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Winter Break Wisdom: Strategies to Keep Your Student’s Brain Buzzing

Discover the secret to transforming winter break into a wonderland of learning and fun, where every snowflake brings a new opportunity to keep your student's mind sparkling with curiosity and joy!

3…2…1.. BREAK! Winter break is finally here, and not a moment too soon! Students get a much-needed breather from the routine and assignments of school. However, with this break of routine, comes the risk of “brain drain.”  

Winter Break Brain Drain is Real, but it Can Be Stopped!

What exactly is brain drain? The brain is like a muscle: you use it, or you lose it! Anyone who comes back to school in September knows students have forgotten lessons from June. In fact, studies have documented the loss of student learning over the summer to be the equivalent to one month of regular schooling.  

Although brain drain does come from lack of use, is the answer to never break at all? No! Rest is not the enemy. If we consider the muscle analogy again, muscle tissue only rebuilds and becomes stronger when it rests. Constantly using your brain or your body may lead to a plateau effect, or injury, if you don’t adequately rest.

Here are some pointers to achieving healthy rest during break. 

  1. Sleep. It is the most obvious form of rest, and we need it the most. Sleep heals and recharges the body and brain. Lots of us sleep in during breaks, and we deserve it! However, it’s important to make sure that even on break students keep a rhythm that’s dependable. Even if students don’t subject themselves to the same crack-of-dawn wakeup, having a routine helps the body make the most of the sleep time it’s given. The movie marathons that stretch unpredictably into the wee hours of the morning should be a special occasion, not an all-break occurrence.  
     
  2. Brain Activation Time. Regular brain workouts are a great way to keep up the skills students have been mastering in school, and the best way to keep those going is through a schedule. Consider scheduling “on/off days” during break, or perhaps even simply “on mornings” or “on afternoons.” Examples of “on activities” that engage the brain are reading, doing crosswords, sudokus, or other puzzles, Duolingo sessions, playing musical instruments, watching educational documentaries or TED talks, or playing chess. It’s possible your student may have work to complete over winter break, in which case, building in “on days” will help make that final Sunday of break less overwhelming as students must reengage with schoolwork after days or weeks off. 
     
  3. Mind Wandering Time. It’s important to rest the brain while students are waking as well. A recent study in the Cleveland Clinic suggests that “Mind Wandering Time,” tasks or meditations that don’t require the brain to do much, are essential for rest. Unfortunately, no activity involving a screen, even Animal Crossing or doing the NYT Crossword, counts as “mind wandering time” because they involve processing information. Tasks that do qualify include cooking a recipe you know by heart, walking, bike riding, gardening, vacuuming, yoga, stretching, taking a bath or long shower, or listening to familiar music. Take opportunities to let the brain drift without external stimulation.  

Winter break should feel like a break, especially for students who have jam-packed schedules during the school year. However, incorporating enough sleep, scheduled brain work time, and mind wandering time, can prevent the break from setting a student back academically.  

Additional sources/inspiration.  

 https://www.brookings.edu/articles/summer-learning-loss-what-is-it-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/ 

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 https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-downtime-is-essential-for-brain-health/ 

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