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The Inside Story On Summer ‘Brain Drain’

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Is it true that children face an uphill battle at the beginning of every school year to regain ground lost in the lazy days of summer? Yes and no, says Rob DeSalle, curator of the exhibition Brain: The Inside Story.  “The fact of losing what you’ve learned during the school year is fairly well known and well researched,” says Dr. DeSalle, citing a Johns Hopkins University study that showed children in general “lose” one to two months of learning, especially in math, over the summer.  “It’s not a myth. But it’s not as extreme as people think and it’s’ not insurmountable.”

One way to keep brains active before school resumes is to challenge children with a late-summer reading list, says DeSalle, a Museum curator who conducts research in the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. The John Hopkins study showed, for example, that children in more affluent socio-economic groups fared better in reading because they tended to have more access to books. Games that involve counting and strategy can also stimulate neural pathways. Visitors to Brain: The Inside Story, which closes August 14, can test their ability to strategize and plan ahead, as well as other critical functions, in brain-teasing interactive exhibits, several of which are described by DeSalle in the video below.


Video games aren’t necessarily bad for kids, says DeSalle, especially if they involve a lot of reading. But a game that requires counting spaces or points and keeping a paper tally is even better, making Scrabble the ideal summer pastime for both the language skills involved and the math needed to keep score. Chess is good too, says DeSalle, as are sports like tennis and ping pong, which require strategy and involve exercise, also a benefit for developing brains.

In the long run, however, DeSalle says there is no silver bullet for solving the problem of summer “brain drain.” “We really need to do the hard work,” he says. “Educators have to figure out how kids learn and figure out what happens when reading and math skills are dormant. And when we find that out we can implement a plan of action.”

Last chance: See Brain: The Inside Story before it closes on Sunday, August 14.

Tags: Brain

American Museum of Natural History

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