Learning changes the brain. Every time you learn something, there are nerve cells that are making connections and they can strengthen or weaken those connections, So when you're learning, you're strengthening those connections in the brain at a microscopic level. But if you're not using that information, over time those connections will weaken.
Those weakened connections are referred to as the “brain drain,” a concept that has been studied since the late 70s.
In the new school year, a lot of time is lost relearning what they forgot over their time off.
It's usually called “the vacation brain drain” because, during those long, hot months away from school, kids supposedly forget a lot of what they had learned in class.
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Fortunately, this brain drain can be substantially or completely reversed if children participate in meaningful learning over the course of their various vacations.
Meaningful learning doesn't necessarily mean your child needs to attend summer school or spend each day of the vacation hunched over a book. There are all sorts of fun and creative ways that you can use to keep your child's mind active. Many of these methods make learning fun so that your child won't even realize that he or she is learning!
Take Advantage of Teachable Moments
Keeping your children engaged in learning doesn't have to be forced, nor does it have to take up a lot of their time or yours. If you've got a trip to a baseball game planned, spend some time with your child calculating batting averages or slugging percentages to keep mathematics on their mind. Take a trip to the zoo and have your child read the animal descriptions aloud to you to keep their reading skills fresh. Encourage your kids to keep a journal of their summer activities so they can practice their reading and writing skills.
Also think about spending some time as a family reading a book or a story, or make a habit of doing the daily crossword together. Have your child calculate the tip when you go to dinner, or make a budget for grocery shopping. Any little bit helps, and each of these activities will do the trick for maintaining your child's current skill level in math and reading. What's more, demonstrating that the skills they learn in school have actual applicability to real life will make their learning that much more valuable and meaningful.
Use Technology to Facilitate Learning
Chances are your child has access to a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop, and putting those tools to good use is a logical step in fighting the vacation brain drain. A quick search of the app store reveals a host of great apps that incorporate fun and games with learning actual skills. Some excellent math websites and apps include:
• Quick Math Jr. – Geared towards beginning mathematicians, this app improves number recognition and counting through game-play.
• NRICH – This website keeps kids interested in math by presenting fun problems for them to solve. Games are available for kids of all ages.
• Numbers League – This fun iPad app places users in a superhero role that must use math to save the city. Kids can play alone or against one another. For ages five and up.
• Math Shack – This website offers activities that are aligned to the Common Core Math Standards. Kids can track their progress, and if they need help, an integrated help station will move things along. For middle and high school students.
• Brilliant – This Google app challenges advanced learners in math and physics with advanced problems. Problems include explanations and examples to increase understanding. Also available as a website.
If your child needs to brush up on their English language arts skills, there are an abundance of great websites and apps:
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• The Joy of Reading – Available on the iTunes store, this app promotes basic reading skills such as phonemic awareness and phonics. For ages 5 and under.
• Studycat – Available for Android and iOS devices, Studycat's apps get kids involved in reading through entertaining and engaging games. Perfect for children 3-10 years of age.
• Mindsnacks – This app tests kids' understanding of vocabulary and helps sharpen their reading and writing skills. For children in 2nd through 7th grade. Available for iOS devices.
• SAT Word Slam – Focusing on vocabulary skills, this app helps teens prepare for the language arts section of the SAT and ACT. Available on the iTunes store.
• YALSA – The Young Adult Library Services Association offers a list of the best books of the year for young adults. Most books are available in paperback and digital formats.
There are hundreds of math and language arts-related apps on the iTunes and Google Play stores, many of which are free to download. Browsing the selection with your child will allow you to find something that is of interest to them, and which also meets your criteria for being something with educational value.
An excellent website that provides learning opportunities for kids of all ages is Khan Academy. Their Common Core-aligned exercises are interactive and focus on real-world application of knowledge and skills. Lessons are personalized, and the site's software helps students identify where their gaps in learning and understanding exist. Complete curricula are available in math, science, economics, the arts, and the humanities. Various test prep courses are also available. The site is completely free as well.
Consider Employing a Home Tutor
Home tuition offers additional opportunity to build on the knowledge and skills your child already possesses, while also offering the chance to develop new knowledge and skills in a real-world setting. These learning opportunities nonetheless offer experiences in which children can keep their minds sharp.
For many parents, the term 'home tuition' likely has a negative connotation of being a form of tuition where struggling students receive learning instructions to earn back credit they've lost. However, many school systems have shed the notion of home tuition and have begun offering fun, interesting, and high-level activities at home for students.
By employing a home tutor, you get the opportunity to provide your child with one-on-one intensive training. Your son or daughter can learn more about the topics that interest them and catch up with their classmates in school. Home tuition can give your child a leg-up and helps them achieve what you know they can achieve using a curriculum that is tailored specifically for their needs.
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