Hillary Hippen with her children Cooper Waldspurger, 10, and Cambelle Waldspurger, 8.Hippen keeps her kids on track reading and learning during summer.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune


For more on the DEAR program (Drop Everything and Read) and lists of children's books, go to

Summer brain drain?

  • Article by: G.J. OLSON
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • May 19, 2012 - 8:28 PM

F or students everywhere, the summer brain drain is about to begin. And come fall, teachers will shake their heads over the four to six weeks of reviewing and re-teaching that needs to be done.

"It's so critically important that summers be seen as a time for innovation, for something new, for something different that can help drive the ways that we address the whole child," says Ron Fairchild, founder of the Smarter Learning Group and former executive director of the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The group works with a 50-state network of more than 5,000 summer learning program providers.

"We would all expect an athlete's or musician's performance to suffer if they took a long break from practice, and the same is true for our nation's young people, who lose an average of two-plus months in math computation."

At home learning

Hillary Hippen of Dellwood says she has noticed some brain drain in her own children when she compares their spring and fall test scores. She saves papers and activities from the school year to review over the summer. Her kids call it "Mommy School."

Her 8-year-old daughter, in second grade, loves it and is excited to have her mother as teacher. Her fourth-grade son, age 10, who would be content to play for the entire three months, would still "rather do the work with me than go to a summer school setting."

Her whole family takes part in DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). While she finds it can be difficult to get the kids to settle down and read amid all the other entertainment options, "once they start, they often continue past the time expected."

While Hippen focuses on some inside learning activities, her family does more active things outside the home, possibly because "by the time summer comes, we all feel like we need a break from the organized scheduled life we have been living for nine months."

Diane Moncrieff, of Golden Valley, agrees.

"I strongly believe that summer is a time for letting go of academic rigor and for letting the brain grow in other ways. Allowing the brain to rest and unconsciously absorb what has been learned is very important. I think children need time to use other parts of the brain as they spend summer days playing, exploring and discovering."

Because she's home during the summer, Moncrieff doesn't sign up her kids for a lot of organized activities. One will play soccer and the other will play baseball. They'll both take swimming lessons. She would consider a group or class if one of her children expressed a strong interest.

Fun but productive

Fairchild, of Smarter Learning Group, reminds families that they don't have to choose between "learning" and "fun" in the summer.

"Research and common sense suggest that students need balance -- opportunities to play, relax and learn throughout the year. I'm more conscious than ever about 'practicing what I preach' and making sure that our kids have a fun and productive summer," says Fairchild.

Last summer, his sons, ages 11 and 12, spent time each day reading their favorite books, using a math website, and practicing their band instruments. They also played basketball, baseball, Wii games and card games. The family vacationed at the beach and visited relatives in Mississippi. He hopes they struck the right balance between giving them a break from the routine and providing some opportunities that prepared them for school in the fall.

Whatever you decide is right for your child, if you keep things fun and stimulating, while balancing learning and play, you will not only prevent brain drain, but also that other summer phenomenon of "I'm bored; what's there to do?"

G.J. Olson is a retired teacher and freelance writer from Faribault, Minn.

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