Wednesday, June 22, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Let’s save that brain

A new summer series, “Brain Dead,” is being advertised on television about the brains of our Washington politicians being devoured by bugs.

As far as politicians go, that may not be far- fetched, but more importantly, there is some similar — brain drain — that affects nearly all students during the summer.


Because reading, math and science tend to disappear from their universe during the summer, replaced by sleeping until the crack of noon, staying up as late as possible and reaching new high scores on a variety of video games.

Nothing wrong with some of that, but a summer of that, and, oh my, it causes trouble when school starts up again.

According to a study by Dr. Harris Cooper, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, young brains often shift into reverse during the non-school months. The study found that when students return to school after the summer break, they’ve lost one to three months worth of learning.

That means if students leave school in early June “on-grade level,” they will start up in August “below-grade level.” For students who were promoted, but substantially behind...well, it sets them up for failure.

The decline is more detrimental for math than it is for reading. “All students lose math skills,” says Cooper.

Low-income children, by the end of fifth grade, are about 2-and-a-half years behind their more affluent peers, primarily from doing “nothing” during the summer.

Does that mean students have to be home-schooled five days a week through June, July and August? No, but they can’t sit, twiddle and eat bag after bag of chips during that time either.

Studies show that teachers spend an average of four to six weeks re-teaching material that students have lost during the summer. That’s more than a month of “new” material that won’t get covered, putting students even further behind.

Parents need to step up and make sure there is a balance. “Parents can help their kids retain educational skills,” says Cooper.

The library has hundreds of activities during the summer that are fun and educational, like Cabot’s reading to shelter animals program or the martial arts or anime groups at the Jacksonville and Sherwood libraries.

Plus, read at home. Parents need to read, the kids need to read. Everyone needs to read and discuss what they are reading. Reading just four to five books during the summer can prevent a decline in a child’s fall reading scores.

So instead of spending hours watching that latest Zombie show, take time to read about Zombies.

Just from reading a few pages of Max Brooks’ “Zombie Survival Guide” one will learn that humans turn into zombies from the Solanum virus, which travels through the bloodstream, from the initial point of entry to the brain. The virus causes all bodily functions to cease and mutates the brain into an organ that does not need oxygen. Thus, the essentially deceased person will become the living dead, with an insatiable drive to consume human flesh.

Wow, fun stuff.

Madden football video fans can read about the history of the sport. There was a time when there were no helmets and no forward passes.

“Call to Duty” fanatics can read about the Navy Seals or the Green Berets. There are books out there about the military at all reading levels.

Include learning into any family vacation. Test estimation skills. “How long before we get there? When might we run out of gas?” Then there’s the license plate game, naming and listing vehicles, and even identifying road kill.

On the way to the amusement park, stop at a battlefield site. And while at the amusement park, talk about what it takes for that rollercoaster to flip, twist and turn like that without sending riders to the moon.

Keep math in mind. Since kids lose more math skills than anything else over the summer, try to do some special planning to find math-related activities. For math, take kids shopping and have them calculate the cost of the groceries. Stop in front of the five different size cans of green beans and determine which one is the better deal.

Play board games, like Monopoly, Life or Payday in the evenings and let the child be the banker.

Everyone needs to enjoy the summer. It’s all right to let students sleep in some, stay up late a few times, but always look for the learning aspect.

Remember to keep it fun! You don’t want to sour your kids on learning during the summer break.