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Stop Summer Brain Drain!

Kids' math and reading skills fall three months behind over vacation. Here are eight fun ways to ensure their learning doesn't suffer

Summer's almost here! The long-awaited school break gives kids time to play, sleep in, relax – and lose three months of skills. In fact, many children fall almost three months behind in math and reading gains over vacation. Educators call it the "summer slide," and it usually takes the first two months of the next school year for teachers to bring them back up to speed.

But creating a summer that's totally void of learning isn't what children need. Parents can provide high-quality learning opportunities that are different from activities they're exposed to during the school year. It's a break from traditional schoolwork, yet prevents important skills from slipping. Try these eight tips from the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose.

1. Calculations everywhere. Math skills deteriorate rapidly in the summer. Use your environment to help kids use those abilities. When you put chemicals in the pool, take the time to figure out the area, diameter or volume. At approximately 9 pounds per gallon of water, how much does all that water weigh?

2. Travel adds up. Taking a road trip? Calculate the mileage by using a map and adding up the distance as indicated on the map. What does miles-per-hour mean – and how do you compute it? How many MPGs are you getting? What is the difference in gas prices in different locations?

3. Budget it. Sit together with your 11-year-old and balance the checkbook and compare it to the family budget. Help your teenager create a budget plan or pick a stock to invest in and track its progress through the summer.

4. Cash in hand. Have your children handle money. Return pop bottles and have kids estimate how much money they will receive. Allow them to make change at your garage sale. Have them count the money you have in the family charity jar.

5. Keep it fun. Play games that require the use of skills learned in school. Remember the classic card game "War?" It's now "Top It." Turn over a card and see if you have a card that is higher. For first and second graders turn over two cards, add them together and see which sum is higher. For fourth, fifth and sixth graders, turn over two (or three) cards and multiply them and see which product is higher. Play Monopoly, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Rummikub, Boggle, Sequence or Word Up, too. A brief stop at the department store game section and your list of options easily multiplies.

6. Read to it. Keep lots of reading material around your home. Read to and with your children. Create a family book club. Pick a book with your child and both read it. Just the two of you sit down together over an ice cream cone once a week and discuss the plot development or characters.

7. Model learning. Turn off the TV and get away from the video games. Let your kids catch you reading this summer. Learn a new computer program. Start that book you've been wanting to write. Expand your with a wood carving or painting class or parenting workshop.

8. Get help. Every community has learning activities for kids. Libraries have reading programs. Recreation centers and churches host day camps. Schools have inventors' camps. Art institutes offer drawing, painting, pottery and drama classes for children. Sign your kids up!

Create a summer that balances rest, relaxation and fun with learning. Use the many opportunities that summer offers to help your children grow their brains. If you do, you'll help them begin the new school year right where they left off – and the only summer slide they'll experience will be the one at the local or water park!

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