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10 Ways to Prevent Summer Brain Drain During Kids' Summer Vacation

These no-tech and high-tech activities combine to keep children learning and active

Leaf identification

When elementary schools close for summer break, research has shown that children forget a significant amount of material they learned during the school year.  Many teachers say they spend the first month after school resumes in Fall re-teaching material from the previous grade. Research shows children lose one month overall of learning during the summer.  

To prevent that summer learning loss, education professors at National Louis University compiled 10 projects that sneak reading, science and math learning into fun activities that incorporate no tech and high tech. These are aimed at children in grades 1-8.

Project: Cooking Fun that Teaches Math, Reading

HIGH TECH: Have kids find a recipe online, such as for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, tuna salad or chocolate chip cookies.  Several cooking apps for kids, like the WeCookit app available through iTunes, make recipe finding easy.

NO TECH: Let kids check the cupboard for ingredients you may already have on hand.  

HIGH TECH: Use the Dora’s Cooking Club game or Doubling and Halving to double, triple or halve the recipe.

NO TECH: Assemble the ingredients, bake if required, eat and enjoy! Remind kids to notice the sight, smell and taste of the food.

HIGH TECH: Take pictures of the finished dish and post them in a photo journal, such as

LEARNING BOOST: To teach kids to follow a step by step approach, parents can make an activity card with directions for creating tuna salad. It would start with opening a can of tuna, adding the measured amount of mayo or mashed avocado with lemon, then adding precut onions and pickles and stirring. Kids could place this on the bed of lettuce ready for the lunch table.  

Project: Nature Hunt for Sneaky Math, Science Learning

NO TECH: In a park, forest preserve or nature area, challenge kids to find a certain number of leaves, rocks or flowers, or all three.

HIGH TECH: Use the Leafsnap app to identify the types of leaves you find. Remember to bring along a sheet of white paper, because you have to photograph the leaves against it!

HIGH TECH: The app “Audubon Birds: A Field Guide to North American Birds” can spark your child’s interest in feathered friends.

EXTRA CREDIT: Fraxinus is a puzzle game played on Facebook, for ages 13+, with ties to real-world conservation efforts to save the European ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) from dieback, a deadly disease. Kids learn the basics of genetics as they sort actual strands of DNA in collaboration with scientists at leading institutions including the Genome Analysis Centre.

Project: Create Your Own History

NO TECH: Ask a grandparent, neighbor or person in your community what your neighborhood was like 40 or 50 years ago.  When did their family arrive, and why did they come? Ask them for photos.

HIGH TECH: Use to pin the photos to specific places. This helps kids feel they are part of history.

NO TECH: Go through family photo albums or documents, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, to learn about your ancestors.

HIGH TECH: Use or to build your family tree. While these sites require a subscription, your local public library may allow you to use them for free.

EXTRA CREDIT: Visit a local historical society or museum to see what your town looked like in the “old days.” Find out how they celebrated Fourth of July, or went swimming, had picnics, or other summer activities.

Project: Write a Play or Make a Movie

NO TECH:  Write a script, cast your actors, find a location to perform and make costumes. If it’s a movie, find a camera and videographer.

HIGH TECH: Use the Book Creator app by, which lends itself to creating an entire book or collection of family plays.

HIGH TECH: For a movie, use iPhoto or other editing software to edit your video and add titles.

NO TECH: Perform your play or skit for your friends and relatives.


Project: Travel, Real or Pretend

NO TECH: Use a paper map to look at where you want to go, and which roads you would take to get there. Are we there yet?

HIGH TECH: Use a GPS app to plot out your route.

HIGH TECH: Use Google Earth to find your house, then zoom out to see it in the context of the entire world.  Look for the bird’s eye view of grandparents’ homes or the homes of friends. Swipe your way to those locations or visit China or Timbuktu for a bird’s eye view of that part of the world.

Project: Sing and Play Music

NO TECH:  Just sing out loud! Make up your own songs if you like, with funny lyrics. Sing in the car, too.

HIGH TECH: Download the Smule Sing! Karaoke app to sing hit songs with sound effects, or layer your voice onto a duet with a celebrity singer.

NO TECH: Play your guitar, piano, horn or drums. Or make your own instruments.

HIGH TECH: Watch videos that show how to play these instruments.

HIGH TECH: If you don’t have musical instruments, use the Magic Piano or Guitar! apps to create music.

NO TECH: Go to a free concert at your local park district or community center.  In Chicago, for example, here is a listing of free concerts at Millennium Park.

Project: Live at the Library

HIGH TECH: Want to make things in the Maker Lab, or record your band, or make a video? In the past two years, most public libraries have installed tech labs for teens.

NO TECH: Participate in summer reading programs, and get prizes! Plus, it’s fun and it keeps you out of the summer heat. In Chicago, for example:

Project: Draw, Paint, Make Art

NO TECH: Go outside, or stay inside but lay a tarp or plastic tablecloth on the floor. Uncap the finger paints and lay out big sheets of paper. Get messy!

HIGH TECH: Use any of these creative apps, from ages 3 to 10-plus, to have fun with drawing and art:

NO TECH: Most park districts offer art classes, as do independent art centers. To find good classes, ask around at art supply shops, frame shops or art museums, or try artist associations at or

HIGH TECH: Store children’s artwork with apps such as Artkive, Keepy or Canvasly.

Project: We're So Bored, Mom

NO TECH: For younger children, make up a story to tell them. Be sure they are the heroes of the story! For older kids, play 20 Questions.

HIGH TECH: Kids can play Tamagotchi L.i.f.e., Robot Unicorn Attack 2 and other games we hear are addictive.

NO TECH: Give the kids a book or a Rubik’s Cube-type puzzle toy.

HIGH TECH: This list of apps for bored toddlers has suggestions for younger kids.

LOW TECH: Get audio CDs of stories or songs and play them in the car.

NO TECH: Brain Quest cards, available in book and toy stores, are geared to various age groups, and kids feel like they’re contestants on a game show.

HIGH TECH: asks and answers questions like “Why can’t you touch a rainbow?” that evoke curiosity.

NO TECH: Get a roll of aluminum foil. Tear off sheets, and let them make animals or sculptures out of it.

Project: Run, Play, Get Fit

NO TECH: Enroll your child in a soccer league, basketball class or tennis or swim lessons. Buy a summer pool pass.

HIGH TECH: UNICEF noticed that while American kids are prone to obesity, kids in many developing nations are undernourished. Its clever solution: offering the Kid Power Band, a $39.99 device that looks like a cool wristwatch and comes in different colors. By doing physical activities, kids can unlock therapeutic food packets for kids in developing countries.

NO TECH: Go for a family bike ride.

HIGH TECH: If your child is beginning a sport or needs improvement, scour for videos on fundamentals.


More information
Seema Imam, Ed.D., Sophie Degener, Ed.D. and Virginia Jagla, Ph.D., professors in the National College of Education at National Louis University, are available to discuss these activities with media representatives, explain why it’s important to keep children’s minds sharp during the summer, and how the activities also offer an opportunity to enjoy quality time with kids! Please contact for contact information and scheduling.

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