Break out of the summer stagnation

Family Matters

July 16, 2000|By Lisa Gutierrez and Ericka Mellon | Lisa Gutierrez and Ericka Mellon,Knight Ridder/ Tribune

The next peanut-butter-and- banana sandwich you fix for your child, cut it in half for her, then in fourths, then maybe in eighths for a quick, simple lesson in fractions. Her grade-school teacher will thank you come fall.

Children savor the do-nothingness of vacation, but some educators warn that students shouldn't be encouraged to shift their brains into neutral for the summer.

"There's growing evidence that children's reading and math achievement scores tend to decline over the summer vacation," says Andrea Greenhoot, a developmental psychologist at the University of Kansas. She suggests that parents and caregivers get children "involved in any sort of activity that will promote active learning."

In that spirit, we've scoured various sources for activities and projects to engage youngsters' brain cells and spark creativity, curiosity and problem-solving. We call them mind games.

1. Test your memory skills with your friends. On a tray or cookie sheet, place a dozen small items. Let a friend study them closely. After he closes his eyes, remove one or two of the items from the tray. Have him guess which one is missing. Take turns guessing.

2. All the world's a stage, including your own garage or back yard. Put on a play and let your creative juices flow. Create your own script or adapt a favorite story. (

3. Buy an odometer for your bike. Keep track of how many miles you ride in a week, in a month, the whole summer. Total up the miles and use a world atlas to see how far you've traveled.

4. Make poetry pebbles. Find several small rocks or pebbles. Write words on them. Choose words about people, places, things and actions. Some to consider: he, she, love, dog, walk, happy, in, a, my, your, orange, red, swim, bike. Include punctuation marks. When the pebbles are dry, seal them with hairspray or spray varnish. Place them in a shoebox. Then each player chooses a set number of pebbles and tries to come up with a poem or story using those words. (

5. Watch a movie -- and then write a review of it. (This will help kids learn to organize their thoughts and improve their writing skills, suggests Craig Stevaux in New Moon Network newsletter).

6. Make a volcano. Make a mound of dirt 6 to 10 inches high. Clear a hole down the middle of it and put in 2 teaspoons of baking soda. Pour in some vinegar and it will "erupt" and bubble out the top. (Parents magazine)

7. Go "island hopping." Place several pillows on the floor of a large area. Pretend that they are islands in a faraway sea. Hop from island to island without falling in the water. Make up stories about pirates and alligators while playing. Or, as you hop from island to island, call out the names of real islands from around the world and see who can name the most islands. (

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