Fun Ways to Prevent Summer “Brain Freeze”

Family playing cardsEditor’s Note: In the first post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month.  He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

Children’s brains go to sleep as soon as school ends for summer vacation, and they can hibernate until after school starts again in the fall. While kids need rest and rejuvenation, structured and unstructured play, physically active and tranquil days, and homework-free evenings, the summer “brain freeze” (a.k.a. “summer meltdown” or “summer slide”) can last too long. When resting brains slip into vegetative states defined by TV, video games, Facebook, text messaging marathons, and MP3 hypnosis, it’s time for an intervention.

Fortunately, there is a cure: enrollment at Family Summer University (FSU)! At FSU, there is no tuition and no homework, but there are tests (more like friendly and funny family competitions) every night.

As Dean of FSU, it’s your job to set aside a little time each day to write the quiz questions. Tailor them to the ages and learning levels of your kids, but don’t be limited to school subjects.  Instead, include a wide range of topics: celebrities, cartoon characters, favorite storybooks, sports teams, movies and TV shows, or any other topics that each family member will enjoy.  Fun trivia about Justin Bieber and Jeremy Lin can help camouflage the educational lessons about hypotenuses, homonyms, and Hamlet.  Mix and match questions every night from different subject areas or dedicate different nights of the week to certain subjects.

Look to brain teaser games, flash card sets, home versions of TV quiz shows, the library, the internet, and yes, your kids’ school books, to write your questions. But don’t overdo it — set a maximum of 20 questions per child per day, 10 questions if you have more than three kids! Remember, if you’re asking your 6 year old a tough question for his age, you should also be asking your 12 year old a tough one for her age.

Once your questions are written, gather the kids on the designated FSU campus (it can be the porch, patio, or another comfortable venue that’s preferably outdoors) and let the games begin! A great time for FSU to gather is after dinner because everyone is already together. Play every night or play a few days a week. Add bonus questions, musical prompts, and picture clues to make the game more interesting. Watch as scarce minutes with your kids turn into special moments.

After the answers are given, discuss them with your kids.  Gently explain the questions they missed and have them explain ones they got right. Tally the correct number of answers for each contestant each dayk. At the end of each week, give a prize to the child with the highest score, and then start scoring from scratch the next week.  This way, no one falls so far behind that they have no chance of catching up.  Good “prizes” can be letting the winner choose the DVD on family movie night or the theme for a special dinner night.  At the end of the summer, have an FSU “graduation” ceremony with cardboard caps, bed sheet gowns, and colorful paper diplomas. Then, make sure to go for ice cream!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado.  He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).


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