Ah. It's summertime, and the living is easy. Finally, after that long brutal winter, we can all kick back, relax, and just enjoy the downtime.

Or can we?

Studies show that kids lose one to three months of learning over the summer months. It's called summer brain drain and it's likely affecting a kid near you. Teachers are the first ones to confirm this, with most claiming that they spend the first month of the school year re-teaching material that should be old hat to kids but has been lost over the summer.

Math skills seem to take the biggest hit, with reading and spelling skills not far behind.

That's not to say that kids should spend their summers slogging through tedious workbooks or flipping through flash cards. Kids need their downtime and they need big chunks of time to just play. But that doesn't mean that you can't refresh their skills every now and again.

Here are some fun ways to keep kids sharp while they decompress:

1. Talk to your kids. Sounds easy enough, right? Your kids can learn so much just from sharing a conversation with you. Tell them a story about a place that you visited, games that you played in school, or your favorite book. And don't forget to listen to what they have to say, too. Ask them what their favorite movie is, which team they are routing for in the World Cup, or what they think about the latest celebrity scandal. Talking to your kids is not only a great way to bond, it's also a great way to get your kids thinking about the world around them.

2. Deal them in. A deck of cards can provide countless hours of fun in the summer, and it can also be used to sneak in some math practice. Play a game of War the traditional way, or by having players subtract or multiply the cards first, and the first one to get it right takes the cards. You can also try math concentration, where players multiply the cards while finding a match. The possibilities are endless with cards, and the best part is that a deck is small and portable, so it's easy to bring along in the car or on a summer excursion.

3. Bring on the bling. Break out the beads and other jewelry supplies and challenge your kids to make interesting patterns with the shapes and colors. Or choose four colors of beads and see if they can make a bracelet that has one-quarter of each color.

4. Have them plan a trip. Whether you are planning a day trip to a local museum or a week-long family vacation, getting your kids involved in the vacation planning can help them practice everything from math to reading to writing. They can work on the budget, research destination excursions on the computer, and read through the guide book to learn about interesting things to see and do. Count down the days to the vacation all summer long to reinforce math skills. Oh, and don't forget to encourage your kids to write out post cards when you do get away. It helps them practice both handwriting and spelling (and it's a good way to stay in touch with family and friends.)

5. Make a meal of it. Without the harried schedules of the school year, you can make it a point to have more relaxed family dinners during the summer. And it's the perfect time to get kids involved in the cooking. Learning how to cook is a life skill that kids can build upon year after year. And the kitchen is also a great place to practice math and reading skills. For an extra challenge, ask kids to double a recipe so that you can freeze the leftovers for another night (and did you see what we did with that extra math practice?) Cooking with kids is also a great way to share memories with your kids. Keep the recipes simple and the conversation flowing and the learning will take care of itself.

6. Make it sweet. Speaking of food, what better way is there to practice math skills than to involve some candy? After all, who wouldn't want to add and subtract or even multiply if it's done with M&M's, gummy bears or smarties?

7. Do something new. Each school year brings along the anxiety and excitement of all things new: new teacher, new classroom, new desk. And if your child is going to a school for the first time, all of that excitement and anxiety will be multiplied by 100. Help him explore these feelings by trying something new together over the summer. It can be a new sport, a new destination or a new hobby. And even if it's a flop, you can use that as a springboard for the conversation about how it could have been better or other activities that you might want to try next time.

8. Volunteer. Summer can be fun and relaxing as well as rewarding. Talk with your kids about volunteer opportunities in the area and help them choose one to try for the summer. Not only will this conquer the age-old, "I'm bored," sentiment that is prevalent in the summer, it will also help enrich your kids' lives. Oh, and depending on where they volunteer, it may help broaden math skills, social skills, or computer skills. Plus, volunteer work always looks good on a future resume or college application.

9. Chalk it up to good fun. Practicing spelling words by writing them a gazillion times is b-o-r-i-n-g. But practicing spelling words by writing them in chalk on the sidewalk is summertime fun! Same goes for addition, subtraction and even multiplication facts. Everything is more fun in chalk, and the best part is, kids will see it each time they walk by and remember what they wrote. (Until the rain washes it away and they can do it again!)

10. Let them play. After all of this talk about summer learning, I feel the need to emphasis the importance of good old-fashioned unstructured summer play. Most kids are busy bouncing from one activity to the next during the school year, so it's more important than ever that kids get these solid chunks of time to just play. There are lots more great ways to sneak learning in during the summer — family reading time, board games, counting change at the store, summer sports, etc. And yes, you should be sure to do that when you can to keep kids' minds growing and learning all summer long. But also make sure they have plenty of time to play without worrying about adding up their swim laps or reading the program at the ball field. And don't be afraid to kick off your own shoes and join in the free play. After all, a little summer brain drain might just do us all some good!

Related posts on MNN:

Beyond workbooks: 10 creative ways to stop summer brain drain
Think outside the workbook this summer with these simple ways to keep kids learning.