Your kids have worked hard all year, so you want to give them a break over the summer holidays. But you’ve also seen their cognitive abilities improve and worry that two months off might stop or even reverse the strides they’ve made.
However, according to Luciana Holmes – Eaton Arrowsmith’s head cognitive teacher – parents shouldn’t stress about maintaining a formal education program over the summer. Once cognitive gains are made they continue to increase with life experience. As a result, parents should create fun learning opportunities that allow their kids to explore newfound strengths.
“You need to have fun to see how the cognitive pieces play out in everyday life,” Holmes said. “Parents should also catch their children doing things they couldn’t do before and point those things out to them.”
Holmes has many helpful suggestions if you’re unsure about the kinds of activities that will keep your child’s mind engaged. She said it’s easy and fun to incorporate reading comprehension, math, writing, problem solving, and understanding social situations into everyday life without making kids feel like they’re still in school. Here’s how:
The most important activity a child can do throughout the summer is read, according to Holmes.
“A child should read for 15 minutes at their level every day,” she said. “This can be anything – from a picture book for a student who is not quite a reader to a graphic novel for teenagers.”
She also encourages parents to read to their kids from books, magazines and other sources that are above their reading level – ideally for 10 to 15 minutes per day.
Parents should ask their children for predictions when reading too.
“Ask, ‘What was the author trying to tell you or have you understand?’”
People use math every day without realizing or thinking about it. Buying something at a store, for example, involves counting change or selecting products based on a specific budget. So, Holmes suggests parents get their children to practice purchasing items.
“Our students build their mental math capacities throughout the year,” Holmes said. “Buying products at a store helps kids practice counting change. It’s a real-life task that strengthens their mental math skills.”
To maintain and build on writing abilities over the holidays, Holmes recommends a free writing journal.
Don’t set specific topics for this activity, she said. Give children the chance to write whatever they want once a day.
“They can write exactly what their thoughts are, including things like, ‘I’m not sure what to write next,’” Holmes said.
A journal is an excellent way for students to let their thoughts flow freely.
The Arrowsmith Program’s Symbol Relations exercise (Clocks) helps students build on their capacity to reason. To maintain growth in this area, Holmes said parents should try to ask their kids problem solving questions.
“I recommend lots of ‘why’ and opinion questions,” she said. “What do you think about that? What do you suppose is going on there? How could the situation be different?”
Avoid asking “yes” and “no” questions. Instead, focus on open-ended questions that allow kids to think and develop opinions.
“People watching” is a great activity for inspiring these kinds of questions and helping children see situations from different perspectives, according to Holmes.
“Parents can ask, ‘What do you think their story is? What’s going on over there? Why do you think that person’s wearing a sweater?’”
Parents can also have children complete word searches and puzzles or practice reading street signs when out on walks or driving in the car.
Health plays a big role in cognitive development and brain change too.
“Nutrition, sleep, exercise and water – those four things can be just as important as cognitive exercises because they open the brain’s capacity to change,” Holmes said.
Finally, she emphasized that kids shouldn’t spend their summers staring at smartphones and tablets.
“Let them notice the world,” she said.
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