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Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 6:48pm
(CNN) -- Call it the summer slide, the seasonal slump, the brain drain or the summer slowdown. Just don't call it new: The two-month period when students lose some of their academic edge has been observed for over a century. The good news here is that experts and parents have come up with a number of ways to keep kids sharp through the summer, and we're sharing some of them with you here.
Learn something new
"We would all expect an athlete's or a musician's performance to suffer if they took a long break from practice, and the same is true for our nation's young people," says Ron Fairchild, founder of the Smarter Learning Group.
One way to keep your student's brain in shape is to keep the learning going. It doesn't have to be out of a textbook. Swimming or SCUBA or horseback riding lessons, practicing a language while driving to your vacation destination -- it all counts.
In a summer camp -- particularly an outdoor one -- kids take part in activities they might not otherwise do. Some learn how to build a fire; some learn to paddle a canoe; some team up to complete a rope course. (And even if students learn they can't actually trust others in a "trust fall," they've still learned something, right?)
Picking up a new instrument can also help keep kids engaged with learning, and there are many studies linking music with mathematics. So if your child has always wanted to play guitar or drums (heaven help you), summer may be the perfect time to do it.
Leverage learning on vacation
Everyone wants to have fun over the summer, and the beach, water parks and theme parks can help provide it. But challenging your student to find out a few facts about tides or amusement ride physics can bring in elements of academics and application.
And while the theme park is fine, consider visiting a national park as well. Why? Because people have to learn something about it to get the most out of the visit. Whether that includes facts about California's redwoods or the Colorado River or butterflies at a Florida garden, these locations are nature's libraries. And the National Park Service has a searchable website of all the parks in the country, so you can easily find what's available near you.
A zoo is also a good spot, especially when students are encouraged to read the pamphlets or signboards about the animals they see.
This brings us to reading, in general. This can be a tough one, especially since students are forced to read throughout the school year and may not have it at the top of their summer fun list. But reading doesn't have to include William Shakespeare or the biography of -- well, anyone.
Whether it's a book for adolescents, a magazine or even a comic book, it's great for students to routinely pore over the printed word. (It may be best to avoid reading on a computer, tablet or smartphone, though, as these devices come with games and other distractions.)
Reading regularly can also smooth out the transition back to textbooks in the new school year. Experts say starting with a minimum -- say 30 minutes every day -- is a good idea. And many students will find that they'll want to exceed the allotted time, which is even better.
Up your game(s)
It's ironic that many of the games that are lower-tech are often better for learning. We've reported before on how Boggle, Scrabble and Bananagrams are good for spelling; they're good exercise for the brain in general. And while many students will tell you that Monopoly can't compete with Modern Warfare, there are distinct values in the family time and basic business fundamentals that accompany the board game.
One thing you don't want to do is to let the summer drain away under the glare of a TV. Interacting with your students and finding activities that they can learn from will keep their brains active through the dog days, and it may give them an advantage in their new classes while some of their friends are still catching up.