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Creating a Brain Healthy Summer for Your Child

How do you maintain the academic, social and emotional progress your child made during the school year?

Summertime typically creates a change in everyone’s daily routine. For parents, it means having the kids home all day. For children, being out of school means a less structured environment. Sometimes these changes are positive and that’s great. Sometimes they can be challenging. One very unfavorable result a summer schedule can have on a child is what I call, “Summer Brain Drain.” – loosing the academic, social and emotional progress your child made during the school year. If I ask you to think back to the beginning of the school year I’m sure you are able to see many areas of growth that your child has made.

Do you want your child to maintain all of the learning and developmental progress she has made this year? Of course you do – but the old adage, “use it or lose it” applies to everyone. Therefore, you need to find ways to protect your child from the brain drain that can occur throughout the summer months. You CAN prevent any loss of the learning momentum and therapeutic progress your child has made. All you need to do is remain alert and be proactive when it comes to how your child spends his summer vacation break. One way to keep brain drain from striking your child is to constantly ask the question, “What is my child learning?” It’s extremely important to always think about the cognitive benefits your child will incur when creating a schedule of summer activities.

I'm not suggesting that summertime be all work and no play. Finding the right balance of down time needs to be addressed as well. Children do learn a lot from simple exploration and play. The challenge for you as a parent is to provide your child with opportunities that will maximize learning potential. It’s always possible to optimize brain development while having fun, especially when out of school. Yes children need a break, and so do parents, but an overabundance of unscheduled, unstructured time is apt to create anxieties that can lead to trouble. Children may welcome this retreat from teachers and books but it’s important to maintain a schedule that continues to challenge their mind. Many children with autism need constant reinforcement to keep precious brain wiring in place. The ideal to strive for is a summer schedule that will not only retain but also expand your child’s cognitive growth.

How can you ensure that not only your child with autism, but your other children as well, will fill those time gaps with brain building activities? Here are some suggestions for a summer schedule that will help you provide an environment conducive to learning and maintain any new wiring your child’s brain has acquired over the school year.

– Gather information. Before the last day of school or that last therapeutic intervention talk to your child’s teacher(s) and therapist(s) to see what they are learning and how you can continue to help your child maintain the course he is on. They may have ideas for activities, excursions or even workbooks that will reinforce ongoing learning. – Maintain a sensory friendly environment. Despite the laid back atmosphere of summer always keep your child’s sensory issues in mind in order to keep sensory chaos from interfering with learning. Taking in new information is almost impossible when a sensory issue has been triggered and we also know this can easily lead to emotional meltdown. – Schedule daily quiet time. Consider 15-30 minutes of unplugged time per day for your children. Not only does this give your child’s brain a break from too much stimulation but it requires that your child find some quiet and creative way to entertain himself. This may be a prefect time for reading, writing in a journal, listening to music or other self-calming activities that help the brain and body shift into a different gear. – Media management. Research shows that brain development in children matures best when children are interacting with people and the world around them. Too much time with screen machines for amusement purposes only can have a detrimental impact on: cognitive ability, attention span, language abilities, creativity, intrinsic motivation, and social skills. Don’t let TV babysit your child during the summer months. – Write it down. Encourage your child to keep a journal or diary. If you are traveling during the summer months, an account of your family road trip activities will provide enjoyable memories at a future date. Reviewing a summary of your travel’s from your child’s perspective may produce some good laughs as well. If writing is not your child’s cup of tea, suggest drawing pictures or creating a comic strip. – Read, read, read! Whether you read to your child or your child reads on her own make time in the summer schedule for reading. Make it a point to visit your local public library once a week. The content your child read doesn’t necessarily have to be a book as long as it is something that holds their interest such as comic books, magazines, maps, appropriate computer programs/apps, etc. Keeping the brain wired for reading will help your child immensely when it is time to go back to school in the fall.

No longer having to run from one after school activity to another or rush to get everyone out of bed and to school on time can be viewed as a gift of free time. But you know and I know that we tend to fill extra time up haphazardly without even thinking about it. We all have default modes that we slip into that we are unaware of. This leads to a summer schedule with too much downtime and can bring your child’s progress to a halt if you’re not careful. Contemplating the suggestions above will guide you to keep summer brain drain to a minimum. Once you adjust your child’s schedule and environment to accommodate conditions for optimal learning, your child and his or her brain, will be more likely to enjoy a stimulating and stress-free break from school.

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