Summer Activities to Enrich Your Child’s Learning

Today’s blog is brought to you by Sam Casteris, a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ:

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimming

When school gets out and parents are on the hunt for kids’ activities that encourage learning (while still encouraging fun, of course!), there are tons of enjoyable, enriching things to do, from being outside and going on trips as a family to enrolling your kiddos in camp or other special summer programs. Here are some of our favorite activities to enrich your child’s learning in the summertime.

1. Get outside and learn about the great outdoors

Today, many school-age kids have jam-packed schedules that allow for little to no downtime spent outdoors (it’s school, extracurriculars, homework, rinse, repeat!) This is why one of the best, most enriching activities you can do as a family is to simply get out in nature. Go for a family hike, go camping, and just enjoy being outside together. Or, if you live near one of our country’s national parks, you could enroll your child in a Junior Ranger Program. The NPS Junior Ranger program is designed for kids between the ages of 5 to 13; by completing a series of activities, kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. This is a fantastic (and fun!) way for youngsters to learn more about their environment.

2. Sign the kids up for music lessons

If your child has shown an interest in music, summer is the perfect time to sign them up for music lessons. The benefits of learning music from a young age are astounding, really. Learning an instrument can improve a child’s memory and concentration, expose them to culture and history, and nurture their creativity and self-expression. Most of all, though: Music brings kids (and everyone!) joy.

3. Head off on a road trip

Road trips are wonderful for seeing the world, yes…but they’re also a wonderful way to learn about cars! If you want to teach kids the ins-and-outs of car mechanics and care, a family road trip is a prime time to do so.

4. Grow plants in a garden and learn about the natural world

It’s never too early, or too late, to teach children about the beauty of the natural world. One of the best ways to encourage a kid’s inherent curiosity and interest in nature is by growing a garden together. Giving children the opportunity to grow and harvest their own food has all kinds of benefits, from improving academic results (talk about a great way to learn about plant science!) to improving their overall health and well-being. Plus, this is such a fun activity to do as a family.

5. Enroll in a summer camp

The sky’s the limit when it comes to summer camps. Is your child interested in science, horses, making movies, art, writing, math, music, or any number of other activities? Enroll them in a summer camp that aligns with their interests. If they’re not sure what they’re interested in or they’d prefer something a little less specialized, there are dozens of traditional camps out there to pick from—ones where kids can do water sports, land sports, arts and crafts, performing arts, and other broad-based activities. No matter which type you choose, sleepaway camp is always a great way for kids to explore, make new friends, enjoy a little independence, and have fun.

6. Volunteer and be an active citizen

It’s crucial to instill a sense of civic duty and gratitude in your child, and there’s no better way to do this than through volunteering. Getting involved in their community helps kids to understand that their world extends far beyond what they see and know, and to appreciate what they have. Pick a cause that your family holds dear and sign up for a few volunteer slots this summer—not only will you be teaching your kids an important lesson, but you’ll truly be making a difference together.

 

What To Do When the Screen Goes Off

girl with plantMedia addiction in children and the importance of limiting their screen time is a big topic in pediatrics this week.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has always recommended no more than two hours of screen time per day for children over 2 (none for those under 2), and they have lots of data to back that up. Adding to this was a recent study suggesting that toddlers who watched more TV than average were more likely to be bullied later in life: reported bullying went up 11% for each additional hour of TV viewing, over the average of 1 1/2 hours. Scary.

Time spent watching TV is not spent developing social and verbal skills, and not spent using and exercising young bodies.

Children sitting in front of a screen develop a disabling habit of being more passive in their interactions with others.

They put on weight because while they are sitting, with their metabolic rate near what it is when they sleep, they are frequently munching on snack food.

They are more likely to have attention problems because TV teaches them to experience the world in 5 minute pieces.

Last, their perceptions are significantly skewed because they take the behavior of characters and people on TV as normal. Which they are not.

It seems reasonable that since I am one of those pediatricians constantly nagging people to turn off their screens, I have a responsibility to come up with some activities they can do instead. All those hours to fill, and all those useful skills to learn!

Our children need the abilities that excessive TV viewing destroys: social knowledge and the ability to interact with actual humans, verbal skills, an attention span adequate to complete a project, and physical exercise. Let’s throw in knowledge of the real world too, just to be complete.

So, ten things to do after you turn off the TV:

  1. Read a book. I know, it’s obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less important. The most rapid development in the brain’s language and learning centers occurs between 6 months and 3 years of age; we need to take advantage. Just 15 minutes of being read to each day between 6 months and 5 years adds up to 500 hours of reading before they even enter kindergarden, boosting development in these areas. Daily reading in older kids improves their comprehension and speed, in addition to adding to their store of knowledge. Hit that library!
  2. Experiment with science. My all time favorite science site is at Roots of Action. They have experiments in all kinds of science, organized by children’s age and type of science, from astronomy to zoology. There is enough there to keep your kids busy all summer long.
  3. Be creative. Break out the crayons or paints and draw. Make music. Write a story. Perform a theatrical: what kid doesn’t love performing in front of their most supportive audience? Creation exercises and stimulates the brain, making it more imaginative and receptive to new ideas.
  4. Garden. Not only does your munchkin get to play in water, dig in dirt and make a mess, but he or she will also have the pleasure of seeing their plants grow and flower. There is self confidence to be grown along with those beans for diner, and those flowers for the kitchen table. Also, they learn a little responsibility along the way, because they won’t want their precious plants to wither and wilt.
  5. Have a cooking class. Again, you get pride of accomplishment (they peeled those carrots!). They will eat better, because they won’t want their own hard work to go to waste, and they will learn an undeniably necessary skill.
  6. Make a chore list. Exercise, a sense of accomplishment, and lessons on responsibility all wrapped up in one. Give an allowance for completed chores and you can have financial lessons as well.
  7. Play a sport. With them please and have fun, so you have family time and everybody gets some exercise.
  8. Learn a new skill. Summer is the traditional time for classes and camps. Learn to draw, play an instrument, ride a horse… Anything your child has shown an interest in, someone is out there teaching, if you cannot teach it yourself
  9. Volunteer. Aiding others in need will help them appreciate what they have, and will feed their souls. The right sort of volunteer activity can also teach useful skills: Literacy promotion (reading), working with the elderly (communication, patience),  hospital work (medical knowledge), food banks and kitchens (cooking and nutrition), and Habitat (building and repair) are all enriching.
  10. After all this activity, take a backyard vacation. Put out the blow up pool and some beach towels, and drink things with tiny umbrellas. Have a trail hike through the neighborhood with a campout at the end. Have a day in Paris, with a home made Eiffel Tower and a French dictionary. Go to a Broadway show produced by your favorite tiny actors. Backyard vacations are limited only by your imagination, never your wallet.

Who has time for a screen? There is just too much to do! Turn that box off and put away that phone!