Mike McCartney raised his eyebrows to a room of squirmy children at the Natrona County Public Library on Monday afternoon.

Go to your library, he told them between amusing sound effects and hand puppet acts about fictional adventures in ancient Egypt. When you get home, turn off your television.

"That's right," said McCartney, who was dressed like the adventurer Indiana Jones. "Turn off your TV sets for at least a half hour. Open your book and read." 

In books you will find the keys to unlock your imagination, he said.

Events like McCartney's are a good place to start for families trying to avoid "brain drain" in their students during the long summer, said Jerry Jones, youth services coordinator for the library.

Most students lose roughly two months of math skills over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading skills during the summer, though their more affluent peers make slight gains.

Most teachers spend three to four weeks re-teaching the previous year's skills at the beginning of a school year, according to a poll by the association.

Fighting summer learning loss starts with reading, said Walt Wilcox, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Natrona County School District.

"Literacy is embedded and ingrained in everything we do," he said. "Even math requires a lot of literacy thinking and processing."

The more students read, the broader their vocabulary, the stronger their critical thinking and the more they connect their experiences with the world around them, he said.

Before a vacation, ask children to find places on maps of the area or to read about the local culture, he said. Play Monopoly to learn to count money. Try encouraging a child to bring a journal on vacation or to a summer camp. 

"Any time you read or write, it's an act in thinking," Wilcox said. 

Waylon Ellis, 8, hunched over his copy of a cowboy-themed graphic novel in the children's department at the library Monday. 

"We're just trying to keep them reading as much as possible," said Amanda Ellis, Waylon's mother. "The math facts, we haven't been practicing as much."

Ellis, a teacher at Transitions Learning Center in Casper, sat reading a newspaper next to Waylon and his sister, 5-year-old Quincy. Modeling good reading habits is important in their family, she said.

"If you're reading yourself, then they're going to know it's important and exciting," Ellis said.

Reach education reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

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