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16 Fun Brain-Boosting Games

Like many parents, I'm full of good intentions during those first school-free days of June. Mindful of the well-documented learning losses that occur over the summer in math and reading, I've been known to stock up on spelling books and flash cards, and even post a vocabulary word or two in the kitchen.

But it isn't long before my grand ideas of academic achievement are forgotten along with the flash cards now buried under the damp swimsuits. My daughters simply don't want to go to school during the summer, and, frankly, neither do I.

So we play games instead. We take walks and make things, we read books together in the hammock. It isn't school, and an increasing amount of research says that's more than okay. It turns out that there are a whole lot of nontraditionally academic approaches that can engage your child's brain in the summer equally as well as, and often better than, any workbook. So don't worry if school's around the corner: Chances are your child has already been doing a lot of learning -- and here are more easy activities you can do while summer's still in swing:

School-Year Habit: Study For a Science Test
Summer Substitute: Do Science!

We've heard about American kids' needing more exposure to the sciences, and if that makes you think of dreary formulas and dusty beakers, think again. There isn't much that's more fun than science: Kids can make crazy things happen while learning about cause and effect, the natural world, and lots more.

Take the science-fair volcano to the next level. You have to sacrifice a two-liter bottle of diet soda for this one (it's less sticky than regular soda, so easier to clean up), but it'll be worth it. Open the soda on the driveway or in the yard. Now, as quickly as possible (it helps to use a funnel; you can make one out of paper), drop an entire roll of Mentos candies into the bottle and run: The soda will explode from the bottle, making a huge geyser. So cool!

Conjure up some goop. Put two cups of cornstarch in a bowl and slowly add water (you'll need about a quarter cup). Mix until a soft clay forms. Your kids will find it irresistible as the mixture changes from hard to soft to gooey, then to a ball they can hold in their hands. Add food coloring for extra fun.

Create some botanical art. Draw a landscape line on a piece of sky-blue card stock or construction paper and then head out with it and a glue stick to collect items to fill in: Pick up leaves to glue on the trees, grass to stick on the ground, petals to dot the grass with color. Voila! A three-dimensional masterpiece and a lesson in nature.

Turn your kitchen into a lab. Making lemonade from lemons and simple syrup (sugar dissolved in boiling water) is a great lesson in proportions and problem solving (more lemon juice? more water?), while experimenting with yeast breads can demonstrate a chemical reaction.

Sit around and watch ice melt. Hand everyone an equal-size cube to hold, put on a plate, leave on the grass. Whose will become a puddle first?