Experts often say school kids lose one to two months of reading and math skills over summer months, and teachers, consequently, spend the first month of school restoring what’s been lost. Research studies and testing have borne out the phenomenon scientists call “summer learning loss,” and have left parents wondering how to plug what they call “brain drain.”

Some have turned to summer school, reading programs and math exercises and other traditional schoolroom resources. But many overlook what may be the most practical, simple solution of all: maintaining structure.

If parents look at what has changed most from the school year to the summer break, they’ll find its structure. During the break, kids stay up late and sleep in. They watch TV and play video games to their hearts’ content, and they often don’t follow their usual eating routine and schedule. The entire structure in which they’ve spent the last nine months suddenly disappears.

And, like a rubber band, they’re expected to snap right back into that structure on the first day of school. They are supposed to be there on time, sit still and be quiet. It is an unreasonable demand on our kids.

That doesn’t mean parents need to keep their children tightly scheduled throughout the summer. In fact, the school break is good for kids — allowing them to loosen up and enjoy childhood.

But part of childhood is having parents and other adults to provide structure, rules and routines to maintain health and well-being.

The most effective way to allow your children the break without diminishing the strides they made in the last school year is to develop a structure that is maintained throughout the summer. It can be a structure that is completely different from school. The key is to help children know what to expect each day. This creates an environment where parents can interject educational games, summer camps, field trips and other activities to keep a child’s brain sharp.

If your summer is already off to a loose, unstructured start, it’s not too late. The most critical period is in the two or three weeks leading up to the first day of school. Minimize stresses during those final weeks of summer, getting travel and other major activities out of the way before that. Then during that time, you can introduce the structure — and schedule, too — that will ease your child’s transition.

When children return to school, ready for the structure and ready for the routine, they also return ready to get the most from the experience — and ready to show they’re just as smart as ever.

As published in the July 2008 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.