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The Ultimate Summer Brain Workout: Ten Tips to Keep Kids Minds in Top Form

By Dr. Richard Bavaria
Vice President of Education, Sylvan Learning Center

Just like their bodies, kids’ brains need exercise to stay in tip-top shape. It’s no surprise that during the long, lazy days of summer, many students lose the equivalent of one to two months of reading and math skills.

Because the best learning often occurs when children don’t realize they are learning, fun and creative activities like painting, visiting the zoo or creating a beach towel “journal” are ideal for keeping summer brains in peak condition.

Following are ten, kid-friendly activities designed to give students the ultimate summer brain workout:

Grades K-3

Take a walk on the natural side. Plan a nature walk to a nearby neighborhood, park or zoo. As you and your child walk, stop to record observations with a drawing or a brief description. Gather any items you may want to save or examine more closely when you get home. Later, take the time to search the Internet or read wildlife books to learn more about the plants, rocks and animals you discovered on your walk.

Have fun with sidewalk chalk. Draw a hopscotch pattern, sketch pictures of your favorite characters from books, practice spelling your family members’ names or create math problems for you and your friends. Visit Summer Fun to learn how to make your own sidewalk chalk.

Write on. Keep track of your child’s adventures this summer by creating a beach towel or t-shirt “journal.” All you need is a white beach towel or t-shirt and fabric markers. Have your child include his or her favorite events of the summer on the towel or t-shirt, such as family parties or the scores of baseball games. In September, your child can bring the unusual “journal” to show-and-tell so teachers and friends can reminisce about summer fun.

Grades 4-6

Plant a mystery garden. Visit a garden supply store and purchase a variety of flower and vegetable seeds. Remove the seeds from their containers and place them in unlabeled bags. It’s up to the student to grow the plants and determine their correct seeds! Have your child keep a garden journal, including things like how often and how much water each plant received, and drawings or pictures of the plants as they develop. At the end of the summer, press the flowers in clear contact paper and enjoy the vegetables with the family.

Become a pen pal. Have your child write letters to a friend who has recently moved or a relative who lives out of town. The student could write about his or her summer experiences, stories about friends or pets or the latest family adventure. Consider visiting an art supply store and buying multicolor paper, stickers, stamps or glitter and design your own stationary.

Create a cookbook. Look through cookbooks and ask family members and friends to send their favorite recipes. File recipe cards by category and number each one so they can easily be kept in order. Try a new recipe each week and work together to read the directions and measure the ingredients. Take a picture of your child enjoying the finished product. At the end of the summer, have your child design a cover for the cookbook. Gather all of the recipes into a binder and make printed copies for family and friends.

Keep Reading

Grade 7-9

Plan a vacation. Ask your child to use the Internet to learn more about your vacation destination. If you will be traveling out-of-state, research the state flower or bird and interesting tourist attractions. Gather bus and subway route maps and schedules to places you would like to visit, such as a museum or the zoo. As you travel, your child can keep a journal filled with notes about his or her favorite places.

Become a reporter. Keep track of local and national news by creating a family newspaper. Develop a list of article types, such as sports, comics, movie guide, etc. If the student is writing about a sporting event, use the Internet to learn more about a favorite player or team. Set up a question box in your home and ask friends or family to write questions your child can answer in an advice column. At the end of the summer, organize all of the articles in a binder. It will be fun to look back on in years to come.

Track the weather. Make a large calendar or graph to chart the high and low temperatures each day for a month. At the end of the month, the student can calculate the average temperature and record the highest and lowest temperatures. Consult an almanac at the library to find out whether the temperatures measured were above or below the average in your area, or if you broke any weather records.

All Ages

Read, read, read. Have younger children challenge their friends to a summer read-a-thon. Keep track of hours spent reading and the number of books read. Then, hold a summer-end pizza party to celebrate the winner. Older students can create a local book club by planning weekly meetings to discuss books and serving snacks that relate to the story. To encourage students of all ages to pick up a book, Sylvan has compiled a grade-by-grade list of great “summer reads.” For additional fun books, visit Sylvan’s

Sylvan Learning Center Summer Reading List:

Elementary School

Kindergarten: Whose Mouse Are You? by Robert Krause & Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Grade 1: Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott & Cork and Fuzz by Dori Chaconas

Grade 2: The Principal’s New Clothes by Stephanie Calmenson & Henry and Mudge by Sucie Stevenson and Cynthia Rylant

Grade 3: 10-Step Guide to Living With Your Monster by Laura Numeroff & Aladdin: The Magical Tale of a Boy and his Wonderful Lamp by Rosalind Kerven

Grade 4: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White & If You Lived 100 Years Ago by Ann McGovern

Grade 5: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Ronald Dahl & Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Middle School

Grade 6: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen & The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and Keith Ward

Grade 7: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde & The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Grade 8: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen & The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

High School

Grade 9: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or, on the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King & My Antonia by Willa Cather

Grade 10: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne & Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket

Grade 11: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens & Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Grade 12: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Pat Rogers & Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

© Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D.
Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., vice president of education for Sylvan Learning Center , directs all academic programs used in the Sylvan Learning Center network, including educational content and new curriculum. With nearly 40 years of education experience, Dr. Bavaria is committed to the teaching of reading, writing and mathematics for all students.


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