Conquer Summer Brain Drain: Let Go of the Guilt!

Summer vacation is coming—for some of us it’s already here—and that means it’s time to tackle Summer Brain Drain again. How do we keep our kids’ brains active for the three months that they’re out of school? How can we make the gap between school years an advantage, and not just dead space?

summer vacation tips

Today’s image was designed by my then nine year-old son, Mark, who was conquering Summer Brain Drain with KidPix®.

Most parents want to do something for their kids’ educations during the summer months. The trouble is that while our children’s schedules are suddenly wide open, parents don’t necessarily have any extra time. On top of that, kids’ summer schedules are so unstructured. It’s hard to establish a routine.

The good news is that there are simple ways to make summer a brain-friendly season. It takes some thought and effort, but not as much as you might expect. The key is to encourage your child’s summer activities, not manage them.

Targeting the Summer: Remedial or Engagement

First, decide whether your purpose over the summer is remedial or to foster engagement. That is, does your child have catching up to do before the next school year starts? Or, do you just need to make sure that they stay stimulated?

This will determine how you should guide the summer. Even if your child needs some catch-up, there should still be time to let them stimulate their brains in other ways.

Tips for Catching Up

If your child needs to catch up, then I strongly recommend hiring a tutor. Most parents have trouble helping their kids with homework and schoolwork—it’s normal. You’re emotionally invested in seeing your child succeed that parent-child study sessions can become very stressful.

I hire a tutor for my own kids. Yes, that’s right! I may be a professional educator, but I have the same stressors with my kids that you do. Having an outside tutor eliminates this stress. Making the commitment with our tutor also forces us to maintain a schedule. I know I would most certainly get off track without this arrangement.

If you need to find a tutor without spending a lot of money, contact your local high school’s National Honor Society moderator. They can refer you to bright high school students who would be very eager to do some summer tutoring.

Don’t overdo it! Tutors can accomplish a lot in 1-1 sessions, so limit blocks of time to one hour or less. Two-three sessions a week will do wonders to help students catch up.

Let Them Get Engaged!

Parents often assume they should manage their children’s summer time. Then, feel guilty because the involvement is too much to keep up. Instead, just be comfortable taking a back seat. You may set up some activities. But mostly, run with the projects your kids want to take on.

Encouraging this engagement and interest doesn’t have to be a terribly involved process. If you are aware of the goal, you can let activities evolve naturally out of things that excite your children. If they show interest in something, help them learn about it. Let them get their hands dirty and keep themselves occupied!

A great example comes from when I was about 8 years-old. Anne Marie, our much older cousin, was our summer nanny watching me, my two brothers, and her two kids. One afternoon, the five of us complained that we were bored. She wouldn’t tolerate it!

“I don’t care what it is, but I’m going to come back in 10 minutes and you’d better have a plan!” she warned sternly. By the time she returned, we had organized a “Care Bears Club” that somehow entertained us for the rest of the summer.


Summer is not the time to make a child spend hours doing workbooks (unless they enjoy doing so). Instead, focus on reading and hands-on explorations.

Local libraries offer summer reading programs to give students structure and incentive to get a lot of reading done. Use the time to help your child find what they like to read. I always tell my kids and students, “if you don’t like reading, you haven’t found the right book.” Remember that magazines and nonfiction—and even comic books—count as reading!

Encourage your kids to make connections as they read. Connecting what they read to things they already know or other things they’ve read or seen. I’ve talked about the value of connections before. Making connections is a great workout for the brain!

One resource that you should not overlook, especially for struggling readers, is audiobooks. Audiobooks are available through digital download or from your local library. You would likely be amazed by the progress a reader can make just by listening to a book and reading along! Let younger children do this repeatedly. Let adolescents listen as they read popular novels. Many valuable reading skills are developed with the auditory support.

’Rithmetic: The Dreaded Third R

If you need to study math over the summer, I still recommend avoiding worksheets. If “math facts” are on your list for summer, try the tools at I endorse these resources for an essential reason; they make “memorization” much easier (and even possible, for some struggling learners) by attaching stories to the symbols of numbers. Take a look! These are far better than flash cards! (BTW: this suggestion is an update from the time the podcast was recorded.)

Keep things as real as possible. You might take your child on a shopping trip and ask them questions about the prices as you go. A few summers ago, my husband put all of his pocket change on the counter each night, encouraging our then six year-old son to count it. Every dollar he counted, he got to keep. Let me tell you, our son became very motivated to learn how to count money!

Time To Flourish

School may be out for summer, but learning can flourish now, more than ever! Summer is the perfect time for students to learn about what they find interesting, and stretch their brains in ways that they don’t get to do in school.

Teachers: feel free to forward this email to your students’ families!

Want a done-for-you solution to ‘summer brain drain’ that will help your student in all subject areas at the same time? Consider making our SOAR App one of your child’s summer activities. You can learn more, here.


Susan Kruger Winter

EB 050817

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