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Guest Commentary | Turn summer ‘brain drain’ into brain gain

By MELANIE STEFANOWICZ - CEO for Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida | Jun 28, 2024

Melanie Stefanowicz, Ed.D.

When the school year winds down, students and teachers across Southwest Florida become anxious for a well-deserved break.

Although it’s important for students to step away from the daily grind, research continues to demonstrate the impact of summer learning loss — also called brain drain — for students who essentially stop learning cold turkey until school resumes in August. Studies note that students can lose 20% or more of the learning gains from the previous school year if they’re not keeping their minds active over summer vacation.

Brain drain is not just a concern for students in elementary, middle and high school. Learning losses can occur for toddlers and pre-kindergartners whose minds are not challenged daily. Learning is like rolling a snowball… you need momentum to keep building an academic foundation. That’s especially important for young learners as they approach kindergarten because hitting the ground running is the best way to prepare for the next level.

Possibly the most important task parents can complete is enrolling their child in licensed program this summer. Dozens of local, high-quality child care centers offer Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) program, which is free for all 4- and 5-year-olds.

VPK is not daycare. Classrooms have qualified teachers at the helm and maintain high literacy standards, developmentally appropriate curricula and manageable class sizes. Younger children and toddlers should partake in some type of school readiness program to begin laying an academic, emotional, social and behavioral foundation that will carry them through school and beyond.

For parents whose children are 5 years old or younger, focusing on these five core subjects can prevent summer learning loss:

Reading: Public libraries across Lee, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties have expansive children’s sections with books across genres.

Parents can read to their younger children at bedtime, but 4- and 5-year-olds can flip the tables and read to their parents, a stuffed animal or a pet.

Math: Big box stores and online retailers carry a range of age-appropriate math workbooks. Even two or three pages daily will continue sharpening their math skills.

There are other ways to practice math, too.

Children can count the number of steps to various spots around the house or split fruits and vegetables into halves or thirds. Ask them to help you with chores and count the number of weeds they pull or dishes they dry.

Social studies: Families don’t have to vacation in Rome or Munich to learn about other cultures and societies. Randomly pick a city or country on a map, then ask your child to find five facts about that place. YouTube is filled with kid-friendly informational videos about people and places around the world.

Food is a great introduction to culture, so hosting an Italian- or German-themed dinner can extend learning to mealtime.

Science: Take a weekly field trip to one of our region’s parks, which are full of trees, animals and other natural features. Hand children your cell phone and allow them to take pictures of things they see, then create a photo album of wildlife and have them label the images.

Writing: Poor penmanship is common as children learn to write, and many believe handwriting is getting worse as children write less and type more. Simply copying the page of a book onto a sheet of paper can help train their hands and develop hand-eye coordination.

Much like teachers create lesson plans for students, parents can create summer learning plans for their children. Mapping out a plan can turn the dreaded brain drain into a summer brain gain.

Melanie Stefanowicz is the CEO for Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida, which provides access to high-quality early education services for children in Lee, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties. Learn more about summer Voluntary Prekindergarten and School Readiness programs at ELCofSWFL.org.