s convenient for you—even at the beach!
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2. Do the math.
One of the most robust, free education sites out there, Khan Academy tops our list of favorites. It has free math and science courses for every level, from elementary through college, and even as free test prep classes. Because math skills are integral to success in school but also deteriorate more quickly than reading during the summer, this site can help stave off the math brain drain with a good mental work out. In our household, we’ve found the feature that allows parents to log in, create student accounts, and oversee learners’ activities to be particularly useful. This allows us to see both how much time our children are spending on the site but more importantly where they are having challenges.
3. Dabble in another language.
My family has delightfully discovered the free website and Smartphone app Duolingo. It’s exactly as it sounds—a tool to help you learn to speak two (duo) languages (lingo). I’m always looking for an opportunity to encourage language learning in myself and in my kids. It’s such an important modern-day skill. Duolingo is a great solution because it is simple, fun, and easy to incorporate along with our summer activities. We’ve found that the app is helpful for beginners just starting a new language as well as for students who need to reinforce a burgeoning language in between semesters. For those of you with a European vacation on the horizon (sadly, my family does not apply), this app could be a great way to prepare you with the basics like learning to ask for directions, buying a train ticket, and of course the most important—finding the bathroom! My wife and I also don’t feel guilty about letting our kids play on our phones with this app to keep them out of our hair when we just can’t listen to them bicker anymore.
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It’s the most fundamental (and free) source of learning. Read to your kids. Read for yourself at the beach. Take trips to the library. Find stories to transport you and your family to another world. It seems obvious, but reading during the summer preserves those precious reading comprehension skills that make a big difference when September rolls around. Don’t forget to include libraries in your summer reading: many have summer book clubs for kids, and even adults, too!
5. Unlock the code.
Trying to engage your tech-savvy student? Try Codecademy.com. This free site teaches students of all ages how to do computer coding through interactive lessons. Both my son and daughter found this website to be fun and engaging. I’m always looking for ways to introduce STEM learning to my kids, especially my daughter, and this appealing site is perfect. Who knows? Maybe one day she will invent the next great free education app.