How Real is Summer Brain Drain?

June 18, 2015 — Leave a comment

After May’s frantic preparations for tests and exams, June and July seem a constant wave of sports days, residential trips, projects, activity days and school performances. Maths can seem to go by the wayside – and then it’s August. Children can quickly forget what they’ve learnt, and also get out of the habit of using the left (logical) side of the brain.

‘Brain Drain’ is very real but it affects some students more than others. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s very excellent book ‘Outliers’ you’ll already have an inkling as to why. Gladwell described studies into why wealthier children outperform those from poorer backgrounds during their early years of schooling. The studies found that all children, regardless of background, made similar improvement during term time. It was during the long summer break that differences occurred: children from wealthier backgrounds had better access to the kinds of activities that keep their brains active, be that summer camps, physical activity programs, formal tutoring or simply more conversation with adults. In short, summer brain drain affects all children, but is much more apparent amongst children from less-wealthy families. In these New York based studies, this was shown to be the most significant factor in the discrepancies in academic performance between children of differing backgrounds.

You’ll have to read the book.

How do I stop brain drain? Here are a few tips to offer parents:

  1. Reading: lots of local libraries run a ‘6-book challenge’ over the summer holidays.
  2. Puzzle books: rather than videos on long flights or in the car, try mini-sudoku, hangman, word-search or brain-training books (or apps).
  3. Physical exercise: this has a beneficial effect on the brain, and can also involve plenty of maths – timing laps on a bicycle, scoring in cricket or tennis. Making up new games can help develop children’s creativity.
  4. Encourage play with construction toys such as Lego and Meccano on those (not-so) occasional wet days.
  5. Keep a diary and write postcards.
  6. Do something formal but fun as part of your routine – this is what DoodleMaths was made for!
  7. For more ideas on how to build maths into the summer hols, visit our this previous post written by our guest blogger Katya last summer.

As a teacher, it often feels like September is all about getting children back up to where they were in May last year. A new year is a fresh start and those children who make a flying start to the Autumn term are often those who carry that confidence through the whole year, perhaps moving up a maths group or performing better than expected in early assessments.

As a parent, I know I want my kids to have a break from formal learning this summer, because learning through play is equally important to their development. But where I can introduce the opportunity to keep their brains active, I will, by recognising that some types of play are better at staving off the dreaded brain drain than others.

Want to read more? We also really like this article from mathsinsider.com about beating the summer maths slump.

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