Exercise Kids’ Minds During the Summer
If students laze away the days of summer without using their minds, they can lose up to a month of learning—especially in reading and math. Stem the summer slide and keep your child engaged with these fun, brain-friendly activities.
Devise a plan. Tell your child that reading and learning activities will be an important part of their summer. Assure them that they’ll still have lots of time for play.
Teach mini-lessons. Transform everyday activities into learning opportunities. Children can count change, read directions for a trip, write a shopping list, or calculate a recipe’s measurements.
Gather activity books. Give children their own activity book with crossword puzzles or number games customized for their specific age group. Set a “due date” to keep them on track, but let them work at their own pace.
Initiate a writing project. Have your child keep a summer journal, write letters to family members or friends, or craft a play to perform with siblings or neighbors. Or, start a family cookbook with your favorite recipes, instructions, and shopping lists.
Strategize screen time. Educational computer games or apps can engage students’ minds, but make sure your child is spending enough time away from the screen. Assign a daily block of time for family members to turn off phones, computers, and the TV, and instead play a board game or read together.
Designate daily reading blocks. Set aside at least 15 minutes a day for your entire family to read. (That means parents, too!) Find reading recommendations by grade level on the American Library Association’s book lists (see Web Resources). Organize a summer read-a-thon with goals for each family member, or sign your child up for your library’s summer book club.
Go global. Set aside several nights during the summer to have an international evening. Together, cook a meal with recipes from a different nation. Learn basic words in that
country’s language. Find the country on a map, and together examine a book or article with information on what life is like there.
Sneak learning into family trips. If your family is able to take a vacation during the summer, include stops at zoos, children’s museums, or historic sites. Have your child help you plot out the journey using maps and keep a journal along the way. Older children can tally up miles, keep track of expenses, or compute gas mileage.
Get moving. Build physical activity into your child’s summer days. Even if he or she can’t participate in a local sports league or community-based team, encourage activities such as jumping rope, playing catch, and taking family walks.
For more resources, look to your child’s school and your local library or community center for ideas to keep kids’ brains buzzing during the dog days of summer.
- The American Library Association compiles grade-level book lists.
- The National Summer Learning Association offers activities, tools, and links.
Report to Parents, written to serve elementary and middle-level principals, may be reproduced by National Association of Elementary School Principals members without permission. It can be posted to school websites, blogs, or sent via email. Back issues are available to members at naesp.org.
Being On Time Matters
It is important to get our children to school but it is also important to get kids to school on time and ready to learn. The two biggest culprits that get in the way of being on time include oversleeping and morning stress.
- Check and prepare backpacks every night.
- To ease the morning rush, make sure your child gets to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep. Younger children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night. Consider that when setting bedtimes.
- Create evening routines that help your child wind down from the busy day and ease the transition to sleep. Getting to bed early makes a big difference in the morning rush.
- Get a reliable alarm clock. Consider putting an alarm clock in your child's room to help him or her begin to take responsibility for getting up in the morning. If hitting the snooze button makes you oversleep, put the alarm out of arms reach so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.
- Reduce morning stress by planning ahead. Make lunches before going to bed. Decide on and set out clothes at night.
- Some families even set the table for breakfast before going to bed to make things easier in the morning.
- If your child tends to dawdle or needs a long time to wake up, consider moving their wake up time up a bit so they don't have to hit the ground running. Some kids prefer to get to school with a few minutes to spare so they can settle in before the school day starts.
- Experiment with the changes you need to create a positive atmosphere in the morning so you can send your student off to school in a good mood, ready to learn.
Pack It Light, Wear It Right:
National School Backpack Awareness Day is an annual event each fall. Across the country, occupational therapists are educating parents, students, educators, and communities about the serious health effects that backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly have on children.
Aching backs and shoulders? Tingling arms? Weakened muscles? Stooped posture? Does your child have these symptoms after wearing a heavy school backpack? Carrying too much weight in a pack or wearing it the wrong way can lead to pain and strain. By considering the following suggestions, parents can take steps to help children load and wear backpacks the correct way to avoid health problems.
Loading a pack
- A child’s backpack should weigh no more than about 15% of his or her body weight. This means a student weighing 100 pounds shouldn’t wear a backpack heavier than about 15 pounds.
- Load heaviest items closest to the child's back (the back of the pack).
- Arrange books and materials so they won't slide around in the backpack.
- Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day's activities.
- If the backpack is too heavy or tightly packed, your child can hand carry a book or other item outside the pack.
- If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels if your child's school allows it.
Wearing a pack
- Distribute weight evenly by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
- Select a pack with well‐padded shoulder straps. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.
- Adjust shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child's back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and strain muscles.
- Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. This helps distribute the pack's weight more evenly. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child's waistline.
- School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. Choose the right size pack for your child's back as well as one with enough room for necessary school items.
School Tips for Parents:
Academic Success & Social Participation
Winter greetings from the Derry Occupational Therapy Department! As OTs, we use our expertise to help children with and without disabilities be prepared for and perform important learning and school-related activities to fulfill their roles as students. In the school setting, occupational therapy practitioners support academic and non- academic outcomes, including social skills, math, reading, writing, recess, participation in sports, self-help skills, prevocational or vocational participation, and more. Our goal is for all students to build upon their strengths while developing academic and social skills necessary for future independent living. Below are some tips from the American Occupational Therapy Association to facilitate academic success and social participation.
Tips for Academic Success
- Establish a homework buddy system with another student in the same class to promote good study habits and monitor missed work due to absences.
- Monitor the amount, intensity, and length of time that completing homework requires to assess stress levels and maintain a healthy balance of schoolwork and leisure time.
- Consider your child’s posture and position when using homework tools such as backpacks, computer stations, classroom materials, and desks. Refer to “Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students” to analyze weight, size, and high for proper fit.
- Help your child develop self advocacy skills necessary for independence by encouraging him or her to ask questions and express his or her needs in school.
Tips for Social Participation
- Participate in community resources such as PTA, school-sponsored activities, and recreational facilities that strengthen your child’s sense of belonging and build friendships.
- Communicate regularly with educators, administrators, paraeducators, and other support staff to share feedback.
- Identify and build on the strengths and abilities of your child as well as the family as a whole by incorporating individual and shared activities that are both achievable and realistic.
- Promote extracurricular activities that interest your child and use his or her strengths.
- Provide leadership opportunities for your child that make a notable contribution such as completing chores for neighbors or reading to a younger student.
- Model positive behavior by listening to your child’s concerns, demonstrating problem solving, and making healthy lifestyle choices for you and your child.
- Monitor your child’s habits and routines in sleep, diet, and activity. Note any significant changes, and share this information as appropriate with school medical professional.
The American Occupational Therapy Association
Executive Function FAQs
Executive function is a set of skills that help your child make plans, control behavior, and set goals. Your child’s growing brain, as Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child, describes it, is like a busy airport, and executive function is its air-traffic control system. It allows a child to focus on an activity, remember details, and manage their time—all critical tasks for success in school.
Children and Chores
Greetings from the occupational therapy department at DVS. As we enjoy the busy months of fall, one thing we often hear from parents is that there is never enough time in a day to finish everything that needs to get done. Balancing a list of everyday chores, fall-time activities, and spending quality time with your child can seem like an impossible task. One of the ways to make the balancing act easier is to combine: spend quality time with your child while doing the other jobs. Below is a list of ways to make common chores into quality activity times, but the options are endless. With a little bit of imagination, even the most dreaded job can be the perfect chance to have a great time with your child. Before you know it, you will all be… Cheering for Chores!
Doing the laundry: The laundry room is the perfect learning environment for children. Opening detergent containers, scooping or pouring the soap, turning knobs and pressing buttons are all fantastic ways to promote fine motor skills in your child. Leaning down and then reaching up to load or unload the machines can build strength and posture, and scooping up a pile of warm, soft, fresh-smelling, newly washed clothing is an unbeatable sensory experience. Laundry also provides the perfect chance to practice sorting skills. Before the wash, let your child help you sort light clothes from dark ones or clothes from sheets/towels. When the wash is done, your child can help put the clothes into different piles (one for shirts, one for pants, etc.). Allow your child to fold her own clothes – they may not be perfect, but it’s a great activity for motor coordination and spatial skills. And kids can be the perfect volunteers to help match up all those pesky socks!
Shopping for groceries: The grocery store is another setting that offers a wide range of learning opportunities. To help your child learn categorization skills, make a game of finding different items in the store: “We need some Cheerios. Do you think I should look in the cereal aisle or the vegetable section? Let’s see if you’re right!” (You can always pick up something else if they guess incorrectly!) Let your child help you count out multiples of the same item, like cans of soup or pieces of fruit. When your child is tall enough, build his upper body strength by allowing him to push the cart. Reaching up high or down low for different items strengthens trunk muscles as well. At check out time, talk with your child about the names and values of different coins and bills. Whenever possible, allow your child to use his senses to explore the items you are buying. What do they smell like? What do they feel like? Are they heavy or light?
Preparing dinner: Kids love to help out in the kitchen. Take advantage of your child’s curiosities and let her be part of making dinner. Pouring, scooping, and stirring all promote fine motor skills and shoulder strength. Learning how to follow a recipe, proceeding step-by-step, can aid in the development of sequencing skills. Measuring offers the perfect chance to work on early math skills. Ask your child which container has more and which has less and talk about full versus empty. Allow your child to help you count as you add multiples of an ingredient (“One scoop, two scoops…”). Discuss how long will take to make the dish (a few more minutes versus a few more hours) to give your child a better understanding of the concept of time. When it comes time to set the table, teaching your child where the different dishes and utensils are placed, using words like “above” and “next to,” and later “left” and “right” will develop her understanding of spatial relationships. And don’t forget about all of the sensory experiences that will be literally at your fingertips. Look, smell, touch, and taste anything reasonable!
Washing the dishes: Your child might not be old enough to thoroughly wash the dishes yet, but he can help you “pre-wash” them. Turning the faucets, squeezing the dish detergent bottle, and wringing out wet sponges are great activities for building hand and wrist muscles. Scrubbing, especially repeatedly, exercises shoulder muscles. Playing in the sudsy water is not only fun, but also an excellent sensory experience. Don’t forget to talk about each of the items and their purposes.
With just a little extra time you can make everyday chores
into rich, skill-building experiences… Have fun!
Created by S.Daley, OTR/L
Other Resources for Parents
- Report to Parents, is written to serve elementary and middle-level principals, and may be reproduced by National Association of Elementary School Principals members without permission.
- Setting Goals The middle of the school year is a great time for families to check in with students on goals. Setting academic and personal goals helps motivate, energize, and focus students, and it is a valuable skill that will benefit learners throughout their lives.