September 30, 2016

Summer Fitness For Bodies and Brains

It’s July…do you know where your kids are?

According to a new report, too many are indoors, eating junk, and losing ground in school.

Pointing to a century’s worth of research, the authors of “Healthy Summers for Kids: Turning Risk into Opportunity,” reveal that while summer may seem like a time when kids are particularly healthy and active, evidence shows that in a country with an obesity epidemic, summer is a season when K–12 students are gaining more weight as well as falling further behind in learning.

The problem is even more pronounced in poor communities, where fewer young people have opportunities to learn and practice essential skills. While most kids lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills, low-income youth also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.

During the summer months, today’s families face multiple, interrelated challenges, which are magnified for low-income families. Parents struggle to find and pay for high-quality summer care for their kids. Many also lack access to healthy meals and safe places to play outdoors, causing young people’s health to actually decline in summer as compared to the school year.

The report’s authors find that summer learning programs have an important role to play in reversing negative health and nutrition patterns in support of their academic mission. Yet many families—especially in rural areas—lack access to formal summer learning programs.

Stop the Summer Brain Drain

So, what can families and communities do to prevent learning loss and promote healthy bodies, while also giving kids time to relax and enjoy summer? I went to the experts—teachers and parents—who offered their top 10 tips:

1. Read, read, read! There is no simpler, more enjoyable way to keep that brain in gear. Your local library can be one of your best resources for plugging kids into the appropriate grade-level reading books and encouraging reading with the help of summer reading programs.

2. Volunteer. Help out at a local veterinarian’s office, nature center, church or museum.

3. Grow a garden. Journal about it and learn to cook some of the harvest.

4. Find a teacher. Summer classes can boost the skills of struggling learners or enrich and accelerate learning in areas where kids show a special interest. Choose from formal summer programs, private tutors or go cyber! The options for online learning get better every year, and they can be a great option for learners who are reluctant to participate in large groups.

Check out the GRASP program—a nine week correspondence program written by Grand Rapids Public Schools staff in math and reading. Kids who have completed grades K-8 can receive a packet of materials for the nine weeks of summer, and mail in a lesson a week. Any family can join the program, even if they are from a non-GRASP school. grpublicschools.org/grasp

5. Learn a new language! Involve the whole family with an online tool such as Rosetta Stone.

6. Keep math in mind. Since kids lose more math skills than anything else over the summer, try to do some special planning to find math-related activities. Buy math workbooks and play games that use math and numeracy skills. And if you have a choice between summer classes in “Puppet Theater” or “Math Magic,” choose the math.

7. Join 4-H. Clubs are located in every corner of Michigan, involving more than 200,000 youth (aged 5 to 19) from major cities, suburbs, towns and rural communities. Call 888-MSUE-4MI (1-888-678-3464) and enter the first five letters of your county’s office. Ask to speak with someone about joining 4-H.

8. Go to camp! Every kid should spend time at camp. Michigan organizations offer hundreds of camps on most any theme and in every price range, and some even offer financial help or scholarships for attending. Google it or search kidscamps.com/summer_camps/michigan-summer-camps.html

9. Take day trips. Low-cost day trips not only get the kids outside, but are a great way to keep them learning through lazy summer days. Get kids involved in planning mileage, routes, gas consumption, and other parts of any trips you take. Then, make a journal or photo gallery about the trip. If you can afford to travel farther, visit a place your child has read about or will be learning about in the coming year. It’s a great way to prepare students for upcoming studies and actively engage in their summer trips.

10. Go online—with limits. The internet provides a wealth of free or low-cost websites that will stimulate learning in many topic areas. Some libraries also offer computers for public use. Try pbskids.org and nbclearn.com

Above all, maintain a balance of down-time and planned learning. Kids need to unwind and enjoy the summer, but it’s smart to keep their bodies and brains active and in shape for a new school year—and for life!