Lakeland, Florida -- Are your kids dumber now than they were three months ago? Scientists say, probably, yes.
It's a real thing: the Summer Brain Drain. Why does it happen? And how can you beat it as your kids go back to school?
Tests show our American students falling further and further behind other countries in critical subjects. So, what do we tell our kids to do? Take a vacation.
It turns out those lazy days of summer really are making their brains lazy.
Are your kids dumber now than they were three months ago? Scientists say, probably, yes.
When you see kids laughing and running at a park during their school's summer break, you think you're seeing them having a good time. Sure, you are -- but you're also seeing their knowledge melting away.
"Most kids lose about two months of math instruction over the summer," explained Heather Agazzi, a child psychologist with the University of South Florida.
Scientists who study the problem call it Summer Learning Loss. There's been high-level research on the "summer slide," and there's even a National Summer Learning Association dedicated to fighting it.
You remember this from when you were in school. Teachers typically spend their first several weeks re-teaching what's already been covered.
Smart summer camps can help fight off some of the effects, but -- especially for poor kids, who just don't have access to that stuff -- the drop is dramatic.
What's going on here? Scientists say it's because of the way our brains are built.
At MOSI in Tampa, you can poke your head up inside a giant model of the human brain, where you see lights flickering in different regions of the brain.
Science is showing that those different regions -- and the different kinds of knowledge connections stored there -- aren't all handled the same way by your brain.
Reading and general concepts tend to stay strong. But math and detailed procedures tend to fade quickly.
The only way to really fight the brain drain is through rehearsal and repetition.
"So it's not that it has completely leaked out of their minds," Dr. Agazzi said. "It's just that they have not been using it, they have not been rehearsing it, so it's kind of been pushed back."
So school is back in session now -- how do you reverse the effects?
First, make sure they're really ready for those first weeks of review.
"Making sure they're eating well, they're not eating a lot of junk food, they're getting adequate sleep, and they're engaging in physical activity," Agazzi said.
And, squeeze some brainpower into your daily routine.
"Inviting your child to cook a meal with you and allow them to do the measurements and to experiment with fractions. When you're at Walmart or at Publix, allowing them to calculate the tax, to calculate what the estimated change should be," Agazzi said.
"It is important for kids to be engaged."
Students at Lakeland High School and three other schools in Polk County signed up for a special summer algebra program to try to beat this brain drain, and it worked.
Two hundred students who had scored near the bottom in the big end-of-course Algebra test went through a six-week summer session of extra math help.
The school district re-tested the students and found that almost half of them improved to a passing score.