What to Do When Summer Gets Boring
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Have a family book club. Read the same book at the same time. Schedule club meetings at two-week intervals to discuss the books, maybe over dinner. Which characters did you like best? Did the story keep you interested? What was effective about the author's style? When pressed for time, select shorter books to give everyone time to complete them before the next club meeting. The frequency and quality of the book discussion is almost as important as the book selections. This activity helps kids learn to critique story elements and authors' styles-exactly what elementary through high schoolers need for writing book reports at school.
Start a family newsletter. Put Harrys of all ages in charge of keeping in touch with family and friends by e-mail this summer. Younger kids can focus on individual e-mail messages. Older ones can put together family newsletters and distribute them by e-mail. Most word processing software gives computer-savvy or more ambitious Harrys the option to lay out the newsletters and insert images. This reinforces more sophisticated computer skills. At the least, this activity strengthens keyboarding, composition, grammar, and spelling skills.
Make a family history. Designate Harry the family historian. Put younger ones in charge of maintaining folders or scrapbooks of summer events like movies, museum trips, family parties, or vacations. Paste photos, postcards, movie stubs, museum brochures, party invitations, travel itineraries, and receipts for favorite new toys in this permanent family record. These scrapbooks make for excellent sharing when Harry returns to school. Younger kids can also practice handwriting and creative skills by writing a narrative for each set of items.
Older students can sort family photos by person, date, or event. Put a scanner in Harry's hand and have him scan the photos and move them into page layouts. These two steps alone could take all summer. Ask him to collate his pages to add to his younger brother's family history scrapbooks. Frame and send individual pages as gifts for the entire coming year.
Teach cooking. Find math in measuring and determining portions and nutrient contents. Find science behind why yeast makes bread rise and why sparkling water bubbles. Find history in family recipes, art and design in food presentation, and cultural awareness in preparing ethnic meals. Planning meals, budgeting, buying food, preparing, and serving also demand organizing and that most important skill of all, cleaning up the mess. Cooking can even instill responsibility. Those who learn to cook over the summer can make a weekly dinner for the family during the school year.
Note that microwave ovens are prime opportunities for younger, computer-reluctant Harrys to learn to operate a simple computer program. Computers and microwave ovens have lots in common. They both have computer chips and preloaded software and controls so Harry can tell the device what to do. The microwave, however, is simpler because it has only a few controls like a timer and a clock.
Work on food allergies. A summer cooking project might also provide the perfect opener for investigating your suspicions about whether your child's hyperactivity might be food related. Harry can become his own food-allergy detective with a simple elimination diet. You can help by planning cooking projects around his new foods. Find excellent guidelines written for elementary-aged kids in Tracking Down Hidden Food Allergy by William G. Crook, M.D. Available to order at 800-227-2627.
Learn a foreign language. Summer is the perfect time for learning a second language together. Access the many computer programs available free online. Select trips, television programs, ethnic grocery stores, museum exhibits, local festivals, and events that highlight the language of your choice. Be on the lookout for words in your chosen foreign language in newspapers, books, and magazines. Borrow or buy books in two languages, and then read the dialogue aloud in both languages to learn grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary. Incorporate foreign expressions in your daily conversations and cook meals from regions that speak your new language. Bring all your efforts together by having a family book club discussion about your Chinese book selection while eating Harry's interpretation of chow mein.
Build endurance. Involve Harry in exercises that build strength, stamina, and lung capacity. Go hiking, tree climbing, rock climbing, bicycling, running, jogging, skipping, jumping rope, playing hopscotch, and swimming with kids of all ages. Get a younger Harry a mini-trampoline or set up a badminton court in the backyard and have family tournaments. Harry can perfect his body control and movement strategies merely by learning to avoid the azalea bushes when he lunges for the birdie. These full-body, high-movement exercises are also excellent outlets for kids with attention disorders. Older kids might learn fencing over the summer, which builds strength, stamina, balance, and eye-hand coordination.
Form a visiting artist collective. Ask the parents of four or five of Harry's friends to join you in inviting artists to teach a small group of kids this summer. The artist doesn't have to be a professional. It can be one of the parents in your neighborhood, or a friend or family member who is interested in graphics arts, interior design, jewelry making, beading, weaving, knitting, sewing, quilting, gardening, house or wall painting, pet grooming, bicycle repair, carpentry, wood carving, or picture framing. Classes can meet for an hour once or twice a week. Parents can take turns chaperoning and learn a new art along with the kids.
Organize collections. Whether Harry collects stuffed teddy bears or CDs of his favorite rap groups, organizing, sorting, cataloguing, and storing collections is a great summertime activity. Make it a writing exercise by having him maintain a collection notebook in print or on the computer. This should include notes, comments, and/or opinions about individual items. This could take all summer.
Plant a vegetable or flower garden together. There are many life lessons in gardening that kids of all ages can harvest. Nature is never short of surprising revelations. Gardening also teaches design, spatial and visual planning, sequencing, scheduling and long-term planning, and follow-through-the same skills middle and high school kids need to complete a long-term report. The plant selection process puts kids in touch with weather conditions and soil quality as well as care and maintenance schedules. If it is a vegetable garden, it will also show Harry where vegetables come from. It's not surprising that some kids think green beans come from cans in a supermarket.
This would be also a fine time to teach Harry how to safeguard his health and preserve the environment by investigating and using natural fertilizers and nontoxic pest-killing methods. As a finishing touch, Harry can prepare his harvested vegetables as part of his weekly cooking performance.
Introduce Harry to traditional crafts. Cross-cultural experiences will expand Harry's awareness, spark his creativity and teach him tolerance. Seek out local or large festivals and events that highlight the crafts of another culture. Because traditional artists learn their crafts within their own communities, they provide a personal insight into the culture, too. Check for festivals, events, celebrations, or parades in your local newspaper or on community bulletin boards. This idea dovetails nicely many of the others above. From the Hispanic cultural festival, Harry can learn the recipe for a dish he can cook using vegetables from his garden project and serve it on Tuesdays in the fall when he cooks dinner for the family as they discuss a book everyone just read about El Salvador.
Redesign his bedroom. This is a superb lesson in how to sustain his skills during a long-term project, a skill Harry needs if he's in grade four or above. Designing and planning a bedroom also anticipates the increased homework load for kids transitioning into middle or high school. Have Harry, the junior contractor, prepare a design proposal that includes a color palette, floor plan, window treatments, and floor cover. He should make a budget based on his predictions about supplies and outside contractor needs. His proposal should include a time line for completing each phase, which portions he can do on his own, and those requiring assistance from others. Instead of budgeting for new furniture, challenge Harry to explore what he can accomplish with simple materials like boards, cinder blocks, and boxes, or by refinishing or repainting his old dresser.
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From Teacher Says by Evelyn Porreca Vuko. Copyright © 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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