As adults, we often forget how important fun is to a healthy life. Children have a gift for laughter. When parents and children spend time talking, playing and exploring together, both the adults and the children feel energized and family bonds are strengthened. Below are some easy ways parents and kids can have fun together—and help keep the summer brain drain at bay—when school's out.
1. Little moments can make big memories.
Moments of meaningful connection are what experts are referring to when they talk about spending "quality time" with children. The "event" that stimulates this sense of engagement may be no more than a brief stop by the creek on a trip to buy groceries. Dry leaves picked up on the bank become "boats" bobbing in the current. The parent may spy a duck walking by, imitate his waddling gait and invite the children to join in.
One-on-one time spent exploring the world together stimulates a sense of curiosity and wonder that school activities are not well-positioned to provide. Planning such mini adventures requires no more than listing places close to your home where you could spend a few special moments exploring with your child. Then just look for opportunities.
2. Reinforce the joy of reading.
With all the testing in schools, parental support is more important than ever in cultivating the habit of reading for pleasure. Reading for pleasure has been linked to growth across many domains, including gains in general knowledge and insights that help disrupt negative stereotypes and build empathy. Making reading a social activity helps to draw children in and encourage a love of reading.
Building a routine like reading before bed or after bath time helps make reading a welcome interlude. Young children enjoy being read to, often asking for the same stories over and over. Referring to characters during the day helps to build new connections. Older children enjoy taking turns reading aloud. Just try to resist the temptation to correct more than a couple of words as they read. It should be fun!
3. Math can be fun, too.
Young children like to make patterns when they draw and play. Patterns are predictable sequences, such as stripes (the red and white on the U.S. flag) or rhythms in music. Looking at patterns encourages children to look for regularity and rules, which are critical components of mathematical reasoning. Children's early pattern knowledge can support later mathematical achievement.
Parents can work with even young children to get them to think more deeply about patterns. For instance, parents can ask children to make the same kind of pattern as an example using different objects or sounds—or to describe the part of the pattern that repeats. Children can then make their own patterns and specify the rule behind the pattern, such as blue-blue-white, blue-blue-white. If this appeals to your child, you might invest in the classic book "Family Math."
4. Turn everyday chores into lessons about our global community.
The pragmatic side of life has to go on during the summer. Groceries have to be bought. Meals have to be prepared. One way to make these chores more meaningful is to take the opportunity to discuss how they express the family's ties to the wider world. When we eat bananas from Central America, kiwi from New Zealand or cheese from the Netherlands, we absorb a tiny part of these far-flung places. Where are they? Most children enjoy spotting places on a map. It can be fun to put a map up on the wall and mark the places your groceries came from. When doing laundry, look at the labels on clothes. Where are they from?
5. Instead of just going to the latest blockbuster at the multiplex, why not have a summer film festival at home?
Young children tend to ask for what is familiar (Disney princesses, anyone? Or "Toy Story"?), but you can help broaden their conception of what constitutes a "good" film by bringing in less familiar Disney movies, such as "Pinocchio" or "Mulan." Or you may suggest movies made from a favorite book, like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The tie-in to reading goes the other way, too. Once children have seen "Mary Poppins," you may be able to also interest them in the enchanting book series. The "Black Stallion" provides another pairing of a classic children's book with a popular movie. "Back to the Future" is a great introduction to science fiction. Or, as the summer comes to a close, you could challenge your kids to follow a longer narrative arc by screening (and discussing) a film series over several days, such as "Harry Potter," "Star Wars" or "The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings."
Liane Brouillette, PhD, is an associate professor of education at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Brouillette serves as director of the UC Irvine Center for Learning in the Arts and Sciences. She is the author of many scholarly articles and the following books: "Help Your Child to Thrive," "Charter Schools: Lessons in School Reform" and "A Geology of School Reform: The Successive Restructurings of a School District." She is managing editor of the "Journal for Learning through the Arts," and is the creator of the video lecture "The Arts and Human Development." Connect with Dr. Brouillette on Facebook and Goodreads.