5 Ways to Avoid Summer “Brain Drain”

summer brain drain

Summer “Brain Drain” refers to a student’s loss of skills, content, and sometimes even critical thinking abilities due to lack of use over the summer.

The key is really lack of use.  Yes, there are books, workbooks, and online programs to help keep those minds active, and sometimes structure and clear tasks are what a student responds to best. But there are 5 ways you can avoid Summer Brain Drain that do not require many (if any) specific or special resources.  

1. Read (More)

Reading increases your vocabulary and grammar skills, practices comprehension, and encourages empathy. Some people love to read and the summer is a great time for them to read more or read more of what they like to read. Other people need a bit more encouragement. Wherever you are, the best thing you can do is balance your reading diet.

Wherever you are, the best thing you can do is balance your reading diet. Be sure to include some material that you enjoy and also include some reading material that is outside what you normally read.

Be sure to include some material that you enjoy and also include some reading material that is outside what you normally read. Try reading magazine or newspaper articles, poems, short stories (essentially shorter material) when it comes to reading outside your comfort zone. You are more likely to stick with a balanced diet if you only have to eat a little kale!

Summer 2020 Reading List

Ensure Reading Comprehension, Too

Reading a balanced diet of material is important, but so is ensuring comprehension. A great way to do this is by talking about what you read or asking yourself questions along the way: Why did the author write this? What does this mean so far? Is the author presenting a personal opinion or the opinions of others? Is the author writing exactly what is meant or is there a deeper meaning behind the words? Exactly how much of this am I supposed to remember when I am finished reading? 

Sometimes we are not exactly sure what the answers to these questions are – or if our answers are correct.  This is why you must talk about what you read.  When you tell people about what you have read, you will discover how well you understood the reading.  

When you tell people about what you have read, you will discover how well you understood the reading.  

Think about what ideas, values, and preconceived notions are present before you read and how to recognize when these notions cloud your ability to see the author’s perspective. It is not about agreeing or disagreeing, it is about understanding, reflecting, and hopefully reconsidering limited perspectives and expanding your view of the world.  We could all stand to be better versed in the writing styles and stories of those outside our usual reading list. 

Your SAT or ACT Recommended Reading List

Reading without the structure of class, quizzes, or discussion questions at the end puts the burden on you to ensure understanding, to pay attention to details, and to keep track of the bigger picture or purpose of the writing.  Repeated practice transforms how you read. Soon, even when you are reading for pleasure, you will also be critically reading

2. Do Some Math

Just like you are reading to stay fluent in vocabulary and rhetorical skills, you need to practice a variety of maths to keep your skills sharp and your content knowledge fresh.  

Without a specific book, workbook, or online program you might think it is tricky to find math practice, but there is so much out there! A quick search will turn up many free worksheets online with answer keys for different topics or entire subjects. You can also turn to IXLs or Khan Academy for rote practice. If you are looking for something a bit more instructive, check out Olive Book’s YouTube videos for interesting math questions and engaging animated videos that also cover the foundational concepts needed to answer higher-level math questions.   

Math Formulas to Know for the ACT

The key is regular math practice: don’t take too many days off and don’t try to do too much in one day. Get a friend to practice along with you so that you can hold each other accountable for doing a certain amount of work each week. 

The key is regular math practice: don’t take too many days off and don’t try to do too much in one day. Get a friend to practice along with you so that you can hold each other accountable for doing a certain amount of work each week. 

Two Benefits of Summer Math Practice

There are two main benefits to practicing math regularly over the summer. The first benefit is pretty obvious: come fall your teachers will expect you to remember what you learned last year.  Repeated use of this knowledge is the best way to retain your understanding.  

The second benefit is far greater. Think about your math knowledge like a train. With each year or math class you take, you learn new concepts which are linked to the former concepts, like train cars are connected to one another. Math content may not always seem linked, but is often mixed, used, reused, and reimagined. Thus, the content in each of your train cars shares content with the cars attached before and after it. 

Think about your math knowledge like a train. With each year or math class you take, you learn new concepts which are linked to the former concepts, like train cars are connected to one another.

Because most schools order their math classes as Algebra 1, then Geometry, then Algebra 2, it can feel like these are independent classes. But in fact, these classes are made of a select few concepts that are applied in different ways, while also adding a few new concepts each year that need to be retained.

In other words, one must not just remember but also understand all of Algebra 1 in order to be successful in Algebra 2, and then you must understand all of Algebra 2 to be successful in Pre-Calculus and or Trigonometry, and so on. If you “flush” your math knowledge at the end of the year, then it is not just a loss of one or two of your math train cars, but rather like losing all the cars that were attached to that car.   

3. Follow Your Interests

You know that thing you were interested in or really wanted to try but didn’t have time during the school year? Well, the time is now! Summer is the ideal time to pursue interests that may get pushed to the back-burner during the school year. The key is to pursue your interests thoughtfully. How can you pursue your interest in, for example, history, computers, graphic design, or social media in a constructive way that builds your knowledge and skill in that area?

Here are some examples to help you brainstorm how to pursue your interests thoughtfully:

  • Research digital marketing strategies and plan a social media campaign. Track what seems to engage people and what may be a flop. 
  • Deep dive into a historical figure or event that interested you during the school year. See what you can find out about the subject beyond the internet by continuing your research at the library.
  • If you’re interested in website design or computer programming, try learning a new coding language and discover what you can create with your new skill. 

Summer is the ideal time to pursue interests that may get pushed to the back-burner during the school year. The key is to pursue your interests thoughtfully.

If you want to avoid summer brain drain, the key when pursuing your interests is to engage them thoughtfully. Think, “how can I learn something new through my interest in ____ ?” 

4. Write, Then Write Some More

You can write anything: letters, emails, text, journal entries, poems for the fridge! Writing is a great way to practice grammar skills, learn and use new vocabulary, and practice developing an idea within a logical structure. 

Writing is a great way to practice grammar skills, learn and use new vocabulary, and practice developing an idea within a logical structure. 

Try writing in different styles to flex your writing muscles.  If you have trouble with figurative language or emotional expression, then try writing short poems for the refrigerator or bathroom mirror.  Journal entries are perfect for practicing writing personal stories, like the kind you will need when it comes to writing your Common App essay.  Letters are great because you are carrying on a conversation and must reply to what the other person said as well as share your own thoughts and ideas.  

How to Use Commas and Semicolons

When I was a kid, my sister and I had to write persuasive essays about what we wanted to do over the summer. My parents said that if the essay was persuasive enough then we just might get what we asked for. Over the years, my sister got a pet bunny, a new bike, and a VCR, which you’ll just have to trust me was a very big deal. On the other hand, I wrote about Hawaii every year and have still never been. The moral of the story, however, is that persuasive writing can get you what you want, but lowered expectations will increase your chance of success! 

How to Write the SAT Essay

So write about your interests, the books and articles you read, and the math topics you are practicing. Or at the very least write about why you are annoyed that someone has asked you to practice math topics!  If you are feeling like you need more of a back-and-forth, then you could post (considerate) open-ended topics or questions on social media and start a (respectful) conversation.  The key is to keep practicing expressing yourself through writing. 

5. Stay Active; a Healthy Body is a Healthy Mind

I know we are talking about academic brain drain but your mind is connected to your body. You need to stay in good physical health in order to stay in good mental health. Without good mental health, you may not have the wherewithal to engage in academic work over the summer. So get up and get moving every day! 

You need to stay in good physical health in order to stay in good mental health.

Avoid Summer Brain Drain, but Take a Break from Your Usual Routine

Whatever work you decide to do over the summer, you want to avoid feeling like you are still in school. Even if you love school and miss it over the summer, we all need a break from certain aspects of school. So think about it: what aspects of school do you need a break from? 

You want to find a balance of doing some of what you love and some of what you need to work on.

Some of us like the release from time constraints and structure over the summer, but maybe this means that you will need some kind of schedule to follow or the days will slip away. Some of us like the task-oriented nature of school, which is good for keeping up with practice, but maybe means that you need to broaden your idea of academic work. Maybe you need to do more reading and thinking or writing on your own, tasks that are less directed.  

You want to find a balance of doing some of what you love and some of what you need to work on. Finding enjoyment in your work is a great motivator to keep working all summer long.

Further Reading:

Summer 2020 Reading List
Math Formulas to Know for the ACT
How to Use Commas and Semicolons

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