Column: Summertime fun worth a little brain drain

Photo credit to Jakal Photography

Jennifer Cox is a communications graduate from the University of Windsor who is now a computer trainer for the Avon Maitland District School Board. She lives in Clinton with her husband and two children. She writes when she can find the time.


Have you heard of “summer brain drain?” Even though I had heard of the term I thought I should Google it to get the expert definition. Basically, summer brain drain means that during the break kids lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained in the past school year. The experts say in the summer parents should spend time with children reinforcing strengths with extra projects as well as working on weak areas in order to improve before the next school year begins. One article I read actually stated that we all need to rethink how we see the summer break and that it needs to be more than having fun lazing around pools and beaches. Pardon?

I will bet you my summer vacation these experts are not actually parents. I think my husband and I have worked hard enough all year helping with homework and projects and reports and math concepts. I would argue that our children’s brains deserve a little drain.

I don’t believe that the knowledge lost in the summer drain is gone forever.  Even if a small amount of drain occurs, it is replaced by other beneficial experiences.

In my current position with the school board I am not employed in the summer. I can almost taste that first day of not having to go to work. That sunny, birds-chirping, bees-buzzing morning when I don’t have to rush around barking orders at my kids like a drill sergeant…”Did you take your vitamins? Do you have your bag packed for school? Did you brush your teeth? Put the iPod down and get your shoes on!” I know that my kids are also looking forward to that same day when they won’t have to listen to me freak out about being late or forgetting something. In many ways I am grateful to have a job that doesn’t exist during July and most of August. I get to spend the long, lazy, hot days of summer with my children doing whatever we want.  We all need that break by the time it gets here: a break from running to hockey and dance and soccer and piano and of course school.

It appears though that I may have to step it up a notch or two and get some intellectually stimulating activities planned so my kids don’t lose their smarts over the summer. I wonder if these supposed experts have heard of that other phenomenon where kids feel so much pressure to perform and do well that they have anxiety and stress? Don’t they deserve a little time away from it all?  What could be so harmful about tuning out for a while? We are so caught up in high performance in everything we do that we forget to nurture that part of our brain that allows us to truly relax. Then we wonder why we always feel so stressed and busy. What a great skill for a child to learn – how to be content with just being. Without getting all new-age-y, I think it’s this time “off” that helps us in many ways we don’t even realize.

It is only during the glorious relaxing days of summer that my kids and I have time to reconnect, regroup, regenerate, and leave behind the stressful, busy days of the school year. I really don’t see anything wrong with some doing-nothing-except-taking-it-easy days for a while in the summer. When I think of how much we pack into a school year, it amazes me that we all make it through. And I think our family schedule is probably a lot less booked than some.

We get so caught up in all this doing stuff that we forget to just be – be a family that is close and connected. It takes time and effort to maintain this significant part of a child’s life. When summer rolls around I am so relieved to have the time to just enjoy a slower pace.

I don’t really feel like organizing lessons and maintaining a routine all summer and I’m pretty sure my kids don’t feel like it either. I say bring on the brain drain! For a little while, let the brain rest. It will make room for greater things to come.

I will be enforcing things like piano practice and screen free days  -which will be as hard for me as it would for the kids! I think if the experts spent a regular summer day with me and the kids they might be surprised to see how much kids can learn on their own just being kids, when they least suspect that they are learning. I will have more time to bake and cook with them. They will have time to get out the art supplies or the Lego and create. They can help more with household chores. You can’t tell me they won’t get some learning out of these activities. I have a few plans in mind for activities this summer – have to be prepared for the odd rainy day after all – but I don’t intend to drag out flash cards or work books.

At the beginning of summer, it feels like we have so much time and by the time the end of August rolls around I wonder where all that time went. But I know that I am lucky to be able to spend that time with my kids. Whatever we get up to, even if it’s nothing but some brain drain, I want to make sure that we enjoy the moments and savour every second.

I am confident they will learn many things this summer despite not being “taught” and I know that after several weeks of no routine and no expectations my children start looking forward to getting back to school. I don’t think they would feel that way without letting their brains get a little drained first.

Written by on June 11, 2012 in Jennifer Cox - No comments

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