Boost your kids’ brains before back to school

Did you ever notice how the seagulls are smarter in August? Early in the summer, they will tentatively approach the crumbs 10 feet from my chair, afraid I pose a real threat. After two months, they wise up, and realize I am actually slightly fearful of them. Yesterday, a really large gull – like a bird on roids – snatched a cracker right out of my hand. A little later, he or one of his gang buddies, took a particularly foul dump on my chest. And, it didn’t make me feel lucky. But, it did make me appreciate the success of the seagulls’ summer school. They are quick studies. The opposite has happened to my children. They went from smart little students to sticky, tan kids who can’t recount the book they just finished. The wheels have completely come off – it is time to get this wagon back on track.

1. Read – of course. Take stock of what your school aged children have already read this summer. Have they enjoyed what they have read or are they just checking off a box? It is not too late for one or two more books. Help them find ones they will love, even if it means going back a level. It is far better to send them back to school with a renewed love of reading than an impressive list of books read. For your pre-readers, surround them with books, read to them constantly. When they want the same book over and over, comply and be thankful. Don’t teach them to read, just get them comfortable with books.

2. Talk about books – One of my daughters doesn’t love to read. This is so hard for me to comprehend – who doesn’t love to read? When I realized my technique of telling her that it is ridiculous and anti-American to not love books wasn’t working, I switched gears. We are in a mother-daughter book club together. When we are reading the same book, she loves it. As painful as it may be to put down your trashy summer-read, pick up the same book your child is reading. Even if you don’t love it, fake it. For now, it is one of the most interesting things you have ever read. Talk about characters and plot. Discuss your child’s favorite part, what message the author is trying to convey, and which character they relate to most. I promise you will enjoy these conversations, and they will sharpen necessary skills.

3. Do math problems aloud – Don’t quiz them. Just wonder aloud how much change you should get at the ice cream truck, how many cups of flour you need for a recipe and how many degrees warmer it is today than yesterday. Find life math that is appropriate for their learning level, and do it together. Remember, it is not about getting the answer right, it is about the thought process.

4. Do puzzles, google kids’ riddles and play card games – Get their problem-solving wheels turning. Puzzles are great for spending time as a family. Everyone can get involved. They don’t have to be finished in one night – just leave it there on a table. Your kids will wander to it often, maybe add a few pieces, maybe just stare for a while. Riddles are a fantastic way to shake off the cobwebs. You can google hundreds of them. Just shout them out once in a while – your kids will start to think. Card games, like Uno, Gin Rummy, even Poker, will work on math and reasoning skills – yes, I am encouraging gambling with your children.

5. Don’t waste time in the car – It is so easy to turn on the radio or a DVD player, and believe me, I understand the need to do this sometimes. But, you have this captive little audience who can’t go anywhere. Engage them. There are all kinds of great games you can play in the car with no equipment at all. Sometimes, I just ask my kids trivia or simple questions about math or spelling. I tire of it well before they do.

With all the video games – educational and otherwise, it is so easy to forget how much kids love their parents’ attention. Give it to them! It is the best thing you can do to get them ready for school. Talk to them, shop with them, listen to them, play with them. You wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching first. Help them sweep those sun-filled cobwebs out of their little brains. Besides, think how little you’ll see them once school schedules start. I spend a lot of my blogging energy writing about how my kids drive me crazy – and they do. But, they’re a lot of fun too – I’ll miss them in the fall.

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