Keeping your child’s mind sharp in July and August doesn’t have to mean sitting at a table doing work sheets or flashcards. Educators recommend that parents incorporate learning into play and plan fun day trips to give kids a chance to stretch their minds while still enjoying summer’s more relaxed schedule.
“It’s going to be beautiful weather, and parents should take advantage of not having the constraints of formal school,” said Colin Reinhard, a math specialist for Montgomery County Public Schools.
We talked to several local educators and professionals about how parents can slip learning into their kids’ summer vacation without making it seem like a chore.
Here are some of their suggestions.
Read, read, read, and then read some more
Even the youngest students have suggested summer reading lists. Pat Fege, the language arts coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools, suggests that parents read with their children, both young and old. With high school students, even if you don’t have time to read the whole book yourself, ask your child to recommend a particularly interesting or difficult chapter, then talk to him about what you have read.
Write your way to stronger family ties
For elementary school students, Fege suggests writing letters to relatives, either by hand or e-mail. Have the child use the proper friendly letter format. That means include the date, a greeting, a body and a closing, as well as correct spelling and punctuation.
Older children could interview a relative, asking questions about her own childhood, then write a memory book to give as a present, she said. A bonus: they will get a lesson in family history and have quality time with a grandparent, aunt or uncle. More reluctant writers can get their writing in short doses by making a photo album from a trip or the entire summer, and writing captions to go with each photo.
Venture beyond the exhibits
Most of us have seen the Hope Diamond and dinosaur bones during trips to the Smithsonian, but the museums have so much more to offer.
For tweens, Lynn-Steven Engelke, the director of programs at the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, suggests the forensic anthropology lab at the “Written in Bone” exhibit that is at the National Museum of Natural History through Jan. 6. Students visit stations in the lab to examine bones for clues about life in the Chesapeake Bay region during the 17th century. The lab is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Visit www.mnh.si.edu
Engelke recommends the drop-in sessions at the Hirshhorn’s Artlab+, for teens. The hands-on workshops are from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays and from noon to 5 on Saturdays, and have a different focus each day, including broadcasting, visual storytelling, gaming and photography. Visit www.artlabplus.si.edu for information.