Now that summer is upon us and we parents have that familiar emotional mix of excitement and dread– excitement to be at the end of the grueling school year and its relentless schedule and early morning starts; dread because we are at the whim of summer– some of us still have a grueling schedule, but at least it’s a self-imposed one. For the parents who are concerned about engaging their children in activities that will keep them mentally and intellectually sharp, summer is a challenge because after a full year of study and (at least here in Texas) endless testing, academic pursuit is the last thing kids want to consider. Still, studies show that kids lose ground academically over the summer, especially if they do not read.
How do we achieve this for our young ones and also for our teens? Firstly, I always want to point out for parents of teens that summer is a good time to encourage them to get jobs. Even if the job is a paper route or a neighborhood dog walking business, kids learn beneficial lessons about work ethic, independent and critical thinking, not to mention the value of a dollar. I am often moved to ask the question- how is it that some children live on a much higher socio-economic level than their parents? The answer is that often parents raise their kids to expect a privileged lifestyle far beyond what they are prepared to maintain on their own.When parents do this, they set their children up for failure and under-achievement, and they end up with children who have a more difficult time launching out of their parents’ homes and into an independent existence…. But I could rant all day about sparing the job and spoiling the child. Instead, I want to suggest that if you want to keep your goals summer simple- a good job and some good reading are great beginnings to a meaningful summer for kids of every age.
In addition, even if you don’t want to approach your kids about doing academic work, there are lots of fun and creative ways to boost your child’s intellectual curiosity and power! The intellectual development of our children involves much more than what one can achieve in the classroom or on a test. We parents tend to focus on academic achievement when we should be spending a little more time helping our children become excited learners, creative thinkers and passionately curious people. These are the things that really matter in the long run. And it is from these cultivated traits that true academic achievement flows.
Tom Fischgrund endeavored to discover the secrets of kids who got perfect scores on their SATs. He, interestingly, discovered that this small, elite group of super-star students shared quite a bit in common. And very little of their commonalities had anything to do with their SAT study approaches. In his book, The Seven Secrets of Acing the SAT, he shares what he discovered. According to Fischgrund found that SAT-perfect scorers are:
1. Self-confident, self-effacing and self-motivated.
2. Intellectually curious and excited about learning.
3. Quick and voracious reader.s
4. Eager to pursue and excel within a core group of passions.
6. Part of a social network of friends and family that gave critical support.
7. More focused on succeeding in life than on acing the SAT
Just a quick glance at this list tells us that instead of shuttling our children from one activity and tutor to another with the relentless mission of skill mastery, it is much more important to help our children become well-rounded, intellectually curious and passionate people, who are self-starters and strong finishers. This we can do at home, without the need to drive or hire or keep a break-neck schedule of commitments. Without going into the research that shows how children need down time to develop creatively and free-time to discover their passions, let me just suggest some ways we can turn-on our children’s intellect in ways that will pay off for them and the entire family forever.
Part of the effort to ignite their intellectual selves needs to be making learning a family priority. Parents are well served by modeling learning as a life-long endeavor. So the following activities are things that YOU can do. As the parent, what YOU spend your time on sets the priority in your household. So try to engage in as many of these activities with your child as you can. Make the summer a family adventure in learning and self-discovery.
Ten ways to make your child an intellectual powerhouse over the summer (and still keep your day job)!!
1. Family Reading Night. Creating a reader is one of the most important endeavors for parents. Reading is the key to learning– The key. Students who read well are much stronger students. In our household, we have Family Reading Night. We set the date ahead of time and hype it up. We bake cookies. And on the allotted day, after dinner, we come together. I read a book aloud to everyone– a contemporary classic like The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. We used to do this in our bed, but the family got too big to fit. Then each person reads his or her own book to his or herself. We are together, reading separately…eating cookies and drinking milk. The only sounds in the house are chewing and pages turning. It’s a lovely time.
2. Reading Challenge. There are lots of reading challenge programs–in the libraries and some schools. But you can set up your own, with your own prizes. You can make it a competition. But I think it works better if each person has his or her own goal and reward. Mom and Dad participate, too. You can set a common goal like –a book a week. The prizes don’t have to be big, just motivational.
3. New Site Night. Once a week explore the internet together by introducing a new website that has an interesting focus. If one of the kids has a unique interest, try to find obscure sites in that area. My son likes to skateboard. So we found a site that explores physics through skateboarding. It was both educational and very engaging. Or look for something in an area you know nothing about. Explore the site and discuss it together. You can take turns being the “discoverer”…just make sure you have the proper security blocks on the computer!!! Just say’n!
4. “What’s New”–each day, ask each family member to find an interesting news item. The only requirement is that it has to be found from a printed source, e.g. the newspaper or a news website–anywhere you have to read the story or report. Radio and Television do not count. Discuss everyone’s news at dinner time or during the drive home.
5. Museum Day–Once a week visit a museum. Any museum. Your city museums are treasures. Try to achieve a variety over the summer–art, natural science, history. If your child is a museum hater, start with a museum that exhibits a specific interest of his or hers. Look in the directory. Chances are your city has museums you had no idea were there!…And many of them have regular Family Days when families can visit for free.
6. Unplug Night- Once a week turn off every electronic device (except perhaps the stereo for music) and play a board game. No cell phones, no ipods, no video games and NO TV.
7. SAT Question of the Day-The College Board website gives an “SAT question of the day”. (See the sidebar on this site. I feature the daily SAT question over there) If you have older elementary school kids on up to high school, ask them the question each day–at breakfast or at dinner– and discuss the answer. Every now and then, go back to an old question to see if they remember.
8. Twitter--the social networking site, has capitalized on a brilliant idea. Members responds to the question, “What are you doing,” and can only use 140 characters to respond. This makes for succinct statements that no one minds reading because they are short and sweet. This concept makes the idea of the “summer journal” so much more palatable for kids. Tell them they have to make an entry every day. But it only has to be 140 characters and that includes spaces and punctuation. But since it’s so short, it has to be (age-appropriately) proof-read and corrected for spelling, punctuation and grammar. As time goes on, most kids will want to write more. But don’t let them. This way they will learn about efficient writing and the importance of editing. Since the entries are so short, they won’t mind doing it all summer, which is fantastic! You may want to share your entries at Family Meal (see #10), or even during Family Reading Night.
9. One Green Thing– Research shows that teens who are interested in the environment share some positive traits–they are good peer communicators, they are computer/Internet savvy and they are leaders among their peers. This is probably because caring for the environment is an intellectual pursuit. Encourage this activity at home. Once a week have your child suggest “One Green Thing” for the family to do and then help him or her institute it–like recycling or composting or just turning off the water while you brush your teeth.
10. Family Mealtime. The forgotten gift. Research shows families that eat a meal together are healthier and happier. Children who have family meals, perform better in school and better cope with stress. So set a goal to eat at least one meal together per week…and driving home with everyone scarfing down McDonald’s burgers in the backseat does not count! Sorry!
[This Evergreen Content post was originally published in much the same form May 09, 2009]