Professionals offer summer learning tips for parents to keep kids engaged during summer break
Summer is here, and the cries of “I’m bored” and “there’s nothing to do” have already started, barely days into your kid’s supposed favorite time of the year. It’s an annual ritual; the wave of excitement for the coming long days and warm night soon turns to the dread of the inevitable return to the classroom. During this time, days and nights are often filled with activities; from vacations to sports, camp-outs to pool parties. And quite often, days are also filled with television, video games, and sometimes innocent mischief.
Parents often struggle during this time. While kids may be quick to forget all about school, parents understand that classes return faster than everyone realizes, and the first month of school can often be filled with re-learning everything that has already been taught. Kids suffer when they come back to school and must go through this period of “re-education”. Wouldn’t it be better to have a child that is ready and prepared to start the new school year off on the right foot, ready to absorb new knowledge?
Advanced Brain Technologies (ABT) has been developing products for decades to help kids (as well as adults) improve memory, concentration and overall brain function, while also helping to reduce stress, and deal with the symptoms of autism, ADD, ADHD, and auditory processing and speech disorders. The Listening Program® (TLP) is a music listening method, personalized for each listener to improve brain health, at any age or level of ability. Used and trusted by hundreds of thousands of people in over 35 countries, TLP is offered through an international network of trained ABT providers.
These providers have countless hours of experience among them, and dealing with the “summer doldrums” is one of their specialties. To help you through these months, our providers suggest the following summer learning tips for parents to keep your kids engaged, so when that school bell rings again, they’ll be ahead of the game.
When you hear “I’m bored!”
Those two words are sometimes the most frustrating for a parent. Sometimes, however, they do not mean what you think they mean.
“In my personal and professional experience, the phrase ‘I’m bored’ expressed by a child rarely means what we adults think it means,” says Kellie Huff, CCC-SLP and President of Aurora Strategies in Norcross, GA.
“Often, it means, ‘this is too hard’ if heard during the school day, or ‘I want to be entertained’ if heard at home. And it’s placing the responsibility for fixing the situation on the external (parents, teachers, iPads). For my kids, their friends and my students, whenever I heard them exclaim, ‘I’m bored’, I always became very excited and replied, ‘Wow, that’s the perfect place to be! Now, you are standing on the edge of creativity! Every famous writer, inventor, explorer, adventurer, etc, just before they set out to discover something wonderful, felt exactly the same way you are feeling right now – bored with their current situation. Congratulations!’.
“Then, I would pull out the art supplies, paper and pencil, scavenger hunts, anything except turning on the TV or handing them an iPad. At first, they weren’t as excited as I was, because they wanted me to fix their problem, but after a few minutes of self-directed creativity or adventure, even though it took some prodding from me, and they were on their way to finding new ways of using their imaginations. Eventually the use of the phrase ‘I’m bored’ disappeared. Really.”
One of the best suggestions Kellie has for parents is to create a “Boredom Box” filled with activities. The trick is to fill the box or jar with fun activities as well as chores. She calls them “creativity starters”. When a child says “I’m bored”, it’s time to choose an activity. They may choose a fun idea, or they may get stuck washing windows or putting dishes away.
Sometimes, however, families find themselves in a situation where boredom is the opposite of what their summer is really like. Jeanne Kennedy, ABT provider in Centerport, NY, says often families schedule so many activities into summer that there’s no downtime for parents or kids. When families have sports, camps, vacations and outings with friends, it can create a scenario where there’s no home time left, and children need some quiet time to help their brains recharge.
“In my personal and professional experience, the phrase ‘I’m bored’ expressed by a child rarely means what we adults think it means. Often, it means, ‘this is too hard’ if heard during the school day, or ‘I want to be entertained’ if heard at home.”
Kellie Huff, CCC-SLP and President of Aurora Strategies
Schedule and Structure
School is a very structured setting, and every day it is the same. Often, summertime means no structure whatsoever. Bedtime is flexible, there’s no alarm in the morning, and daily activities can vary wildly. Many of our providers suggest creating a schedule for summer days and sticking to it as much as possible.
Pamela Torres says creating visual schedules can help your kids to know in advance what to expect each day. She recommends the web site www.boardmakeronline.com which has free options for creating visual schedules.
Jeanne Kennedy has used incentives to keep kids interested in completing routine tasks. Buy a roll of event tickets from a party store, and give them out after the child completes certain tasks. As the child accumulates tickets, he or she can redeem them for various rewards. Bigger rewards require more tickets, and rewards can include special treats like frozen yogurt, a night at the movies, etc.
Pat Mattas, a Provider in Plainville, CT, suggests finding a healthy balance between different activities. Make sure there is time for “work” activities such as chores, “play” activities such as bike riding or free play time, and “learning” activities like reading, visiting a new museum, going to the fire station, etc.
Pamela Torres, ABT Provider in Sunnyvale, TX, recommends adding “downtime” specifically to your child’s schedule. This way, you will treat it as an equal to all of the other activities you are doing throughout the week.
Mary Padula, MA, CCC/SLP and Neurodevelopment Program Consultant and a longtime ABT Provider in Stow, OH, says getting children involved in daily chores in as important as any other activities in which they participate. They should be given scheduled chores to complete each day, as well as allow them to choose a few additional chores to complete. While you may task them with putting out the garbage cans and vacuuming, give them the option to suggest other chores such as making breakfast or dinner once a week. Giving them some “ownership” of these activities helps them to feel like an important member of the family and allows them to take pride in their work.
Make sure there is time for “work” activities such as chores, “play” activities such as bike riding or free play time, and “learning” activities like reading, visiting a new museum
Pat Mattas, Plainville CT
Keep your kids interested in reading throughout the summer. Erica Hammon, resource teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Utah, recommends at least 15 minutes per day. Allow your child to pick out the books they would be interested in reading, while making sure the book content is both challenging, and appropriate for their age.
Pamela Torres suggests a wide variety of activities to keep your child’s brain active and learning. Much like exercise for the body, the brain needs variety to keep it stimulated and maintain progress. Schedule outings to coincide with what your child is learning or doing at home. If he or she is currently interested in drawing or coloring at home, plan an outing to the local art museum to support and foster that interest.
Erica Hammon says utilizing time in the car is a valuable way to keep kids learning. When you’re on the go, or headed on a long road trip for vacation, bring along activities for the kids that relate to academics. Instead of filling an iPad with movies, download math or spelling games. If they insist on watching videos, find fun, educational videos so they can learn at the same time. One iPad app that is recommended by Jeanne Kennedy is Thinkster Math, a subscription-based program.
Jeanne also recommends pairing academic activities with The Listening Program®, or movement activities, such as The Movement Program, a brand new 12-week program from Advanced Brain and Learning Solutions in the UK. She says that immediately after doing a listening session, the child has “in essence primed their brain to take in information.”
Turn it off!
These days, children are drawn to video games, cell phones and TV to occupy their time. While professionals almost universally recommend limiting the amount of electronics time for children, it is especially important during the summer.
Mary Padula recommends a maximum of 30-60 minutes of electronics time per day. She says that when you do allow TV time, try to make it a family activity, such as movie night.
Jane Davis, ABT provider in Salt Lake City, says multi-sensory activities are a great way to keep kids occupied. Spatial and sensory toys such as building blocks, erector sets, playdough, sandboxes, etc help children build up their sensory awareness, as they are using multiple senses during the activity and keeps their minds active and engaged. She also recommends toys or activities that require the use of imagination. Dolls or action figures help to spark imaginary play, an important quality for proper development.
Camille Perfetto-Roldon, ABT Provider in Old Bethpage, NY, suggests making sure you are always challenging children in whatever activity they are doing. Puzzles and games such as Blokus, Kanoodle, Q-bits and board games like Stratego, chess, checkers, and Scrabble are fun to play and help develop cognitive abilities and strategic thinking. Camille also suggests changing up the rules in games to provide a new challenge to a familiar game. Allow the kids to choose the rule changes for another twist.
Kathy Johnson, an ABT Provider in Saratoga Springs, NY and founder of Pyramid of Potential, echoes the sentiment that challenging kids will produce better outcomes, and also suggests repetition is necessary.
“The brain creates connections and long term learning the same way that the brain creates a habit,” says Kathy. “Whatever it wants to learn must be done daily or almost daily for at least a month. You cannot create a habit of daily exercise by only exercising a couple days a week.”
She says the brain does not like boring or frustrating activities. Choosing activities that the child enjoys doing will help them develop better habits over the long term.
Getting outside is also an often-suggested activity that is great for kids during the summer. Jeanne Kennedy highly recommends regular exercise for kids. She says exercise is a natural stress reliever and mood enhancer. Whether it’s exercise or a session of listening with The Listening Program®, she recommends prompting your child with “do you feel better now after doing your listening or exercising?” When the child answers “yes” to the question, it will reinforce the child’s desire to repeat the activity and help them develop healthy habits.
Finally, time for solitary silence can be hugely beneficial to children. Pat Mattas recommends setting aside time for your child to have some quiet alone time. Whether sitting or lying down, help them to find a quiet, dark place to spend a little time each day.
When kids are away from school, they often find themselves away from their classmates as well. Staying socially active is important for both parent and child, and can often help alleviate some of the stress parents feel when they must “entertain” their children all day.
Pamela Torres recommends seeking out mom or dad groups in your area to connect with other parents who have similar-age children. Create weekly get-togethers (“play dates”) and take turns creating the activities for that time. This creates variety and interest for the kids (“What are we doing THIS week?!”) and gives some support to the parent to help make the seemingly-endless summer a little easier. Facebook groups are easy to find, and start if there are none in your area, where you can connect quickly with those in your area.
Not only does this give you some much-needed help with the kids, but it can give you some time to socialize with other adults, which many stay-at-home parents lack on a regular basis. Plus, when you set up play dates for individual children, they enjoy the fact that you are focusing just on them for some special time, which can get lost when you have multiple children of different ages who are interested in different things.
Play dates also help you to understand your child more. Watch them as they play and interact with another kid who happens to not be a brother or a sister. You’ll notice quirks in their personalities that you may not have seen at home. It gives your child the chance to develop their social skills as well, as interactions with other children can be very different than those with siblings.
Jane Davis recommends group activities as much as possible, even if it’s within the family. Games like charades and Pictionary are great social activities that the whole family can do together. Not only are they fun, they can often function to bring the family closer together, and provide an important distraction from the rigors of daily family life.
Have some fun!
While schedules and chores should be a big part of your child’s summer, make sure to save time for good old fashioned fun. These fun activities can still incorporate stealth brain-enhancing activities, however. Shoshana Shamberg, OT, MS, FAOTA and ABT Provider in Baltimore, says you should give your kids multi-sensory experiences. Find different types of material on which to draw or paint, such as aluminum foil, cardboard or card stock paper, sandpaper, wood boards, etc. Let them try using different materials to draw with as well, like paints, crayons, sand or mud, even whipped cream. You can even create your own materials. Find recipes here that Shoshana has put together for playdough, silly putty, Papier-mâché, etc.
This sort of multi-sensory activity helps stimulate different parts of the brain while making use of all five senses.
Kate Wilde, ABT Provider and Director of the Son-Rise Program, has produced dozens of YouTube videos that teach fun movement activities for kids to do throughout the summer. Head on over to their YouTube channel to start watching!
The Movement Program is another fun activity for kids to participate in, while helping to train their brain at the same time. TMP is a 12-week program that has been proven to increase academic performance in school-age kids. If started at the beginning of summer, the changes your child could see at the end of the program coincide perfectly with the beginning of the new school year and could really make a difference in their performance in the classroom. Plus, it gets them up off the couch, following direction, and doing some exercise!
Click here to learn more about The Movement Program and get started immediately!
Create the right home environment
While all of these activities can help keep your child engaged throughout the summer months, the home environment is a key aspect to their development. If you can create a structured, nurturing home, your child will have the full opportunity to thrive.
Small changes can often make a big difference. Shoshana Shamberg, OT, MS, FAOTA recommends slight modifications to your home’s lighting scheme to help your children. Reducing light levels to minimize stress and swapping to LED dimmable light bulbs instead of fluorescents can help keep your child’s eyes healthy. Some kids function better in lower light, so try adjusting light levels to find that optimal range in which your child works best.
If your child is sitting at a table or desk while doing an activity, make sure they are sitting with good posture, and feet flat on the floor. To further avoid eye strain, try a slanted desk or table-top easel to help reduce glare and reflection from overhead lights.
Provide them with a quiet space to have some solitary time, away from the TV, siblings and other external distractions. Encourage as much quality family time as possible when home; avoid the pitfall of every family member splitting off to do his or her own thing every evening.
Creating a Sensory Smart Environment for Learning, Working & Health
Shoshana Shamberg, OT, MS, FAOTA, certified ABT Provider
Filter lighting sources. Use LED when possible.
Reduce light to comfortable levels
Do not sit directly under bright lights to minimize glare
Use a slanted easel
Keep good posture while sitting at a desk or table
Avoid reading or writing with bright white paper and dark text
Use subdued colors when painting rooms to promote calmness and alertness