The school year will be winding down soon, but that doesn’t mean learning should stop. In fact, keeping your child’s brain engaged during the summer months is critical, not only to the health of their rapidly developing brains, but also to their ability to use them.
If you’re a parent you’ve probably heard of the “summer slide” (or “summer brain drain”), but are you familiar with the research behind it? A study by Duke University is one of many which found that students returning to school in the fall had lost one to three months’ worth of learning, with declines especially pronounced in math.
This doesn’t mean you have to take on a second job as a schoolmarm or master this summer, but it does mean reinforcing at home what’s taught in the classroom. Consider these strategies:
Visit the library. Many Miami-Dade Public Library branches offer summer reading clubs for kids, along with guest speakers, musicians and other activities that stimulate learning. Encourage children to choose books they like and don’t shy away from comic books, joke books and magazines. Audiobooks are another good resource and can help boost a child’s comprehension skills.
Test memory skills. Challenge your child to memorize a favorite song or story, or encourage a group of kids to perform a short play.
Plan day trips. Visit museums, art galleries, zoo and wildlife habitats, and local performing arts venues; check specific websites and community calendars – like the one at www.thechildrenstrust.org – to find out about no-entry-fee days and no- and low-cost events. Many area attractions have a variety of educational (but fun!) opportunities for children and tend to bump up their offerings come summer. Music has been shown to stimulate young children’s brains, while dance helps sharpen motor skills. Include, too, a local park on your outings list, and bring along a book about nature. Maybe you’ll spy a blossom, bird or bug that’ll trigger a child’s desire to learn even more.
Cook together. Cooking and baking are huge math/science/reading challenges as these activities include everything from choosing the ideal recipe, finding the right ingredients, precisely measuring things out and carefully following directions.
Institute family game night. Board games like Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders teach young children how to count, recognize colors and take turns; older kids can learn a lot from Scrabble, Monopoly and Scattergories. You can also make up your own word games with preschoolers by asking questions like "What word rhymes with ‘house?’” or “Think of a word that begins with the letter 'S.’”
Grab a pen. Have kids write letters to friends or family members, or help them find a pen pal, possibly at a local senior center. Suggest your child become a cub reporter by starting a family newsletter, or help them start a diary or journal.
Turn a to do list into teachable moments. Daily life has a host of lessons just waiting to be learned. A trip to the grocery store, for one, can boost learning if you ask children to calculate the cost of items or figure out the savings from coupons or sales. A drive through your neighborhood can lead to a discussion about the distance from point A to B, while paying for an ice cream cone with cash can turn into a math lesson as children determine how much change they should get back.
Create science fun. What kid wouldn’t love making homemade slime, a marshmallow-toothpick tower or edible play dough? Look online for recipes and other STEM activities appropriate for your child’s age group.