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The Summer Brain Drain

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

A holiday presents a time for much-needed rest and relaxation. Children and young people all need this time after approximately nine months of lessons, projects, assignments, quizzes, tests and examinations. Once the holidays begin, all talk of learning is often seen as punishment for poor examination results. A few days, or weeks, before the commencement of the next academic session, however, there is often a mad rush to revive the cognitive engines that have been shut down over the extended summer holidays. Parents (and on rare occasion, the children) begin to dust the books that were purchased over the holiday to remind themselves of some knowledge and skills.

It is important to keep those cognitive engines running throughout the holiday in fun and creative ways. I suggest three areas of focus which are particularly critical.

1. Reading – Getting children to read high-interest material is important. Graphic novels, mini-biographies of famous people, articles on current affairs, novellas, novels, articles on business development and innovation, all make good reading material. Reading for pleasure should be a lifestyle, however, the advent of video games has threatened the development of this reading culture.

Intervention - Agree on strategies and monitor them, as much as possible. For example: the number of hours given to the video games should be the equivalent number of hours given to reading. Buy loads of reading books and assign timelines within which they should be completed. Discuss chapters with your children for a few minutes every day to ensure they are actually reading. For those who don’t have as much time, have the children summarise the chapters (not the whole book). It will be even more interesting to purchase reading books and audio versions (hitting both visual and auditory senses). Explore online bookstores for quick references.

2. Thinking – This is a skill which is unfortunately greatly diminished over the holidays. Children are taken from holiday camp to resort to shopping mall, without consultation. Children are told what is happening, when it will happen and how it will happen. Involving children in decision making promotes critical thinking and problem solving. Assign low-risk decisions to them and accept their decisions. Your redirection should be advisory.

Intervention – Teach the children to play Sudoku, Solitaire, Scrabble, Chess, Whot, Ludo, Eyo, Monopoly, Word searches, Cryptograms, Crosswords, Jigsaw puzzles and actually assign times when you play these games with them. These games all promote critical thinking, which enhances problem solving, innovation and creativity. 30 minutes spent on any of these on a daily basis will work wonders for cognitive development. They will also learn to persevere when they hit challenges, as they learn to develop more skills and begin to win the games. When they now have to take those low-risk decisions, they would have ‘gained’ practice hours.

3. Learning Support - Children who have learning difficulties, in particular, need to be reminded of the academic concepts they were taught, so that the learning can become embedded into continuous practice. The opportunity to revisit concepts learnt and to apply the knowledge and skills within low-pressure contexts will prove invaluable to their development. These learning times should be structured so that the children have independent and supervised learning times. They should include times to learn academic and non-academic skills (including swimming, football, basketball, playing an instrument, drawing, knitting, sewing, cooking, changing wheels, washing clothes/cars, etc).

Intervention: Schedule times to review school work each week so that extended breaks are avoided, and extensive pressure (in the last few weeks of the holiday) is minimised. Two to three blocks of learning weekly will be better than no structured time at all. Some students might benefit from one to two hours daily, instead. Consistency is very important; draw up a holiday time-table for the children and follow through on the different components. Schedule play times, down times (for R&R), and learning times.

While this list in not exhaustive, it is an attempt to provide some support for parents as they plan to avoid the brain drain that is often synonymous with the summer holidays. Try one or two of them out and you will certainly see the difference in the coming academic session.

Best wishes!

Dr. Joy Isa

President, ISED

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