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Preventing summer brain drain

Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 9:37 a.m. CST
Caption
(Curtis Clegg - cclegg@shawmedia.com)
Ashley Barry, left, and Josh Oates, both third-graders at Kingston Elementary School, watch a snake slither at the Natural Resource Education Center at Russell Woods Forest Preserve in Genoa, Ill. on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Whether you call it brain drain, the summer slide, or summer reading loss, the meaning is the same.

This summer, and every summer, children will forget much of what they learned the previous school year.

“They can lose two to 2 1/2 months of what they have already learned, plus three months over the summer when they aren’t learning anything new,” said Wendy Kunz, director of Sylvan Learning in Sycamore, which offers a number of summer learning and enrichment programs. “And think of the teachers who spend the month of September reviewing what the kids forgot over the summer.”

While summer is typically the time for children to enjoy lazy days playing with friends in the park or at the pool, it can also be a valuable but fun learning opportunity. DeKalb County has many free or low-cost activities that get children away from television and video games while entertaining them and keeping their learning skills, especially reading, sharp.

“Reading comprehension affects every subject across the board,” Kunz said.

Barnes and Noble and most libraries have summer reading programs to encourage reading.

“We try to make it fun and not about learning, but about keeping your brain active,” said Sarah Tobias, director of the Sycamore Public Library.

Evelyn Wingate, young adult librarian at the Sycamore Public Library, said there are two separate reading challenges for the months of June and July.

“This year we are counting the total number of books they read,” Wingate said. Young readers receive rewards, usually in the form of gift certificates from local merchants, based on the number of books they read.

Keeping children engaged while learning is key to keeping them motivated. Peggy Doty, educator for the University of Illinois Extension, is directing six week-long camps at the Natural Resource Education Center at the Russell Woods Forest Preserve near Genoa this summer.

“We do activities, which are basically games with a lesson,” she said. “They are enjoying learning, and it’s because they feel they don’t have to be there, but they want to be there.”

Molly Trickey, executive director of the Midwest Museum of Natural History, has similar goals in mind when planning summer activities.

“We have some educational programs planned for the summer specifically because we know kids are out of school, so we want to keep them engaged in learning,” she said. Scheduled summer activities include learning about invisible ink, studying slime, live animal presentations, and exploring the unseen world with microscopes. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday during the week.

Experts suggest that summer activities like trips to the museum can become catalysts for an ongoing cycle of learning that continues when the children return home. Children will be more open to learning when family members share in the learning activities, ask questions and engage in dialogue about the day’s lessons.

“Encourage your child to keep a journal about the books they are reading, their favorite summer events or activities, and they new friends they’ve made,” suggests the National Summer Learning Association website.

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