The Ultimate Guide to Beating Summer Brain Drain

Summers are meant to decompress, let loose, and for our kids, learn lessons in self-direction and self-regulation. They are meant to get hot and sweaty and then jump into a cool pool, to be active and have fun. But did you know that the Summer Brain Drain is a real thing?

Kids in the U.S. can lose between one and three months worth of knowledge during the summer (Cooper, 2003).

No parent wants their kids to start a new year three months behind where they ended the last year. So check out these great resources for keeping your kid’s brain engaged during the summer, without forsaking fun. It doesn’t take much—even 20 to 30 minutes a day can make a HUGE difference!

You can't beat this collection of ideas for keeping your kid's brains active during the summer!20 Reading Lists

The American Library Association’s Summer Reading Lists are broken into three age groups: K–2nd grade3rd–5th grade, and 6th–8th grade.

Reading lists for reluctant readers, brought to us from the folks at Understood.org, also fall into three age groups, up through high school: 3rd–5th gradeMiddle School, and Teen Readers.

The Folks at Imagination Soup have developed reading lists for kids of all ages: Pre-readers1st grade2nd grade3rd grade4th grade5th grade6th grade7th grade, and 8th grade and up.

Geared primarily for older readers, the folks at About.com took a completely different approach to organizing reading lists: Award Winning Historical Fiction for Middle Grades, Best Narrative Non-Fiction for Middle Grades, Audio Books for Teens, Modern Fairy Tales for Teen Girls, and Dystopian Novels for Teens.

10 Maker Projects to do at Home

Design and build a roller coaster! Use marbles, foam pipe insulation, masking tape, and paper cups to design endless roller coasters. Best for older kids and tweens.

Create a day of maker challenges: Cup Stack Challenge, Balloon Powered Lego Car Races, The Mini-Marshmallow & Toothpick Building Challenge, and The Tongue Depressor Catapult Challenge. Gather a couple of friends and let them design and compete with each other. Best for older kids through tweens.

Teach your kids to crochet and then set them loose with online tutorials like these from MakeZine. Best for older kids through teens.

Use materials lying around the house to build a catapult. Best for older kids through teens, depending on the building materials used.

Make use of scrap metal, gears, cans, and bottles to design a Steampunk Robot. This project requires using a soldering iron and is best for tweens and teens.

Head to the thrift shop and buy some used furniture for your kids to refurbish. Best for tweens and teens.

Build a Walking Stick Robot. For under $100 you can buy the materials for your kids to design their own, programmable robot. Best for tweens and teens.

10 Learning Apps & Programs

Winky Think Logic Puzzles are a fun way to keep the brain engaged, without making it seem like work. More than 180 logic puzzles, including mazes and obstacles to solve, will keep young minds busy for hours. Best for young kids.

Time, Money, Fractions taught my kids to tell time and count money. When they were little, they played it every day. It combines fun challenges with rewards to keep them coming back for more. Best for young kids.

Want your kids to learn about physics without realizing that they are learning? Finger Physics is full of fun puzzles to solve, using the basic laws of physics. Best for young kids through tweens.

Meteor Math is a great way to help your kids learn math facts and improve fluency, without resorting to flash cards! Let your kids blast their way through spaceships and meteors as they practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. Best for young and older kids.

Meant for geography lovers everywhere, Stack the States and Stack the Countries do a great job teaching geography, capitals, and trivia to your kids. Each time your child gets a question right, he/she gets to add to the stack, hoping to make it as tall as possible without it tumbling over. Best for older kids.

Need to teach your kids about the U.S. History and presidents? Don’t miss out on Presidents v. Aliens! It teaches presidential facts, quotes, nicknames, and historical events. Then your kids use the presidents to defeat alien invaders. Best for older kids.

If your kid loves drawing and reading comic books, don’t miss Pixton. There is plenty to do with just the free membership. It can be a little quirky, so make sure you child knows to save his/her work frequently. There is a social commenting portion of the program, so review your family rules about engaging with people online. Best for tweens and teens.

Get The Math is designed to teach tweens and teens about real life applications for algebra. It covers how algebra is used in music, fashion, video games, restaurants, basketball, and special effects and then presents kids with challenges based on those business applications. Best for tweens and teens.

Keeping with the algebra theme, DragonBox Algebra 12+ helps kids learn about balancing equations, using fun visuals and challenges. Best for tweens and teens.

Eight YouTube Channels

Minute Physics offers simple and engaging short videos that explain all things science (but mainly physics). They have awesome topics like: What is gravity? What is Dark Matter? How the Sun Works: Fusion and Quantum Tunneling. Best for older kids.

National Geographic is known for inspiring people to care about the earth. The folks at National Geographic have a curated stunning collections of videos about our natural environment. Perfect for your animal lover or budding environmentalist. Good for kids of all ages.

The Sci Show answers age-old questions like “Why does your breath stink in the morning?” or “How does recycling work?” They also offer fun science quiz shows. Best for older kids and tweens.

Simple Kids Crafts has a great collection of kid-friendly crafting videos, with a section that works for both boys and girls. They have simple crafts for younger kids and more complex ideas for tweens and teens. The Sock Recycling Challenge is great right after a closet clean-out session! Good for kids of all ages.

The Brain Scoop is brought to us by the folks at the Chicago Field Museum and explores all things natural history! They have series on the Amazon, fossils, invertebrates, sharks, and more! Best for older kids and tweens.

Coma Niddy has a fresh take on science education, with fast-paced lyrics set to recognizable songs and raps. Brought to us from the folks at PBS, make sure to check out “All About That Space!” Best for tweens and teens.

The Mother Goose Club is a great way to introduce your kids to classic nursery rhymes that include movement, songs, and skits. The videos are super short—just long enough for your itty-bitty’s attention span. Best for younger kids.

Periodic Videos is perfect for your chemistry-loving child. It offers cool science news and experiments. Best for tweens and teens.

Four Workbook Series

Summer Bridge Activity Books provide a structured approach to summer learning. The 12 weeks worth of multi-subject activities are designed to bridge the time between grades starting with pre-K and going through the transition to 8th grade. Best for young kids through teens.

Summer Skills Books are single-subject books designed to be used for 20–30 minutes a day, three to five days a week during the summer. They cover English, math, Spanish, French, Mandarin, keyboarding, and study skills and are geared for kids from K–12th grade. Best for all ages.

ThinkStretch offers a parent-supervised, kid-directed multi-subject curriculum for bridging the gap between two grades. The program is designed to run eight weeks and works for kids in K–8th grade. Best for young kids through teens.

The Building Thinking Skills series from the folks at The Critical Thinking Company does a great job of teaching kids the basics of logical reasoning and critical analysis, while still keeping things fun. They offer workbooks for kids from pre-K–8th grade. Best for young kids through teens.


Whatever you decide to do this summer with your kids, may it be filled with adventure, fun, and lots of learning opportunities!

2 Responses to The Ultimate Guide to Beating Summer Brain Drain

  1. Erin
    Erin July 6, 2015 at 8:49 am #

    This is a great list of resources! My daughter loves Stack the States and has learned a ton from it!

  2. Amanda G
    Amanda G July 6, 2015 at 8:19 am #

    I love the Endless Reader/Math/words apps for my preschooler – they’d be a great addition to an iPad for plane or car time for any pre-reader or new reader (say, preK to going into 2nd). The games are fun, the skills are solid and the graphics super cute with monsters and bright colors!