By Karyn Lutes, MA, CCC-SLP
Brain Boost Academy
Summertime brings to mind hot days spent in a swimming pool, camping, homemade strawberry ice-cream, lots of sleepovers, and freedom from the demands of school. It’s a great season to spend quality time with your kids and for them to keep up their brain skills so that the transition back to school won’t be such a shock. And for bright children with attention, behavior, or learning challenges, it is even more critical that skills are not lost. So how do you make sure that the skills are not lost? There are many ways to support cognitive skills—many of which can be done during your summer activities with creative planning.
Influence the pillars of brain health
Three pillars of brain health include exercise, nutrition and sleep. Summer is often a time for popsicles, popcorn and fried fair food. Instead, limit those foods and pre-pack food like whole fruits, salads and cut up vegetables with dip, which provide phytonutrients and micronutrients, as well as protein (raw almonds, yogurt, baked or broiled free-range hormone-free chicken or fish), healthy fats (nuts, seeds, fish) and whole grains (crackers and bread). Good nutrition forms and supports neurotransmitters in the brain, which influence feelings of well-being and the brain’s ability to solve problems, make connections and learn. Exercise also influences feelings of well-being by acting as an antidepressant by reducing stress hormones, transporting more oxygen to the brain and stimulating new cell connections (brain plasticity). Consistent bed times and wake times are critical for mental and body rejuvenation and repair and play a critical role in the development of your child’s brain for attention, learning and behavior.
Create a ‘mental reserve’ with stimulating activities
Most children default to electronic devices to play games and connect with others, however by seeking and planning novel summer adventures, you can help your child ‘unplug’ and stimulate his interests and his brain. A local teacher and parent, Melanie, created a ‘bucket list’ of activities and adventures to tackle this summer with her children like kayaking, spa mani-pedis, creating a loom necklace, and washing the car in swimsuits. She posted their fun pictures and crafts on facebook to share with others. These types of creative activities help to build new neuropathways and a reserve of mental energy that protects the brain from neuron damage, which can lead to learning, attention, and behavior problems.
Foster critical thinking skills during quality time
By tapping into your child’s natural curiosity, you can help your child build language and create critical thinking skills including logic and reasoning. In the book, The Teachable Minute by my friend, Dr. Connie Hebert, parents are taught to “show, ask and teach” children in everyday activities and locations including those at home (dinner table, yard), around town (bank, library), on transportation (airplane, bus), at public places (bookstore, movie theater), and at recreational locations (campground, zoo). She emphasizes the need for parents to make a conscious effort to look for “the teachable minute” during everyday activities and outings to encourage thinking and learning.
Read and preserve concepts and vocabulary
Academic concepts and vocabulary can be lost over long breaks from school. By setting aside 20-45 minutes per day to review skills from the past school year, your child will have a head start into the new school year. Academic review workbooks such as the Brain Quest Workbooks and the Summer Bridge Activities series provide a good grade-level overview. Daily reading should be encouraged. Allow your child to choose books with topics that motivate him and that are at his reading level.
Create a ‘safety net’ for the next school year
Difficulty with attention, behavior, or academics strongly suggests that your child is missing foundational learning skills. These are mental processing skills that all learning is built upon. They are not taught in school or at tutoring, but rather at specialized brain-training centers. Compounding the demands of school on top of a weak foundation only creates more frustration, stress, homework battles, less confidence and poor behavior. These are merely symptoms of a deeper problem that need to be accurately identified (not with a label) and then addressed at the root level by changing the way your child processes information. When you address the missing foundational learning, attention and behavior brain building-blocks, your child will have the best chance for success over the next school year.
Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy activities with your child–especially activities that support and build mental skills that reinforce academic skills. By including the pillars of brain health, creative summer adventures, building critical thinking skills during everyday experiences, and reading and reviewing past academic concepts and vocabulary, your child will have gained skills and will be better prepared to enter the next grade level in the fall. And if you are worried about your child’s learning foundation, then it is critical to create a ‘safety net’ by getting the help that is needed to support your child and his future. The next school year and homework time can be better and you can make it happen!
Karyn Lutes, MA, CCC-SLP is a Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist, CA Credentialed Teacher, author, speaker, mother of 3 and Executive Director at The Speech And Learning Coach and Brain Boost Academy.
Her team transforms ADD/ADHD (drug-free), Dyslexia, Reading, Math, Behavior, Communication, Attention and Learning Challenges into success. For more information visit www.TheSpeechAndLearningCoach.com or contact the author at (805) 474-1144.
© 2014 The Speech And Learning Coach.com. Reproduction is allowed if origination is included. Must be used in its entirety.
Hebert, Dr. Connie, The Teachable Minute: The Secret To Raising Smart And Appreciative Kids, Morgan James Publishing, New York City, New York, 2013.