Back to school: Five ways to help children beat summer brain drain

Here are some habits to inculcate before the holiday ends

Reading in the days leading up to school can help engage the brain, say experts. Getty Images
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Summer brain drain, aka summer slide, is the philosophy that over the long school break children not only stop learning new concepts, but can also lose some of what they were taught during the previous school year.

According to the National Summer Learning Association in the US, students can lose the equivalent of two months of reading capabilities and about three months of maths skills during the summer break.

While it’s true that children need downtime, they don’t have to fall off academically, says Razan Abdullah Nabulsi, director of Dots and Links Skills Development Centre in Abu Dhabi. Parents simply need to know how to use the time wisely.

Nabulsi shares five ways to build skills and prevent academic decline over the summer – and it’s never too late to begin, she says.

Read every day

Whether it’s books, blogs or magazines, reading helps engage the brain and keeps children curious. The key is to encourage them to read anything they are interested in, which makes it more likely for reading to become an enjoyable habit.

“If I were to advise parents to do one thing with their young child daily, it would be reading. Read for them, read with them, have them read to you. Reading is the number one activity that engages the brain in many ways,” says Nabulsi. “It develops imagination and auditory processing skills that are important for decoding and fluency, and increases language development and vocabulary.”

Reading doesn’t have to be a time-consuming task, either; as various studies have found, reading for only 10 minutes a day is enough to have an impact on a child’s learning – heartening news in the last week before schools begin.

Make room for quality time

Nabulsi asserts that making the most out of everyday activities can have a positive affect on brain development, given there’s usually less time to do these things when school is in session. Think cooking, playing a sport or board games together or a last-minute staycation, daycation or short trip.

Spending quality time together is also a great way to bond and enhance the connection between parent and child.

No more couch potato

A healthy body yields a healthy mind. Nabulsi suggests children should get plenty of physical activity to improve cognitive function, while also developing fine and gross motor skills.

“Letting children run and play develops their balance, co-ordination and big muscles, while other activities such as playing with play dough or sand, and learning how to use scissors are all important for developing smaller muscles that are needed for gripping a pencil and writing in school.”

Address any concerns

As summer winds down, it’s natural for young children to experience nervousness, especially early years students starting their academic journey or those switching to new schools.

Talk with your child about their feelings about school, friends, teachers and new experiences. Allow them to express themselves freely and offer whatever information you have to allay their concerns. For example, it might be helpful to share details about the teacher, classroom, transportation plans and expectations. The more knowledge a child has heading back into the classroom, the better off they’ll be during the new school year.

Go back to routine

In the final few days before school starts, it’s best to get children back into a sleep routine, especially the younger ones.

“Make sure your child goes to bed on time and get their body and brain back to healthy sleeping patterns,” says Nabulsi. “This could happen gradually, so it’s better to start well before school starts, and not just the night before the first day of school.”

Updated: August 19, 2023, 7:06 AM