Focus grasshopper!

Help your child learn through play

Keep your child learning all summer

The joys of summer are often forgotten during the woes of back-to-school. All those
leisurely weeks of fun can result in a loss of academic steam. With as little as 15 minutes each day, you can keep your youngsters from losing ground during the summer. You can help keep your children on track with these fun and easy activities.

1 . Create a special place. Children love the idea of a secret clubhouse.  A quick and easy suggestion is to put a beanbag chair or large pillow in the bathtub, a big box, or an old boat. You can also put an umbrella over the top of two lawn chairs or may a teepee by attaching a large sheet to the ceiling, with a hula-hoop sewn into the hem to hold it open. You can also spread a blanket across a clothesline and put a wagon with pillows under it. Whatever hide-a-way you create, allow your children to decorate it with their stories, artwork, or illustrations.

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2. Get all dressed up. Children enjoy being "in-character." You can use a real costume, or create a special outfit from a paper grocery bag, decorated using markers and some yarn, lace, or ribbons. You can use simple things such as a floppy hat, dad's slippers, mom's fancy blouse, or grandma's apron. You can also find gowns, shirts, and pants of all sizes at thrift stores. If you want to be truly creative, make a paper-bag vest and decorate it with stickers each time your youngster completes a project or reads a book.

3. Build a learning kit. Have all the basics: pencils, pens, crayons, markers, tape, glue, and scissors. In addition to books, gather magazines, and activity pads. Have a large box for "fine and wonderful junk" which can bring out the creative genius in your child. Be on the look out for card board, computer paper, carbon paper, envelopes, junk mail, old greeting cards, pop sticks, buttons, empty paper rolls and other treasures. Also useful are buttons and left over pieces from games and puzzles.

4. Do fun stuff. You can encourage independent activities or work together. Follow up activities can include having your child draw a picture to go with a story. You can assign a letter each day and have your child cut out pictures that start with that letter and tape them onto index cards. These cards can be use for numerous activities such as alphabetical order, making up sentences, using as many words as you can in one sentence, finding rhyming words, or placing the card on household objects which start with the same letter. They can also be organized into groups such as animals, food, toys, colors, or clothes.

5. Have awards, rewards and celebrate.  Keep a weekly record and write each day's accomplishments on a large chart. Once a week have a special celebration such as a tea party or quick-snack picnic. You can use stickers or draw happy faces on the chart as you review and discuss all the fun things that were done. You can take photos and mail them, with art work, to dad at work, to grandma (near or far), or to last year's teacher! These simple activities will provide your child with interesting and enjoyable learning games throughout the summer and ease that back-to-school transition.

Dr. Valerie Allen is a child psychologist in private practice. She presents seminars for parents and professionals in the field of child development and has published two childrens' books, "Summer School for Smarties" and "Bad Hair, Good Hat, New Friends". She has also raised six children!