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

Brain training company, LearningRx, has put together a list of ideas to help you keep your kids’ brains involved and evolved this summer. Why let hours of mindless TV take them sliding back to “caveman brain” when you could try these 10 things?

Brain-Boosting Activities to Avoid the “Summer Slide”

  1. Enroll your child in a summer reading program through your local library or create your own with a series of rewards for meeting benchmarks. According to Scholastic, it only takes six books over the summer to keep a struggling reader from falling behind during the break.
  2. Sign your child up for music lessons. There’s 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 in adulthood —even if you don’t continue playing as an adult.
  3. 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.
  4. Teach them a second language. Studies show that foreign language learning 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.
  5. Enroll them in personal brain training. Also known as “cognitive skills training,” one-on-one brain training not only helps children and teens maintain what they’ve learned, but also strengthens their cognitive skills to better prepare them for their return to school.
  6. 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 memory matching, can work. Choose toys that develop complex learning skills, like memory, logic and reasoning, processing speed, attention, and auditory and visual processing. Puzzles, games that build rhyming, math and memory skills, strategy-focused games (e.g., Battleship) and those that require planning (e.g., Checkers, Chess) can usually be found for under $15. You can download a free chart of Games for Skills at UnlockTheEinsteinInside.com.
  7. Put together 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 (i.e., smaller and magnetic). 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.
  8. If your kids are set on using tablets, download some fun but educational apps and games. Here’s a list of free brain-building apps for tweens: http://media.learningrx.com/free-brain-building-apps-for-tweens/
  9. 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.
  10. 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, dressing up in time-period clothing, making and/or playing musical instruments, and dinosaur digs.
  11. Keep them physically active. Physical exercise not only decreases obesity, which has been linked to brain-based disorders, but it also increases oxygen to the brain. In addition, physically active children often watch less TV (which has been linked to weakened cognitive skills). “Green time” (i.e., outdoor play with lots of grass and trees) specifically has been found to reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms.
  12. 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.
  13. Feed them nutritious food. “You are what you eat” is as true for the brain as any other organ. Eat healthy foods and your brain stays healthy! There are now indications that high-fat diets are linked to childhood brain-based disorders such as ADHD and anxiety.
  14. For high schoolers, 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. Many offer scholarships.
  15. Join the YMCA, YWCA or local community center. Beyond sports, many of your local centers likely offer educational, leadership, and family programs.
  16. Visit your local nature center. What’s not to love about nature hikes, puppet shows, crafts, and other hands-on activities?
  17. For high schoolers, encourage them to find summer employment. Even working as a server at a café can teach them about money, time management, responsibility, and customer service.
  18. Look into 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, tennis, digital music production, character development, etc.).
  19. Teach them to juggle. Research has shown that juggling improves hand-eye coordination, increases attention span, and reduces stress levels. Studies have also indicated that students who incorporate juggling into their day improve their reading and math skills.
  20. Encourage regular “free play” (unstructured play without technology or adult direction). In animal studies, play improved memory and stimulated the growth of the cerebral cortex. After rats experienced “rough-and-tumble” play or were allowed to explore, they had an increased level of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is essential for the grown and upkeep of brain cells.

The phrase, “Don’t let summer make you dumber!” may sound silly, but the Summer Slide is no joke. Keep your kids’ brain skills strong so they’ll be as ready for school to start in the fall as YOU are!

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