Summer Brain Drain
Featured guest essay by Eileen the StoryTeller of KidTime StoryTime
Author, Reading Specialist, YouTuber, Mother of Puppets
Just when you thought it was safe to dress your kids in goggles, unmatched socks, and run amok (you and/or them), important educational bigwigs ruin vacation with talk of the dreaded SUMMER BRAIN DRAIN.
Cue the hysteria and crying. No? Was that just me?
FACT: Kids will lose 2 months worth of reading and math skills over summer break.
FACT: It’s not fair!
Thank you anyway, Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Before we resign ourselves to playing the role of summer school teacher instead of “fun parent”, allow me to lay out my easy-peasy plan that fights summer brain drain…simply by having your kids read for fun over the summer.
“For fun” is the key phrase in that sentence. This advice applies to kids of all ages.
READING FOR FUN
I’ve spent years honing reading approaches that work powerfully, and I’m here to proclaim: Don’t worry about what they read, as much as the actual act of reading.
Think about the best book you’ve ever read. Remember that feeling of surrender into a world created on paper. The anticipation. The journey. The FEELINGS.
In essence, the very best reading we can ever do — the kind that keeps us coming back for more — is akin to falling in love.
You fall in love with books, with the characters in them, you invest your heart and soul into the plot and its outcome. You laugh with it. You full-on snot-cry on airplanes with it. (I’ve seen you.) You learn or affirm something essential along the way.
But you never pick up the book if there isn’t a little love already there…the knowing - or just the suspecting - that something wonderful may be waiting for you in its pages. Something worth your time.
So don’t worry about WHAT the kid reads. Let them read for love. Let them fall in love.
That means they pick the books, or the read-along book videos they want to watch. But they get to decide.
Reading begets more reading. It becomes a habit and a hunger. It strengthens vocabulary, reading comprehension, and does all sorts of deep important developmental stuff like fostering empathy, kindness and social skills.
But you’re still worried. I can tell. I’m a professional worrier myself.
You’re thinking: What about my child’s math skills melting like an ice cream cone on the 4th of July?
Maybe you slip a few MathStart titles into the book pile (Stuart J. Murphy’s MathStart books and the works of Dianne Ochiltree are among my favorites). In these books, the math is subtle and woven unobtrusively into kid-friendly plots. Curate wisely to appeal to your kid’s taste.
Because again: Reading. Should. Be. Fun.
Proof? Teachers are teeming with clever ways to inspire kids to learn. And across the country, teachers write to tell me they use my read aloud channel. But NOT in reading class. Not during spelling. At snack time. Yup, pass the juice box and press play. These kids identify book-reading with fun. It’s what they do on their “off” time. And these same kids are going home and watching our reading videos…by choice. It’s like a dream sequence come true!
Ohhh. I can tell by your upturned brow and tired sigh that you’ve got A Book Resistor. You need to take the reins of the reading ritual?
Okay, boo. I got you.
BE A SHAMELESS HAM
What I’ve learned in the years spent reading to children on KidTime StoryTime is that HOW you read matters. So here’s my should-be-patented Advice: If you’re going to read aloud to your little resistor, LIVE the book. Tackle it like Tom Cruise tackles his own stunts. All the way. Bring it to life! Do voices! Make up funny accents. Indulge your inner improv comedian, no matter the consequences (and potential heckling).
[Important side note: While results will vary & this read aloud technique works brilliantly with younger children, I’ve seen it work with older kids, too.]
Give voice to the characters the wildest way you can muster. Perhaps along the way, little-mister-reading-resistant will feel inspired to lend his voice to the proceedings. Boom. The kid is invested.
Stop and describe the illustrations if you’re so inclined. Voice your opinions of the plot. What you’re doing is inciting critical and creative thinking.
The words on the page are not gospel. Books can be read exactly as they were written. Or not. There are no rules. Except for that rule that says there are no rules. That’s a good rule.
By getting descriptive and even opinionated during the reading process, children begin to see active thinking and creative interpretation as part of the reading process. Books aren’t something to be passively ingested, but something to dissect, discuss, debate!
OUTSMARTING THE READING RESISTANCE
“But wait!” you cry in parental last-straw despair, “I convinced my kid to read a book…and they hated it.”
As they say in Hollywood: Tough Crowd.
Ask the kid how she would rewrite the ending. Would they add another character? Or a plot twist! Discuss how you would write a sequel. Or an altogether better book!
And just like that — in 18 1/2 easy steps (I really wasn’t counting) — storybooks are alive. The kid is involved. He’s reading. She’s opining. You are Talking…About…Books! They’re developing critical thinking, interpretive and creative skills…. never realizing they’ve been activating their summer brains and vanquishing “the drain”.
And frankly, if you — the alleged grownup in this situation — are gonna get involved in this reading business, it’s gotta be fun for you. Because we’ve got entirely different brain issues, and brain stimulation by storybook is good for that, too.
But that’s another article….
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