Summer Break: Tips to Keep Kids Engaged, Healthy, and Fit

Amy Hendel | June 8, 2017

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Kids celebrate the last day of school feeling joy as they anticipate having fun for the next two summer months. Experts say kids lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills during that time. Research also suggests that kids gain weight faster during summer break. Most kids will easily turn to the sofa and their tech devices, becoming mini-couch potatoes. Here are some accessible, affordable, and creative ways to engage kids so their minds are kept sharp, and their health is optimal.

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Keep the learning going, tip one

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If your school doesn’t supply a summer reading list, go to the local library or online for age-appropriate titles and create one. Read and discuss the books, like a book club. The National Gallery of Art and the “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” are fun, educational online interactives. Young kids can learn colors, numbers, and vocabulary during supermarket trips. Kids.gov offers a range of art and music lessons. Edublog and Kidblog are free spaces for kids to post writings. Zoom by PBS offers community service ideas.

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Keep the learning going, tip two

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Don’t forget local museums and zoos. Newsela offers “by grade” news articles for parents and kids. Find writing ideas at Start With a Book, or journal with your kids and use themes for daily entries and group discussion. PBSParents offers a host of reading ideas and activities (in Spanish, too). Encourage kids to read the directions of new games that they play. Dadcando is a site geared to dad-and-kid activities. Create daily activity schedules with goals, including free time, and review accomplishments each night.

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Let’s get moving, part one

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Kidshealth.org and Let’s Move offer fitness guidelines and ways to get kids moving, including family adventure ideas. Take advantage of programs at local parks and community centers — many are quite affordable or free. Bikes, hikes, and gardening provide family fun and physical activity. Check local schools for summer activities and sports programs. See if you can put together a neighborhood group and create weekly sports activities. Enlist local teens who likely need summer jobs and can be mentors.

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Let’s get moving, part two

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Inexpensive fitness equipment, such as jump ropes, elastic bands, different size balls, and water-filled jugs can be used for fitness fun. Create simple obstacle courses. Let kids plan beach trips and use the sand for mini-exercise challenges — kids can do pushups and jumping jacks or create mini sand dunes to jump over. Summer is the perfect time for outdoor roller-skating or cool indoor ice skating if available. Introduce your kids to yoga “in the shade,” or indoors. Create music lists for “dance” classes.

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Food games teach nutrition and more

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This is a good time to review dietary guidelines and ChooseMyPlate is a great resource. Let kids plan menus, going online to learn about new or in season fruits and vegetables. Let them pick the produce and weigh it out at the supermarket. Create at-home “taste-testing” experiences (blindfolded is lots of fun) and let the kids describe texture and taste. Teach them smoothie recipes and have other “cooking class” lessons. Local bookstores may have chef author signings or demos in the summer.

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More food games

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HealthyKitchensHealthyLives offers guidelines for healthier family meals, including healthy dessert ideas with three ingredients. Let kids create healthy buffet menus for home and do the set-up. Plant herb window boxes or “plant a bean and watch it grow.” See if the local supermarket will host a “healthy market walk-through” with a local dietician, with weekly themes. Watch healthy cooking shows, videos, or online demonstrations and then prepare the recipes. Make different healthy popsicles and juice cube recipes.

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Food is fun

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Look to local cookware stores for family classes. Consider setting up a “teaching kitchen” program with other moms and rotate to a different home weekly. Let your kids help to prep homemade snacks like “power crunch” (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and whole grain cereal) while learning nutrition lessons. Teach your kids to use a colander, blender, and age-appropriate cooking utensils and award “skill badges.” Make fun veggie pastas with a spiralizer. TheFoodNetwork has a host of cooking projects for kids.

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Create summer local teams

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The key to affordable summer activities and fun may lie in banding together with other families. Stay-at-home moms can form mommy-and-me groups during the weekdays, and working moms can take over on weekends. Kids love outdoor water play and chalk art and can enjoy photography, thanks to smartphones. Kids can learn crafting, sewing, knitting, build indoor teepees, or learn to play a simple wind instrument – it’s all about teaming up and planning. Summer break doesn’t have to feel daunting—use resources and creativity.

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Quick safety tips

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Keep kids on a regular sleep schedule even though it’s summer break. Make sure kids hydrate throughout the day with healthy liquids. Apply sunblock regularly when outdoors, especially after swimming or sweaty activities. Make sure kids use bug spray when appropriate and spend a good deal of outside time in the shade. Kids should use sunglasses, too. Make sure EpiPens are up-to-date and allergy medications are handy. Summer days should have a balance of free play, learning, healthy eating, and fitness!