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Summer Language Lessons for Kids

Improve your child's communication skills with these six fun exercises perfect for dodging 'brain drain'

You'll probably already be encouraging your children to read this summer – but what about developing their other language skills for the upcoming school year? Try these six fun activities to improve their speaking, listening, spelling, handwriting, vocab and grammar.

1. Speaking. How well your kids can speak in school influences their participation in classroom discussions and their ability to give oral reports. Confident speakers tend to get higher grades. The more your kids talk at home, the more this skill transfers to school. Turn your dinner table into family chat time through choosing a nightly activity that is appropriate for the ages of your children.

  • Take turns talking about what every family member did during the day.
  • Play games. You might have everyone ask questions to guess the name of an object in the room or of a family friend, relative or famous person.
  • Discuss books that family members are reading.
  • Talk about favorite friends and foods.
  • Make vacation plans that include something each member would like to do.

2. Listening. If your children are good listeners, they'll find it easier to learn from their teachers and classmates. You can promote improving this skill through doing new things with your kids this summer. For example, find a docent-led tour of a local, like the Detroit Science Center, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum or other great museums in southeast Michigan. Or visit a shop or art gallery where you follow instructions to complete a craft project. Or try a local cooking class offered by a food or grocery store: Everyone will have to listen carefully in order to prepare the dish to taste like it should.

3. Spelling. Many people, even educators, now say that being able to spell is not as important as it used to be, due to spell check on computers. But most classroom work is still done with paper and pencil. Later on, kids may need to write an SAT essay for admission to college. So it really helps for them to have good spelling skills.

Playing games such as Hangman, Boggle and Scrabble requires your children to use and expand their spelling skills. Also, you can give your kids sidewalk chalk and encourage them to write words, letters or messages on the driveway. A good snack-time game is for your children to dump a box of alphabet cereal, candy or crackers on the table. Everyone can eat only the words that they have made from the letters within a time limit.

4. Handwriting. Poor handwriting is bound to influence teachers' reactions to your children's papers. Prepare your young ones to write by working on their fine motor skills. You can have them string beads, move small objects with tweezers or put pennies into a piggy bank. They also can improve these skills by playing the game Operation. There's no fun in doing handwriting drills, but there is fun in introducing your children to calligraphy. Then, you can encourage them to make signs to display in your home.

5. Vocabulary. A good vocabulary quite often means good grades in the language arts. You can turn even ordinary family outings into vocabulary-building exercises. At the grocery store, young children can learn the names of food items, such as "asparagus," "squash," "avocado" and "melon." Older kids will find that excursions to places like railroad museums will teach them new words, including "caboose," "locomotive" and "diesel."

Or you can take them to ethnic restaurants, so they'll acquire a vocabulary that includes words like "fettuccine," "guacamole" or "hors d'oeuvre." And elementary kids learn loads about the interesting ways words can be used when you read and discuss Amelia Bedelia books.

6. Grammar. Believe it or not, kids can have fun improving their grammar skills. Divide your family into two teams to play "Verb Charades." They can use easy words like "kick," "run" and "jump" and more difficult ones like "think," "move" and "raise." Remind your children that the names of all the people, places and things that they see are called nouns. Have them name all the people, places or things that they see in a restaurant or during a car drive.

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