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35 Fun Ways To Beat Summer Learning Loss

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Summer’s the time for carefree fun. Unfortunately, it’s also learning slide season; research shows that students lose academic ground when they are out of school for extended periods. But there are excellent ways to avoid mind meltdown while having a really great time with your kids. Diane Levin, professor of Early Childhood Education at Wheelock College in Boston and founder of the non-profit TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) and her team put together this great list of brain-boosting activities to inspire kids and parents alike.


Field Trip Fun!

Take a neighborhood walk: Look for shapes and patterns in sidewalks and buildings; read signs along the way.

Library time: Sign up for special events such as puppet shows and other free summer programs.

Play grocery store games: Name and classify types of food (fruits, vegetables, etc.), compare prices and weights and read labels.

See the park in a new way: Look carefully at the different kinds of leaves, trees, birds; download a guide or two before you go.


Kitchen Fun!

Ice it up: Make cubes, pops and Jell-O; measure and see how long it takes for liquid to turn solid.

Be a chef: Create your own summer recipes cookbook; add a cover, dedication page and author bio.

Erupt a volcano! Put a cup of warm water into a clear plastic container so it’s about two-thirds full. Add a few drops of food coloring, then five drops of liquid dishwashing soap and 2 tablespoons baking soda. Slowly pour vinegar into the container and watch the eruption!

Make some butter, too: Put a cup of heavy cream in a jar. Take turns shaking it until it becomes butter (in about 20 minutes). Turn on upbeat music to shake to. As the butter begins to form, drain off the liquid. Add a dash of salt for taste and as a preservative. Spread butter on toast or something else. Enjoy!


Reading Fun!

Hit yard and garage sales: Visit a few on a weekend day and let your child pick up books.

Start a book club: Create a kid one with a few friends.

Be dramatic: Draw or paint pictures of made-up stories—or write and illustrate a story about what happens next after a favorite story ends.

Become authors: Write and illustrate a summer book together about something your child has done or wants to do, or a made-up activity.

Create a family summer reading chart: As each family member reads a book (adults, too!), enter it on the chart. This can model parents’ love of reading and for kids to see their parents read too.

Read books about your kids’ summer activities: If they play t-ball, find books about the game.  When the family goes swimming, read books about trips to the pool or beach.  If you visit a zoo, read books about zoos and compare the animals in the books to the ones you actually saw at the zoo. The possibilities are endless!


Math Fun!

Sort it out: Group buttons, beads, shells, pebbles or pine cones by color, size, shape and texture.

Roll the dice: Play number games with dice to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

Make change: Trade 10 pennies for a dime, for instance, and 10 dimes for a dollar. You could also turn a playroom into a “store”  and use play money to further help kids learn about money value.

Create a magazine puzzle: Have your child cut up a picture from an old magazine and rebuild the picture; this helps kids grasp part/whole relationships, planning and problem solving.

Play time games: Try Beat The Clock. Ask your child, “Can you hula hoop for two minutes before the clock’s seconds hand goes around twice? “How many jumping jacks can you do in three minutes?”

Do a life-size board game: Draw your own giant game board on the sidewalk or driveway with chalk. Make it any shape (circle, square, squiggly) and length, depending on the ages of children (do fewer squares for younger children). Try adding “Lose a turn” or “Go back five spaces” squares. Family members are the “pieces.” Make a giant die out of a cardboard box.  Players role the die and move through the squares accordingly. First to make it to the final square wins!

Sketch it out: Before a child builds their own creation out of blocks or Legos, or even boxes and straws, ask them to create a blueprint sketch for their creations.

Do some car math: When you’re driving, create story problems for your child to solve. For example: “Two families decided to meet at the beach.  One family had a mom, a dad, and two kids.  The other family had: a mom, a dad, and three kids.  How many people met at the beach? How many kids?  How many grown-ups?”  Or: “Six kids were playing kickball.  Two kids had to go home for dinner.  How many kids were left to play?”

Sell lemonade: Running a stand provides many opportunities to use math skills, including buying supplies, whipping up the lemonade and making change.


Traveling Fun!

Have an entertainment go-bag: Include pens, markers, crayons, stickers, cards, dice, books, magazines, word searches, riddle books and comic books.

Look at maps together: Pinpoint the location to where you are driving. Have your child share destinations where she’d like to go.

Play travel sign games: One classic one is to find words in ABC order. 


Science Fun!

Take another look: Get out the magnifying glass, measuring tape, tweezer and mirrors to closely look at ants, spider webs, worms, rocks and puddles. (Just be careful not to harm any living thing).

Go down a ramp: Roll toy cars or balls down ramps made of cardboard or wood to see how far or how fast they go depending on the tilt and the toy.

See how they grow: Use different size containers to water plants; look at the roots, stem, petals and blossoms together; draw pictures and label them; find seeds outside or in the kitchen.

Sink it, or float it: Fill a container or sink with water and see which items around the house or outdoors sink or float; make predictions to test. Build little boats out of Popsicle sticks or foil. Talk about why things do or don’t sink or float.

Do a magnet scavenger hunt: Use a magnet to see which items around the house get pulled by the magnet. Talk about why.

Or try an outside treasure hunt: Hide a bunch of objects outside; draw a map or write clues to help kids find the treasures.


Writing Fun!

Create cards: Make thank-you cards, get well cards, party invites or stationary an older sibling can use in sleepaway camp.

Label it: Create labels or signs with big letters for games, toys and books around the house.

Find a summer pen pal: Join forces with a friend or relative who lives far away. Kids used to electronics might get a kick out of sending letters via snail mail.

Image of girl at lemonade stand via Shutterstock

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Bike Camps For Kids Disabilities

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

I’ve been reading about bike programs that teach kids with disabilities to ride two-wheel bikes. Fun Coast Down Syndrome Association’s Balance Bike Camp recently took place in Palm Coast, Florida; a second camp is coming up in August for older kids (email for more info). Some local branches of the Down Syndrome Association around the country offer similar camps; Google your area.

Over in Hoboken, New Jersey (my old stomping grounds), The Hoboken Familiy Alliance is hosting the fourth annual Hoboken Bike Camp from July 7 to July 11 for kids ages 8 and up (the cost is $150, and spots are still open). It’s staffed with professionals from iCanBike, part of the national non-profit iCanShine. For the first few days, kids ride on iCanBike gear; once they can do it independently, they’re switched over to their own bikes.

“The camp is an amazing experience that helps benefit the riders, their families and the dozens of volunteers who work closely with participants to achieve this milestone,” says Theresa Howard, director of Children With Special Needs, Hoboken Family Alliance. “For so many families, this little feat that comes naturally for typically developing children is unattainable. When the kids learn to ride, their faces literally beam with excitement and confidence. Even months after the camp is over, we get emails from parents about how much bike riding has done for their families and their child’s social and emotional development.”

Check iCanBike’s map to see if there is a location near you. And note, bike programs are not always limited to summertime; the Society for Disabilities in Modesto, California has an Adapted Bike Camp in the spring.

From my other blog:

5 summer fun ideas for kids with special needs

Camps for kids with special needs

When programs won’t accommodate kids with special needs


Image courtesy of Hoboken Family Alliance

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15 Family Summer Fitness Ideas

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Summer is a time when kids are naturally more active; Max can often be found biking up and down our block, working off the little pot belly he put on thanks to one very long, cold winter and his codependency on mac ‘n cheese.

The American Physical Therapy Association has organized a Summer Fit Family Challenge; families who take photos of themselves doing activities and share their photos on Facebook, Instgram and Twitter using the hastag #FitFam14 will be entered in bimonthly drawings to win a FitBit Flex (the contest ends September 1, 2014).

A list of suggested activities, for inspiration:

1. Learn a sport—switch it up by trying something different like tennis, badminton or volleyball.

2. Visit a lake or beach you’ve never been to and take a swim, or go on a walk or jog in the sand.

3. Take a weekly after dinner or nature walk and make a collage from objects you find or pictures you take along the way.

4. Organize a game of tag or an outdoor neighborhood scavenger hunt and invite other families to join in for some fun physical activity.

5. Plant a vegetable garden and plant two new vegetables you’ve never grown.

6. Plan an adventurous and active vacation outdoors (camping, hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding).

7. Organize a fun sandcastle building contest.

8. Participate in community fun runs or walks as a family to get exercise while raising money for a good cause.

9. Spend a day picking fruits at a nearby orchard or veggies at a farm.

10. Explore the sights of your city on foot or bike.

11. Visit a park or playground in your neighborhood or city that you have never been to.

12. Seek out physical activity options available in your community (YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, swimming pools) and invite friends along to participate in an activity such as, playing water games at a local pool.

13. Teach your kids old favorites like “Red-Light-Green-Light,” “Mother-May-I,” hopscotch, SPUD or “kick the can.”

14. Have a hula-hoop contest to see who can keep it going the longest.

15. Take your dog or a neighbor’s dog on a long walk.


Image of family hula hooping in park via Shutterstock

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A Dad And His Daughter With Disabilities Dance, You May Just Cry

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

I’ve just watched a video three times in a row, crying continuously. It’s the one of a daddy-daughter dance that’s gone viral. I mean, anytime I see fathers dancing with their girls I get a bit choked up, but this dance is unique. McKenzie Carey, 12, has mitochondrial disease, which depletes her body of energy and keeps her in a wheelchair. Most children diagnosed do not make it past their teens years. The disorder has not stopped McKenzie from entering pageants—more than 100, as reports. And she’s been doing them with her father, Mike, a truck driver. They’re trying to raise money for her treatments.

Here’s the pair dancing in a pageant earlier this month to the song The Climb; McKenzie will be competing in three more this summer. The one thing Mike Carey does not want: pity. “I always tell people not to be sorry for us,” he’s said. “McKenzie was put on this earth for a purpose. I believe she is an angel. I’m just her spokesperson, I’m just her arms and legs.”

Someone pass me another tissue, please.

From my other blog:

Why my kids’ looks shouldn’t matter

A time-lapse video of a dad’s morning with his baby with special needs

Why we can’t do the morning rush at our house


Image: Screengrab from YouTube video

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7 Surprising Signs Of ADHD In Toddlers

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This guest post is by licensed clinical therapist Donna Mac, author of the new book Toddlers & ADHD. An early childhood teacher, school therapist and mother to twin toddlers diagnosed with ADHD, Mac has a broad range of experience. Here she shares the surprising signs of ADHD in toddlers.

ADHD is a disorder of self-regulation deficits, which trigger inconsistent attention, irritability and impulsive, and hyperactive or aggressive behavior. In the 1-to 5-year-old age range, the symptoms can be confusing because, as you may think, what toddler isn’t any of these things on occasion?! Due to this confusion, some children have been misdiagnosed with ADHD when they are actually just expressing “normal” variations of temperament (albeit not always acceptable variations of temperament, as when your three-year-old takes off her seatbelt in the minivan to dance while you’re driving on the highway).

ADHD is a genetic condition; if both parents have the disorder, the child has up to a 90% chance of inheriting it. Currently about 5% of the population has ADHD. It actually wasn’t even until recently (2011) that ADHD became an accepted diagnosis for toddlers. The latest research shows the onset is usually prior to age four, especially in severe cases, and it can actually occur as early as infancy. If your child shows any of these symptoms on a regular basis for at least six months, and they’re interfering with his functionality, it’s recommended to see a child psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical therapist.

1. Other toddlers don’t like your kid

All toddlers are working on basic social skills, but it’s even more difficult for toddlers with ADHD to conform to social norms. For example, toddlers with ADHD interrupt people and talk loudly. They tend to get bossy and take over activities: “I like my idea better!” Waiting for a turn is a painful experience for them, and may result in pushing and shoving.

2. He struggles to get to place he’s actually excited to go to

You might think it’s hard to get a child with ADHD to go someplace they do not want to go (which is true). However, with ADHD it can also be the opposite: If the toddler is excited to go to the grocery store, he may actually overreact so much that he can’t calm down to make the transition from the house to the car. The child may begin running back and forth, jumping on the couch and running some more. It’s as if you just told your child he was going to Disney World for the first time.

3. She doesn’t watch TV 

Toddlers with ADHD actually have less stimulation in their brains, and therefore need more to get their brains to a baseline level of arousal. Watching TV does not give most toddlers with ADHD the right amount of stimulation, as would an action-packed video game an activity that involves her whole body. When people say to me, “Too much TV causes ADHD” I say, “I wish my kids would watch TV so I could get some stuff done around the house!”

4. He has the ability to pay intense attention to things he enjoys   

Some people with ADHD hyper-focus. This means that if a child really enjoys an activity, it will stimulate his brain so much that he will become engrossed in it. At this time, he will probably lose the ability to pay attention to things around him, like a parent calling his name, the dog scratching at the door to go out or the doorbell ringing. (Some of us have spouses like this.)

5. She tantrums excessively

These tantrums are a combination of cognitive, behavioral and emotional impulsivity—all three kinds happening at once, so look out! Many will be triggered by seemingly minor events that same-aged peers may not even react to, such as waiting in a short line for a bouncy house or the ice-cream truck, or not getting enough of the right color crayons at the restaurant. In addition, their tantrums are more frequent and intense than their neurotypical peers. ADHD tantrums can last 15 to 30 minutes at time, on a daily basis, and sometimes several times per day. During these tantrums, kids may lose control of their bodies and all rational thought.

6. He puts small parts in her mouth, and frequently chokes while eating 

Since toddlers with ADHD need stimulation, they may get it from putting things in his mouth. Even if a child is 3, an age when kids can start playing with things that have smaller parts, if he has ADHD he may frequently put small items in his mouth, which can be dangerous. He also may choke on food more frequently because of the cognitive impulsivity associated with ADHD, which leads him to rush through eating and other activities.

7. He can’t seem to get off the swings

Most people only associate running, jumping and climbing with ADHD because of the physical movement involved. Some people are unaware that swinging can be emotionally regulating for a child with ADHD, even though a toddler will not have that level of self-awareness to be able to say it himself. Twenty minutes of swinging can provide calming benefits up to four to eight hours after the child is done, because it’s a long-lasting form of vestibular input (the sensory system of movement and balance).

Obviously, if a toddler just likes to swing or just gets excited to go places, she may not have ADHD. Some toddlers with ADHD might watch TV or may not tantrum excessively. Each case is unique. Although many think that children with ADHD struggle all of the time, these children also have strengths and positive traits. If you think something’s not right, talk with a professional.

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

From my other blog: 

Kids with intellectual disability can learn to read, finds a new study

The best gifts to give a baby in the NICU

The Supreme Court ditches the term “mental retardation”


Image of toddler walking with arms raised via Shutterstock

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