Vivian is a stay-at-home mom who sets education as a top priority for both of her children. Learning is fun when you do it smart!
If you don’t use it, you’ll lost it might be one of the best axioms to describe summer learning loss. Even though the brain is an organ, it can function as a muscle when you make a concerted effort to exercise it like one. Think back to high school algebra class. Remember lamenting to your math teacher, "I am never going to use this in real life, so why do I have to learn it?" Unless you have chosen the profession of engineer, chemist, or financial planner, you undoubtedly proved your point. By now, the process of solving for x is just a foggy memory. Similarly, your kids need mental stimulation to stay sharp over summer break so they don’t forfeit 1-2 months of academic ground.
1. Summer Reading Challenge
Reading stimulates the brain. It significantly improves vocabulary development and written fluency, inspires the imagination, develops memory and thinking skills, enhances social skills, and reduces stress. The more your kids read, the smarter they will be. Kids who read regularly have higher GPA's, are more intelligent, and have more general knowledge than others. Have you ever played Trivial Pursuit with a prolific reader? Information considered obscure to most is readily recalled due to their well-rounded knowledge base. Did you know the average person reads only 2-3 books each year, compared to CEO's who read 60 books annually? Reading is interconnected with intelligence and success.
Make reading fun over the summer to engage even your most reluctant reader. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Challenge your child to read a designated number of books throughout the summer and divide them into chunks, awarding a prize for each level completed. For example, after reading five books, head to Dairy Queen for an ice cream treat.
- Create a cozy book nook to entice your kids. Pick a corner or space for bean bag chairs, floor pillows, and blankets, and then close it off with a lighted canopy. Place a book shelf nearby and fill it with inviting selections.
- Incorporate extension activities for the books your kids read. Does your son love trains? Take a train ride after reading more about them. Were specific foods mentioned in the book, like Dr. Seuss’s pink ink drink? Head to the kitchen with your kids to make some.
- Your kids want to spend time with you. No matter how old they are, you can coordinate your own literary circle where you read to them and ask them questions as you go to sharpen their analytical and reasoning skills. They will also hear you correctly pronounce perplexing vocabulary words and likely ask you for a definition—something they would have skimmed over on their own. Kids love to share their thoughts and opinions on an array of subjects. Ask them how they would have handled the situation a fictional character faced and compare and contrast the responses.
- Involve your kids in the book selection process. Take them to Barnes & Noble and let them browse through books in the genres that interest them. Explore Amazon for books they can have fun ordering online and eagerly anticipate in the mail. Visit your local library and let each of them sign up for their own library card. Just be careful not to let your kids read the Harry Potter series, regardless of its popularity.
- Equip your kids with Kindle e-readers so they can have fun downloading books from the library, but don’t let them use e-readers exclusively. There’s nothing like cracking open a real book and getting lost in its printed pages.
- Drop Everything and Read is a school-based sustained silent reading model that encourages kids to improve reading skills through constant recreational reading. Try it at home. Your kids will be thrilled to read if you tell them to drop everything and read when it’s chore or bed time! Add value to reading by modeling it yourself during these times.
2. Create a Challenge Center
Fill a plastic bin or cardboard box with brain game resources. At a designated time, daily or a few times each week, have your kids select something to give their minds a workout. What should you include in your brain box?
- One of our family favorites is Difficult Riddles for Smart Kids. Here is a sampling: During what month do people sleep the least? Answer: February. What always murmurs but never talks, always runs but never walks, has a bed but never sleeps, has a mouth but never speaks? Answer: A river. Some riddles are short and others are longer, but they are capable of stumping even the most astute adult in the room. Train your kids to resist looking at the back of the book for the answers, but rather chew on the information until they can produce a reasonable solution. This book is ideal to take on road trips and a source of great family fun.
- Perplexors is another smart choice created by MindWare. You’ve probably received MindWare catalogs in the mail ahead of Christmas each year. They are the premier source for games, puzzles, brainteasers, arts and crafts, mysteries, and mazes for people of all ages. Mensa Select and Parents’ Choice are just two of the prestigious awards MindWare has received since its inception in 1990. Perplexors books target 8-14 year olds and challenge them to solve logic puzzles through the process of elimination. There are 50 puzzles in each book—a must-have for your challenge center!
- Have a healthy supply of jigsaw puzzles on hand to boost your child’s brainpower. Whether your kids are more left-brained (logical, rational, and organized) or right-brained (creative, intuitive, and emotional), jigsaw puzzles help them use both sides of their brains at the same time! Dopamine is a chemical released by the brain to support learning and memory, and solving jigsaw puzzles increases the brain’s production of this chemical.
- 3-D wooden puzzle sets are easy to take apart but tricky to reconstruct! Structural analysis, keen observation, and advanced problem solving skills are necessary to complete this type of challenge. In fact, the intensity with which your kids will tackle this task should be rewarded upon successful completion! This particular set is used in a fourth grade classroom to meet the academic needs of gifted students who need to remain engaged when they finish work ahead of their classmates. Rubik’s Cubes, disentanglement puzzles, marble run games, and twisty shapes are also fun choices to bolster your kids’ logical skills.
- Magnetic lab kits, snap circuit sets, dominoes (for math and racing), Legos, Magna Tiles, K’nex sticks, science kits, speed stackers, and computer coding puzzle books will encourage a love of science, math, engineering, and technology that will prepare them for a great school year and a successful future.
Since these items are pricey, add to your collection over time. They make great birthday presents, stocking stuffers, Easter basket fillers, and rewards. To keep your kids interested in these investments, pack them away after the initial novelty has faded. Once they have been forgotten, reintroduce them, and your kids will relish them like new toys.
3. Play Games Together
Video games are highly overrated. Studies are finding excessive screen time is causing permanent damage to developing brains. Avoid the temptation to give kids the video games they want and opt instead for board games the entire family can enjoy, all while stimulating the mind. For younger children, I Spy and Memory Match are iconic choices. For intermediate ages, Uno, Skip-bo, and Clue are easy to learn, yet help them begin to strategize. Try playing a one-sentence story game where each of you take turns adding to a story one sentence at a time to strengthen language arts skills. For older kids, Scrabble and Taboo are excellent for word play, and Chess is ideal for advanced thinkers.
Set aside game night each week to reinforce your family unit and develop good sportsmanship and social skills, all while sparking the intellect.
Track your summer adventures through journal writing. Every time your family does an interesting activity, have each child talk about it in an informal journal. Print pictures from your computer to accompany each entry. Journaling polishes your kids’ proficiency with sentence structure, grammar, creativity, penmanship, sequential order, and communication. If your summer days are fairly dull, provide your kids with writing prompts. For example, have your kids go outside and write and illustrate what their senses hear, see, smell, and touch. If they had a recent play date, have them write what activities they did first, middle, and last. Have them write why a certain holiday is their favorite. The possibilities are endless—just keep them writing!
5. Inspire Creativity
Stock up on a variety of multipurpose craft materials and keep them handy for rainy days when you can’t be outside. What could those Q-tips be turned into, and what creative things could be constructed from popsicle sticks? Could those puffy pom poms be transformed into little critters? What masterpiece will be born from the finger paints? Use stencils to create a special scene, or let imaginations run wild with play-doh. Keep an old sheet ready to cover your table to make the mess easier to manage.
6. Have a Debate
If there’s one thing the next generation lacks, it’s the ability to generate plausible reasons to support their opinions and positions on matters of the day. They can’t love or hate a political figure or party based on their parents’ views or found their assertions on fake news and faulty data. Older kids especially need to develop competence in weighing both sides of an issue and collecting proven facts to validate their thoughts and beliefs. One way to help them with this is providing them with an assertion they must convincingly support or refute. Younger kids might debate why ice cream is better than cookies or why playing outside is more fun than playing inside. Advanced learners might debate why a border wall between the USA and Mexico is a good idea or a bad idea. To really make their brains tilt, make them play devil’s advocate after they debate their initial position. Even though their arguments will contradict their true feelings, it will help them explore all sides of an issue logically.
7. Memorization Challenge
Memorization is beneficial because it trains your brain to remember. The brain becomes more efficient in retaining information, which frees it up to learn new things. Challenge your kids this summer to memorize Bible scriptures, poetry, famous quotes, or math facts and reward them at the end to crown their accomplishment.
Start School With a Bang
Make this a summer to remember in more ways than one. Don’t be like some parents who allow TV, video games, and devices to consume their children over the summer. Be proactive in battling brain atrophy by making them use their noggins for higher purposes! They will start school ahead of the pack and stay in the lead.
© 2019 Vivian Coblentz