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When that last school bell rings, kids celebrate the end of classes and the beginning of a long, lazy summer. But for many kids, the end of the school year also marks the beginning of summer brain drain – and it could do them more harm than you think.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, all students experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer months.

* Students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do at the beginning of the summer.

* Most students lose almost three months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months.

* Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement.

So what’s a parent or guardian to do to help kids avoid summer brain drain? As part of its ongoing commitment to education and to inspiring parents and caring adults to nurture a child’s love of learning, Target is partnering with the renowned Search Institute to offer a summer-long series of tips that help parents keep their kids active and engaged while the weather’s warm. Here are a few ways to help you and your child make summer vacation fun and educational:

Start the summer off “write” – Kids who write well tend to read well and vice versa, which can be a powerful combination that gives them a big boost in school. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, exercises like writing, which requires reflection, are actually a big deal for little minds. By teaching young children to remember and evaluate their experiences each day, you’re developing their decision-making and problem-solving skills. An added bonus? You’re helping them (and you!) identify some of the activities they love most.

What to Do: Work with your children on various projects such as scrapbooking, writing a neighborhood newsletter, or making a picture book.

Get out, get active – We all know that sports and outdoor activities can help your kids stay healthy and fit, but did you also know that they can boost brain power? Children’s advocate Richard Louv says that today’s kids are suffering from NDD – Nature Deficit Disorder – because they’re spending so much time indoors. Outdoor play stimulates kids’ creativity. Plus, it’s been shown to improve their stress levels, their confidence, and their learning and social skills.

What to Do: Take a nature hike, grow a backyard garden or sign your children up for organized sports leagues or camp.

Fun in the sun . . . with books – Kids who read throughout the summer perform better in school, no matter where, when or what they read. Studies also show that when kids read for fun (and especially when they read books that match their reading level and interests), they become better readers and are less likely to forget all the good stuff they learned during the school year. Kids who read frequently and have easy access to books also are more competent and resilient in risky situations.

What to Do: Start the summer with a trip to your local library; read outside by the light of the moon; or turn bits of nature into one-of-a kind bookmarks.