Help Your Kids Keep Healthy Minds and Bodies this Summer
By Dr. Nancy Heath
Program Director, Human Development and Family Studies at American Public University
School’s almost out! The summer months provide children with an opportunity to relax, but it’s also true that the summer months are problematic for many kids. Skills learned in school drop off during the summer, and the loss hits students hard. Nutrition also suffers.
The National Summer Learning Association has documented that:
- Research has shown that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do the same tests at the beginning of the summer.
- Most students lose about two months of math skills over the summer, and low-income students also lose about two months in reading achievement.
- Students at risk for obesity gain weight more rapidly over the summer break. At the same time, many children go hungry during the summer without school-based meal programs.
What can a parent do to help kids stay intellectually challenged and healthy during the summer months? There is no shortage of ideas available on the Internet.
For example, PBSParents lists a range of “Free (or Almost Free) Summer Fun Ideas” for school-aged kids, including:
- Scavenger Hunt
Set up your own amazing race by sending your child or a group of children hunting for simple treasures in your house, yard or neighborhood. Because it takes a little effort to come up with the clues, enlist an older sibling or neighbor to help out.
- Small Business
There has never been a better time to teach your children the value of a dollar, so let kids put the “small” back in small business. The old-fashioned lemonade stand or family yard sales remain good choices. But let your children’s interests and abilities guide them toward a fund-raiser that makes sense: a dog wash, a car wash, bake sale or lawn mowing service.
The National Education Association says that to help kids keep reading over the summer, let them choose their own books rather than supply them with a required reading list. Children who choose their own books reap benefits as great as those attending summer school.
Parents need to also consider what changes will occur in a child’s nutrition over the summer. The National School Lunch Program provides nutritionally balanced, lowâ€cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day. Without this regular source of high-quality food, many kids’ eating habits nosedive in the summer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that low-income children and teen-age girls are especially prone to inadequate nutrition over the summer months.
The summer months can provide children and their families with a welcome break from the hectic schedules of the school year, but parents need to be on the lookout for drops in their kids’ intellectual activity and the quality of their diets. Advance preparation can reduce the impact of these potential issues.
About the Author
Nancy Heath holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and Family Studies and works as Program Director for the Child and Family Development program at American Public University. She is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and a Disaster Mental Health volunteer for the Red Cross.