Interested in some new ways to engage your children this summer? You can develop their interests and life skills by doing simple every day activities! Michelle Eisen highlights five ways to help develop your children’s brains that translate to real life experiences throughout their lives.
The great thing about being a parent is that you have the power and opportunity to help a child grow into the best he can be from the moment he enters this world. The great thing about being a child, is that you have the opportunity to learn quickly, and take in a great deal of information. At birth, a child is born with 100 billion neurons, and each neuron sends information to thousands of other neurons through connections called synapses.
As children develop, learn, and take part in new experiences, the number of synapses (connections) greatly increase. Connections which are never or rarely used are eliminated. Because of this rapid synaptic growth and destruction during the early years, such emphasis is placed onto early learning in the school system, and teaching pre-literacy skills at home. Whether you love to bake, build, garden, or paint, you have the power to use what you know to increase your child’s cognitive ability. Taking advantage of the teachable moments these activities allow can actually increase your child’s competency in math and literacy later on in life.
Looking for meaningful and productive activities for your kids to do this summer? Here are top five ways you can use what you know to help develop your child’s brain:
- Baking Buddies—Baking is a great way to increase your child’s self-efficacy in working with different foods in the kitchen, increasing the likelihood that (s)he will cook healthy meals for him or herself later on in life. Through baking, children can learn measurement using fractions—a subject most students have trouble grasping. All of a sudden, fractions become tangible. With these experiences under their belts, in Grade 8, when those students are asked for 1/3 of ¾, they can recall placing three quarter cups of flour in the cake, which would mean that 1/3 of that would be ¼! As your child becomes more experienced with baking, they will learn to double recipes (double fractions), and halve recipes (divide fractions). Not only will these children be able to follow the standard procedure for multiplying fractions, they will conceptually understand the math, and be able to apply these skills in real-world settings. What about Science? Baking allows children to understand scientific concepts such as viscosity, melting and boiling points, changes of state (solid-liquid), and chemical reactions (using yeast to make bread or desserts). Vocabulary opportunities: measuring cup, egg beater, food processor, temperature, mixing bowl, spatula, rubber bowl scraper, blade, greasing the pan, and teaspoon.
- Are you someone who likes to build? Involving your child in (safe) building, is another great way to give him/her the math advantage and encourage the development of other cognitive skills such as mental rotation and planning. Through building activities, children will have tangible experiences to refer back to when learning about measurement and conversions (ex: meter to centimeter)—another area students struggle with in school. Vocabulary opportunities: tape measure, level, saw, goggles, blueprint, drywall, wrench, screwdriver, hammer, draft, brackets, sand paper, and drill.
- Digging up the dirt—Gardening can involve planning and spatial reasoning when figuring out where each type of flower should be planted. Perhaps you would like the early and late bloomers spread out evenly throughout the garden, allowing for a full summer of colour, or perhaps you have to account for required plant conditions such as amount of sunlight, or soil drainage. Having to keep all of these factors in mind when planning a garden is great mental exercise, especially for the growing brain. Additionally, taking into account the height each plant will grow to when planning your garden will allow your child the ability to later conceptualize standardized and non-standardized units of measurement—a concept introduced as early as Kindergarten with non-standardized units, until grade two, when standardized units such as centimeters are introduced. Vocabulary opportunities: shovel, rake, roots, loam, moss, lilies, orchids, cultivate, annual, perennial, drainage, sprout, larvae, cocoon, trowel, and wheelbarrow.
- Parenting with Paint—Whether you love to paint pictures, furniture, or your home, involving your children in the process can teach them about colour (Science), volume (Math), and texture (Art). Have your child think about and suggest how much paint you would need to buy to repaint the entire kitchen, for example. Would one can be enough, or would another one be required? Ask your child to estimate the total cost before you arrive at the cash: “If one can of paint costs $10.00, and we are buying two cans of paint, how much do you think the total will be when we cash out?” If painting a picture together, only offer red, blue, and yellow, and ask how you could create the colour orange to paint a pumpkin, or the colour green to paint grass in a landscape. Vocabulary opportunities: cyan, maroon, mixing, smudge, lighter, darker, blend, even, texture, glaze, trim, baseboards, pigment, hue, palette, prime, matte, and saturation.
- Collaboration is Key—The goal of promoting early brain development in children can be accomplished by providing children with as many different exposures to the same concept, allowing for an increase in synapses (connections) in the brain. An increase in synapses allows for deeper understanding and effective application to new and real world circumstances. Enrolling your child in a camp or private school can be an effective way of providing him/her with opportunities to extend his/her learning, thus increasing the number of neural synapses. Some camps which are sure to extend your child’s learning experience are:
- The Chef Upstairs- A one-week summer cooking camp located in Toronto, which will teach your children through experience, the skills of cooking and baking, along with healthy eating habits.
- Toronto Waldorf School Camp- The Adventure/Creative camp offered by Waldorf for ages 10-14, is an adventure camp taking place at Camp Kettleby and Albion Hills Conservation Area. Campers will not only have the opportunity for biking, hiking, and orienteering, but they will be able to extend their skills in building through creating and carving wood.
- Camp Otterdale- This camp in Lombardy, Ontario offers campers an opportunity to practice their woodworking and glass etching skills, along with golf, drama, mountain biking, tennis, hiking, and more.
- Centauri Summer Arts Camp- This camp offers children summer programs in painting, drawing, design, photography, stop-motion animation, and comic creation. This is a great opportunity for your child to take what she has learned through painting at home, and use these skills in a new context, furthering her connections and understanding.
- Glen Bernard Summer Camp- This all-girls camp is devoted to teaching environmental sustainability through the use of solar energy, composting toilets, a solar boat, and more. They run an earth education program, allowing campers to interact and learn about sustainable technologies. Throughout the year, they also offer Outdoor Education Centres for co-ed school groups.
Keep in mind that the more opportunities children have to expand their knowledge through real-life experiences, the less trouble they will have learning new concepts later on in school. When children can use prior knowledge to help them make sense of a new concept, the learning process becomes easier and more enjoyable. Whether it is baking, building, gardening, or choosing a new colour to paint your living room, involving your children in everyday activities will prove to be not only a rewarding learning experience, but one in which you form an even stronger and invaluable bond.
If you are looking for some enriching activities to do with your child, please feel free to contact me for ideas at: FeedingTheNeedToSucceed@gmail.com
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Have you tried some of these activities with your kids already to help develop their interests and skills? How else do you engage your children? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.