Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Is summer brain drain real and where do we go from here? -- Summer Engagement Series, Part I

Is summer brain drain real and where do we go from here? -- Summer Engagement Series, Part I
Phew! It's June, and you and your family made it through the end of what turned out to be a very chaotic school year!

We've been hearing from many parents -- from those at the school where McKenzie teaches, from parents online, from my private tutoring students' parents, and from our friends who have school aged children -- that the last few months of the 2019-2020 school year were....


Not great.

While some students managed OK, many others did not. 
While some parents managed OK, many others did not.
While some teachers managed OK, many others did not.

Rather than re-hashing how the year ended for so many, we are going to address where to go from here -- at least when it comes to the summer months, before the 2020-2021 school year starts. 

Normally we'd be talking about how to keep skills sharp over the course of summer, suggesting activities, workbooks, and so on -- and we'll do some of that in later posts, but not necessarily the way we would have before the pandemic.

But, we also need to talk about "summer brain drain" for a moment -- what is it, is it actually real, and should it be a concern this particular summer?

First, if you haven't heard the term before, "summer brain drain" refers to a backwards slide in academic gains. In general, it appears that students -- on average -- lose one month's worth of academic achievement over the course of summer. Students of lower socioeconomic status may be more prone to these losses for a variety of reasons, though. There seem to be variations in what type of learned material is forgotten over the course of summer and by what student populations, but it is clear that, YES, this is a real phenomenon. 

But, how much does it matter? Should you do anything to stop it? Should this summer be different?

Frankly, after years and years of private tutoring, academic coaching, and teaching, I'm inclined to say, eh, don't worry about it too much...

ESPECIALLY this summer.

Most teachers spend at least a little bit of time at the start of every school year doing some review and assessment to make up for summer academic losses. And, several sources are indicating that the vast majority of students didn't learn much of anything these past few months -- it wasn't so much online school or distance education as it was survival schooling. For many teachers and administrators, the last few months were less about teaching and learning and much more about just getting through the school year by any means possible in order to meet state and local minimum legal requirements for the school year (without meeting certain requirements, schools risk losing funding, accreditation, and so on, even during a pandemic).

Teachers, school administrators, and others in education are well aware that the last few months were an utter mess and that your kids likely didn't get much out of the experience other than a whole lot of stress. I think that will be taken into consideration by most schools in the fall (we'll talk about this later in this series).

Unless your child was already dealing with significant delays academically, I don't think you need to have a well planned or particularly rigorous summer academic program. I'm not saying don't do anything at all academically this summer, just that it may not need to be workbooks and academically obvious work. 

This summer, in particular, I think all of us -- kids, teachers, and parents alike -- really need a break and time to decompress so that we can face the coming school year with clearer minds rather than going from one super stressful situation to more stress over summer and then straight into a new school year -- a new school year that most of us can't even grasp yet in terms of structure, procedures, and so on. 

I would like you to take a page from the homeschooling world instead of worrying about what workbooks you should be buying or what activities you should be signing your kids up for. 

In the homeschooling world there is a process called "de-schooling" which applies to kids who were in regular schools and then pulled out to homeschool. They almost all need an adjustment period to unlearn regular school routines, to shed normal school stresses and worries, and to get into a new routine and new normal. In general, it is recommended that your child have one full month off of official academic/school activities for every full year of public/private school they experienced. I started homeschooling my son in fourth grade, so that would mean four months without a robust academic program. 

Now, don't freak out! I'm not saying you should take months and months off and that you should do NOTHING.

Instead, take a moment to breath and just enjoy being a family without Zoom classes, homework packets and assignments, virtual group projects, parents facilitating online school, and so on. JUST STOP for a week or two or three. If you want to take most of the summer totally off from anything that even looks academic, do it. Most of us didn't get much of a break between schools closing and everything going online and none of us really had a transition period to go from regular school to online -- it was simply from one to the other without any buffer in between. Most of us don't do well with that, do we? Even as adults, we struggle with such abruptness, so just imagine how hard it was for your kids.

We've ALL been under pretty much constant stress since early March -- for some even earlier, for a few a bit later. It's OK to take a break.

There are definitely ways to engage your kids in learning all summer WITHOUT being all academic and workbooky about it. 

Right now, I want you to just go and give your kids a hug, tell them you love them, and tell them that you are proud of them for making it through a totally nutty, upside down last few months. And, when you hug them, don't let go first -- let your kids dictate how long the hug should last (read more about my hugging philosophy HERE).

Tomorrow, I'll be sharing ideas on how to keep your kids reading without making it an academic exercise.

You can read more about summer brain drain HERE.

Read our previous post in this series:
PREVIEW: Summer engagement -- how to keep your kids learning all summer

And, come back for these upcoming posts:
Part II: Keep those kids reading this summer (read it HERE)
Part III: Bolstering math skills over summer (read it HERE)
Part IV: Learning through play (read it HERE)

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