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Bake cookies. Head to the library. Ways to keep your child's brain sharp during the summer.

Taking children to the library or a book store over the summer months will help keep their brains sharp. These kids are acting out a Dr. Seuss celebration at Books & Books in Pinecrest in conjunction with the Miami Dade Public Library.
Taking children to the library or a book store over the summer months will help keep their brains sharp. These kids are acting out a Dr. Seuss celebration at Books & Books in Pinecrest in conjunction with the Miami Dade Public Library. Miami Herald file photo

School may be over, but that doesn’t mean learning should stop.

In fact, keeping your child’s brain engaged during the summer months is critical, not only to the health of their rapidly developing brains, but also to their ability to use them.

If you’re a parent you’ve probably heard of the “summer slide” (or “summer brain drain”), but are you familiar with the research behind it? A study by Duke University is one of many that found that students returning to school in the fall had lost one to three months’ worth of learning, with declines especially pronounced in math.

This doesn’t mean you have to take on a second job as a school marm or master this summer, but it does mean reinforcing at home what’s taught in the classroom.

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Zafreen Jaffery, Ed.D.

Consider these strategies:

Visit the library Many Miami-Dade Public Library (mdpls.org) branches offer summer reading clubs, along with guest speakers, musicians and other activities that stimulate learning. Encourage children to choose books they like and don’t shy away from comic books, joke books and magazines. Audiobooks are another good resource and can help boost a child’s comprehension skills.

Plan day trips. Visit museums, art galleries, zoo and wildlife habitats, and local performing arts venues. Many area attractions have a variety of educational (but fun!) opportunities for children and tend to bump up their offerings come summer. Music has been shown to stimulate young children’s brains, while dance helps sharpen motor skills. Include, too, a local park on your outings list, and bring along a book about flora and fauna. Maybe you’ll spy a blossom, bird or bug that’ll trigger a child’s desire to learn even more.

Cook together Cooking and baking are great ways to practice measuring, fractions and following directions. They’re both huge math/science/reading challenges as these activities include everything from choosing the ideal recipe to finding the right ingredients, measuring things out and following directions.

Grab a pen Have kids write letters to friends or family members to your kids, or help them find a pen pal, possibly at a local senior center. Suggest your child become a cub reporter by starting a family newsletter or help them start a diary or journal. If you’re traveling, be sure to incorporate postcards into your trip; they’re a great way to get kids writing or interested in scrapbooking.

Make errands fun Daily life has a host of lessons just waiting to be learned. A trip to the grocery store, for one, can boost learning if you ask children to calculate the cost of items or figure out the savings from coupons or sales. A drive through your neighborhood can lead to a discussion about the distance from point A to B. Paying for ice cream cones — with cash — can turn into a math lesson as children determine how much change they should get back.

Institute family game night Board games like Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders teach young children how to count, recognize colors and take turns; older kids can learn a lot from Scrabble, Monopoly and Scattergories. You can also make up your own word games with preschoolers by asking questions like, "What word rhymes with ‘house?’” or “Think of a word that begins with the letter “S.’”

Test memory skills Challenge your child to memorize a favorite song or story, or encourage a group of kids to perform a short play.

Plant a garden Use an outdoor thermometer and rain gauge to track temperatures and precipitation, or plant herbs in pots to use in the kitchen.

Make smart screen-time choices Use educational apps from places like Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org), Duck Duck Moose (duckduckmoose.com) and Disney Story Central (disneystorycentral.com) that will keep your child entertained while learning.

Vacation with a purpose Get kids involved in planning your summer trip by calculating how many gallons of gas it will take to drive or how many hours the trip will take if you fly. If there’s a time difference, there’s even more math! Create science fun. What kid wouldn’t love making homemade slime, a marshmallow-toothpick tower or edible play dough? Look online for recipes and other STEM activities appropriate for your child’s age group.

For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.

Zafreen Jaffery, Ed.D., a research and evaluation analyst for The Children’s Trust, brings more than 16 years’ experience in research, evaluation and teaching to her work, and is passionate about promoting educational equity and social justice for all children.

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