'Summer Brain Drain': How To Combat Seasonal Learning Loss

Preventing summer brain drain is a top priority for parents and educators. With teens roaming parks and pools instead of high school halls, they're sacrificing the strides they've made over the school year, experts say.

The learning loss is most significant in math and science, where students forget nearly three months of instruction over the summer break, studies suggest.

In low-income communities, the loss is even greater. Students backtrack in reading and spelling skills, widening the achievement gap between disadvantaged teens and their middle-class peers, according to the National Summer Learning Association, the nonprofit behind National Summer Learning Day on June 21.

[Get three tips for engaging your teen this summer.]

To combat potential learning loss, schools should expand their summer school programs and students should dedicate a chunk of their summer vacation to hitting the books, the association says.

But what about letting summer break be just that -- a break?

Summer should be a chance for students to recharge and families to reconnect, some parents and educators say.

"They've been doing this all year and they just need time to recharge their batteries and to refresh and relax," says Daniel Rothner, a former teacher and father of four who is now the founder and director of Areyvut, a nonprofit that helps Jewish youth develop social learning projects.

The learning will happen organically while students are out enjoying their summer, Rothner says.

"Experiential learning is really where it's at," he notes. "You can learn something in math or science or geography, but it's very different from actually living it. Whether it's doing math at a baseball game ... or at the park."

[Learn how to make learning part of your summer activities.]

To make the most of summer activities such as family barbecues or trips to the zoo, parents need to take advantage of teachable moments, Rothner says. They should also seize the opportunity to build a relationship with their teen to better understand their interests, strengths, and weaknesses, he adds.

Embracing the break in summer break is also an opportunity to teach teens the importance of a work-life balance, says Tiffany Della Vedova, the academic dean at Grandview Preparatory School in Florida.

"It's so culturally ingrained in American society to keep pushing forward and working harder and working faster and longer, that we lose the efficiency that we're striving for," she says. "Kids need a break over the summer. If we don't teach them that you need to do that in life … then they'll be conditioned not to."

Giving students the summer to pursue their own interests and agenda, even if that agenda is sleeping in all summer, could help teens stay on track when they return to school in the fall, she says.

"If they were given their time to be themselves … they might not feel so inclined to have to steal back that time over the school year when we really want them to focus and be productive."