Smart Ways to spend the Summer

With summer in the air, many parents worry about how to keep their children’s brains occupied with something other than TV and video games.  It’s a very valid concern, as kids lose an average of two months of math computation skills and 25% of their reading skills over the summer.  Is it any wonder that teachers typically spend between four and six weeks re-teaching material when kids return to school in the fall?

The brain experts, Beth Ardell and Susie McDaniel, co-owners of LearningRx in Atlanta have put together a list of ideas to help you keep your kids’ brains active this summer:

  • Enroll your child in a summer reading program through your local library.  Or, create your own reading program with a series of rewards for meeting certain goals.  According to Scholastic, it only takes six books over the summer to keep a struggling reader from falling behind during the break.
  • Sign up your child for music lessons.  There is strong evidence that learning to play an instrument can significantly boost cognitive skills.  In fact, learning to play an instrument during childhood can actually boost cognition into adulthood as well, even if you don’t continue playing as an adult.
  • Buy a stack of “brain game” books (like crossword puzzles, sudokus, and other brain teasers) to keep on the coffee table in front of the TV.
  • Teach them a second language.  Studies show that foreign language instruction increases creativity, critical thinking skills, and flexibility of the mind.  Children who learn a foreign language typically perform better on the verbal AND math sections of standardized tests.
  • Enroll them in one-on-one brain training.  Also known as cognitive skills training, a personal brain training program uses targeted “brain exercise” to go beyond maintenance and actually cause a significant and permanent increase in cognitive skills and IQ.
  • Create a Smart Mom’s Toy Box for rainy days.  These don’t have to be expensive; even the simplest things, like a deck of playing cards for a memory game, can work.  Choose toys that develop complex learning skills, such as memory, logic and reasoning, processing speed, attention, and auditory and visual processing.  Puzzles, games that use rhyming or memory, strategy-focused games, and those that require planning (e.g., checkers, chess) are great choices that can usually be found for under $15.  To ensure that your games focus on the specific skills your child needs to improve, you can download a free chart at
  • Assemble a Traveling Toys Kit for long car rides and trips.  Many of the games in your Smart Mom’s Toy Box will also have travel versions.  You can also make an “I Spy” bingo game or treasure hunt, print out a list of states (in a U.S. map format to teach geography) to cross off license plates as you see them, or buy paper games like Mad Libs to teach parts of speech.
  • Enroll them in an educational summer camp.  Summer camp isn’t just about campfires and swimming in the lake.  Today’s versions range from music sports, and poetry camp to those focused on engineering, veterinary, and mountaineering.  Most local parenting magazines put out a list of summer camps in the spring.
  • Head to the museum.  You may be surprised how interactive museums can be for kids.  Many now incorporate hands-on activities like arts and crafts, making and/or playing musical instruments, and dinosaur digs.
  • Keep them physically active.  Physical exercise not only decreases the risk for obesity, which has been linked to brain-based disorders, but it also increases oxygen flow to the brain.  Outdoor play in particular has also been found to reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms.
  • Keep them on a regular sleep schedule.  Both the quantity and quality of sleep is important for children’s and teens’ brains.  In young children, sleep is used to strengthen the connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.  Sleep is also when our brains “clean house” and recharge to prepare us for the next day.
  • Feed them nutritious food.  “You are what you eat” is as true for the brain as any other organ.  There are now indications that high-fat diets are linked to childhood brain-based disorders such as ADHD and anxiety.
  • For high school students, consider a pre-college program.  Usually held on a college campus, pre-college programs allow teens to get a sampling of campus life, fend off the “summer slide,” and explore prospective universities.  The programs can be broadly focused or narrowed down to specific topics of interest.
  • Investigate summer learning programs.  Unlike pre-college programs, which cater primarily to high school students, summer learning programs are available in most cities for elementary and middle school kids as well.  The types of programs can vary greatly, but most are a mix of academics, field trips, community service programs, and enrichment classes (e.g., drama, creative writing, financial literacy, sports, character development, etc).

Simply integrating a few fun and easy activities into your summer routine can allow your child to go back to school feeling not like their brain is fatigued and out of shape, but feeling empowered and sharp so they can be more successful right from the start!