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Keeping Your Kids Mentally Active in the Summer

Posted 5/24/2017 by UHBlog

Keeping children mentally active over the summer lets them hit the new school year running. Talk to us about what can help them developmentally.

Keeping Your Kids Mentally Active in the Summer

Studies show that younger children can lose up to half a grade of skills over the long summer break. They end up starting the next school year behind and may never catch back up. However, keeping your child mentally active and engaged can lessen or even eliminate the so-called summer slide.

“The best way to stay ahead of the loss is to remember that even though your kids aren’t at school, there are still plenty of moments to teach throughout the summer,” says pediatrician Anandhi Gunder, MD, MPH. “They don’t have to be forced, and learning can actually be fun for both your child and you.”

When looking for things to do, Dr. Gunder says to consider these three things:

  1. Spending money is not always needed. There are alternatives to summer camps that can be just as useful.
  2. Teaching can be blended into everyday family activities. You can include learning in whatever you're doing at the time. History, math, reading and critical thinking skills can be incorporated into almost anything.
  3. It’s important to keep some structure in your daily plans. Carve out some time every day for reading and other endeavors, while making sure that the kids have plenty of time to play. That way, they learn what work-life balance is.

“Learning doesn’t just happen at the book club, in summer school or at an academic camp – although if these are available to the family, they are also very useful,” Dr. Gunder says. “Summer is also a season to increase family time. This is something that kids lose out on during the school year because of their busy schedules.”

According to Dr. Gunder, there are many ways to teach and have fun with your kids:

  • Incorporate learning skills into everyday occurrences. For instance, when you're eating out, have your child calculate the tip. Or, start a garden to teach about planning. You can also read about the plants to understand how each one fits into a healthy diet.
  • Free is good. Camping out in your backyard can lead to learning about astronomy. Making ice cream or cooking in the kitchen involves math skills, measurements and following a plan.
  • Look close to home. There are many often-overlooked options that can be done in a day, Dr. Gunder says. Going to the zoo can lead to talking about the animals and where they come from (geography). Museums and galleries teach history and art - and the plaques help with reading skills. Trivia and worldly interests are another important part of the summer experience.
  • Structured activities offer variety. Summer camps and library reading clubs are often a useful addition. These teach important skills, help with a child's socialization and reinforce the importance of planning your day.
  • Keep a journal or diary. This helps your child with memory, writing and organizing thoughts. It's also a great way to remember summers of long ago.
  • Apps are okay in moderation. There are many apps available for a phone, tablet or personal computer. Choose age-appropriate ones that allow your child to gain skills in math or reading, for instance.
  • Maintain some consistency in summer. Try not to get too far away from bedtime routines in the summer. After all, your child will need to readjust sleep patterns when school starts up again.

“There's no need for something to be scheduled every single day,” she says. “It's OK for your child to be lazy on occasion, lay around, watch a movie, and have a lot of fun in the dirt and the flowers. They learn important life skills by just being outside.”

Anandhi Gunder, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Euclid Pediatrics. You can request an appointment with Dr. Gunder or any other doctor online.

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