Back in the day, reading, writing and arithmetic got put on pause during the summer in favor of kicking back and unwinding. Unfortunately if our youngsters just kick back today, they may fall behind dramatically. African-American kids are at risk for significant learning loss in math and reading, according to Sarah Pitcock, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association. Such steep falls during this "summer slide" have cumulative effects. "Kids are not catching up in the fall," Pitcock says. "By fifth grade, the loss can leave them about two-and-a-half years behind their peers."
How do we stop our children from lagging? By keeping their thinking caps on throughout the year. Whether your family budget lends itself to an Ivy League enrichment program or a Greyhound bus ride to Camp Grandma, your youngsters can sharpen their minds all summer long. Try these tips:
GET THEM ON BOARD. Chess and board games such as Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble and Battleship help boost your child's brain power. Gerthy Agard of Atlanta says her two sons enjoy family game night. "They are really competitive," she says. "The goal is to beat Daddy—at any cost. I like that they have to do some serious strategizing."
TAKE SCREEN BREAKS. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only two hours of screen time a day for kids 8 to 14, the Kaiser Family Foundation studies show that many children in minority communities stare at a TV, mobile phone or tablet screen for almost eight hours. First try to put down your own phone and be present when you talk to your kids. Then monitor their TV and computer time to keep their eyes from glazing over. You'll notice the results. "They tend to be more creative when I build in 'no media' times throughout the day," Carmen Samuels-Jackson of Rockville, Maryland, says of her son and daughter. "They make up games and read."
CLICK WISELY. Of course, not all technology is bad. Funbrain.com, a popular education forum for little ones as young as kindergarten age, will challenge kids through eighth grade. On the run? No problem. You can easily access sites like pbskids.org on your phone or mobile device.
BOOK 'EM. Your child's teacher or your school district may have a summer reading list, but sometimes during those last few weeks of the year kids get lax about delivering notices. Check your local board of education Web site for grade-appropriate titles. The American Library Association (ala.org) also creates a comprehensive reading list as well as reading games and notable recordings and videos. It's difficult to motivate a reluctant reader, so do encourage your child to choose some books of her own. You may not be thrilled with him reading about superheroes, but it could lead to more weighty subject matter later.
GET FREE CULTURE. Not only are local parks, museums, science centers and other cultural venues accessible and sometimes free but they also offer your youngster an opportunity for hands-on learning. Check out your local tourist and visitors' bureau Web sites for things to do. "I found out that a local art gallery has free Jackson Pollock workshops for kids," says Faren Wilson of Rochester, New York "Now I take my nieces every year."
This article was featured in the July issue of ESSENCE, on stands now.