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Kids Turn News

The Ultimate Summer Brain Workout:
Ten Tips to Keep Kids’ Minds in Top Form

By Dr. Richard Bavaria,
Vice President of Education, Sylvan Learning Center

Just like their bodies, kids’ brains need exercise to stay in tip-top shape. It’s no surprise that during the long, lazy days of summer, many students lose the equivalent of one to two months of reading and math skills.

Because the best learning often occurs when children don’t realize they are learning, fun and creative activities like painting, visiting the zoo or creating a beach towel “journal” are ideal for keeping summer brains in peak condition.

Following are ten, kid-friendly activities designed to give students the ultimate summer brain workout:

Grades K-3

  • Take a walk on the natural side. Plan a nature walk to a nearby neighborhood, park or zoo. As you and your child walk, stop to record observations with a drawing or a brief description. Gather any items you may want to save or examine more closely when you get home. Later, take the time to search the Internet or read wildlife books to learn more about the plants, rocks and animals you discovered on your walk.
  • Have fun with sidewalk chalk. Draw a hopscotch pattern, sketch pictures of your favorite characters from books, practice spelling your family members’ names or create math problems for you and your friends. Visit to learn how to make your own sidewalk chalk.
  • Write on. Keep track of your child’s adventures this summer by creating a beach towel or t-shirt “journal.” All you need is a white beach towel or t-shirt and fabric markers. Have your child include his or her favorite events of the summer on the towel or t-shirt, such as family parties or the scores of baseball games. In September, your child can bring the unusual “journal” to show-and-tell so teachers and friends can reminisce about summer fun.
Grades 4-6
  • Plant a mystery garden. Visit a garden supply store and purchase a variety of flower and vegetable seeds. Remove the seeds from their containers and place them in unlabeled bags. It’s up to the student to grow the plants and determine their correct seeds! Have your child keep a garden journal, including things like how often and how much water each plant received, and drawings or pictures of the plants as they develop. At the end of the summer, press the flowers in clear contact paper and enjoy the vegetables with the family.
  • Become a pen pal. Have your child write letters to a friend who has recently moved or a relative who lives out of town. The student could write about his or her summer experiences, stories about friends or pets or the latest family adventure. Consider visiting an art supply store and buying multicolor paper, stickers, stamps or glitter and design your own stationary.
  • Create a cookbook. Look through cookbooks and ask family members and friends to send their favorite recipes. File recipe cards by category and number each one so they can easily be kept in order. Try a new recipe each week and work together to read the directions and measure the ingredients. Take a picture of your child enjoying the finished product. At the end of the summer, have your child design a cover for the cookbook. Gather all of the recipes into a binder and make printed copies for family and friends.
Grade 7-9
  • Plan a vacation. Ask your child to use the Internet to learn more about your vacation destination. If you will be traveling out-of-state, research the state flower or bird and interesting tourist attractions. Gather bus and subway route maps and schedules to places you would like to visit, such as a museum or the zoo. As you travel, your child can keep a journal filled with notes about his or her favorite places.
  • Become a reporter. Keep track of local and national news by creating a family newspaper. Develop a list of article types, such as sports, comics, movie guide, etc. If the student is writing about a sporting event, use the Internet to learn more about a favorite player or team. Set up a question box in your home and ask friends or family to write questions your child can answer in an advice column. At the end of the summer, organize all of the articles in a binder. It will be fun to look back on in years to come.
  • Track the weather. Make a large calendar or graph to chart the high and low temperatures each day for a month. At the end of the month, the student can calculate the average temperature and record the highest and lowest temperatures. Consult an almanac at the library to find out whether the temperatures measured were above or below the average in your area, or if you broke any weather records.
All Ages

Read, read, read. Have younger children challenge their friends to a summer read-a-thon. Keep track of hours spent reading and the number of books read. Then, hold a summer-end pizza party to celebrate the winner. Older students can create a local book club by planning weekly meetings to discuss books and serving snacks that relate to the story. To encourage students of all ages to pick up a book, Sylvan has compiled a grade-by-grade list of great “summer reads.” For additional fun books, visit Sylvan’s

For free learning guides and a variety of complimentary activity booklets and writing journals, visit or call 1-800-31-SUCCESS.

Sylvan Learning Center Summer Reading List:

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About Dr. Richard E. Bavaria
Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., vice president of education for Sylvan Learning Center, directs all academic programs used in the Sylvan Learning Center network, including educational content and new curriculum. With nearly 40 years of education experience, Dr. Bavaria is committed to the teaching of reading, writing and mathematics for all students and seeks to continue Sylvan’s position as the leader of supplemental instruction in those areas.
Dr. Bavaria began his professional career with the Baltimore County, Maryland, Public School System as a high school English teacher. Before joining Sylvan, he was executive director for the school system’s department of curriculum and instruction, where he oversaw the development of all instructional programs for the 25th largest public school system in the United States.
In his current position at Sylvan and in his previous roles with the Baltimore County Public Schools, Dr. Bavaria has dealt extensively with assessment and testing issues as they relate to student academic achievement. He has made numerous presentations and educational television and radio appearances on topics ranging from elementary and secondary school curriculum development to character and arts education. He is a frequent interview guest on practical ways students – and their parents – can prepare for school success.
Dr. Bavaria holds a master of liberal arts degree from The Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in English curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland. He serves on the Education Advisory Board of Villa Julie College, a four-year liberal arts college, and the board of directors of The Grace and St. Peter’s School, an independent elementary school in Baltimore, Maryland. He is an associate of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. He is the recipient of the 2002 Distinguished Alumni Award of Towson University’s College of Liberal Arts.