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Keeping Them In Learning Mode

Keep young minds stimulated with summer activities. Keep young minds stimulated with summer activities.
By Aviva Patz, Studio One Networks

After a vacation, a weekend, or even a day off -- when toddlers typically run around for hours, watch more TV than usual, and stay up past their regular bedtimes -- it can be tough for them to switch back into school mode. While you can't maintain the structure of a school day during a break (it wouldn't be much of a break if you did), you can keep their love of learning alive.

"During periods of time off, it's important to continue providing stimulating activities that keep your child motivated to learn," says Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University. And when you come back, you can help prepare them to return to classroom learning and the school routine. Here's how:

While You're Away...

  • Read to your toddler every day. Bring along plenty of her favorite books, and also visit a library or bookstore at your destination to find new titles that pique her interest.
  • Take educational trips to parks, zoos, museums and nature centers. Discuss what you see and ask your child questions ("Do you think those penguins like to swim?") to get her involved.
  • Play games with letters, shapes and numbers: Ask your child to find the letters of her name on street signs, plaques and menus, or identify shapes in her new environment. Practice simple math: How many forks do we need for our family? How many steps do you think it will take to get to that fountain? Let's count!
  • Find ways to bring up concepts related to school. You might mention her teachers, friends, memorable programs, art projects and educational themes. ("Hey, I see the Big Dipper. Remember when Ms. Denise used a light projector to make the ceiling look like a night sky?")
  • Look for "teachable moments" when you can make a connection between something you're seeing (say, wild strawberries growing along a road) and an interest your child already has (gardening).

When You Come Back...

  • Don't prolong the vacation mentality. Immediately re-establish your daily routine of mealtimes, naps and bedtimes.
  • Limit TV and video games, just as you would during the school year.
  • Do activities related to heading back to school in order to build anticipation. You might hit the supermarket with your child to shop for her favorite lunchbox foods, have her help you empty and re-stock his backpack and fold her laundered sheets and blankets for naptime.

The Night Before School...

  • Review the events surrounding your child's return to school: when he'll wake up, what he might have for breakfast, and how the bus will come to pick him up at his usual street corner. Giving him specific expectations may help calm any back-to-school jitters.
  • Remind him of the people he interacts with at school so he can re-establish a personal connection. "Ms. Alexa will be so excited to see you!" and "Tell me which friends you're looking forward to seeing tomorrow."
  • Ask your child to help you choose clothes for his first day back at school. Lay them out on a chair in her room next to his backpack.
  • At bedtime, make up a warm, fuzzy story about your child's return to school, asking him to fill in details here and there -- like the name of the teacher who'll run to give him a hug and the costume he'll put on during imagination play.

On the morning of the first day back, go through your regular school-day rituals. Before you and your child part, remind her when she'll see you again -- "I'll pick you up after nap"-- and give her something to look forward to after school -- "We'll read your new Olivia book when you get home, and maybe we'll even bake cookies!" Give her a big hug and kiss and tell her she's going to have a great day. After all your preparation, she no doubt will.

Copyright (c) 2008 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

About The Author: Aviva Patz has written for numerous national publications including Parents, Parenting, Health, Self, Redbook and Marie Claire.
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