Cognitive fall back is not a technical term. In this article, I use it to describe the phenomenon experienced by many school-aged students over summer break. The excitement of a never-ending summer without teachers and homework often overshadows any notion of studying while on vacation from school.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, children have been shown to lose up to one month’s worth of school year progress over the several months of summer break. Back-to-school time often means weeks of work to review material covered in May and June. This can be frustrating for students, as well as the teachers who are continuously pressured to meet curriculum milestones yet feel like they’re constantly behind.
Where Will We Find The Time?
The good news is that keeping cognitive skills current and even getting ahead in preparation for the following school year doesn’t require traditional summer school. It doesn’t even require summer homework. It just takes some planning, motivation, and of course, fun! Here are five fun and easy ways you can help your child maintain their cognitive skills over summer break and stay fresh for the new school year.
1. Cognitive Play
Younger school-aged children respond best to activities which are play-based. This means that they are free to explore toys and games at their own pace. One of the best ways a parents can help make this a cognitive activity is by sitting with the child and talking through the activities. Asking questions, making suggestions, or offering prompts to further explore the activity helps the child think about what they are doing in a different way, thus promoting cognitive growth. For example, if your child is playing with a toy truck, you might prompt:
- Where is this truck going?
- Can you show me the wheel?
- What is the color of this truck?
- What will happen if we push this truck? …if it crashes? …if it falls?
- Who is driving this truck? What is their name?
- How could we use this truck?
- What is this part for (pointing to a door or other part)?
In speech therapy, this type of play-based activity is often referred to as following the child’s lead. The child picks an activity that they are interested in, and then you build upon the ideas of the activity to keep them thinking and talking. This allows them to explore and formulate new ideas in the brain, creating new neural pathways and promoting growth. These conversational activities can be further improved with Forbrain bone conduction and the use of the dynamic filter, Forbrain enhances sound processing and helps in being more alert and aware in social interactions.
2. Bring on the Drama
Children learn by re-enacting the experiences they observe. They sort out the meaning of concepts like school, family, doctor by role-playing these activities with themselves and others. This way, they can “test” or “practice” their own roles and how they would manage within these concepts. To build real life situations and conversations exercises their cognitive skills, these skills can be enhanced with the use of Forbrain as these bone conduction headsets directly work on the nervous system by focusing attention on the voice and diminishing the sound and other sensory clutter in the brain. This settles the nervous system and improves confidence, attention, and motivation.
Drama or acting is a surprisingly effective way of enlisting cognition to try new things and put oneself in another’s shoes. “Playing house” is an example of an activity that a younger child is naturally drawn to, and improves their cognitive function. Parents can help make the most of these activities by asking questions or making suggestions much like those listed above.
For an older child, hosting a “Play Night” or other drama-inspired production is an opportunity to exercise attention (real-time production), concentration (interaction with other “actors” or the “audience”), memory (memorizing lines or dance moves). Older children are more independent in their play, but that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from the suggestions of an adult to keep the cognitive effects at a maximum.
For example, suggest starting at the library to research famous playwrights, plays, and actors. Use the information gained there to reenact the production at home. Research building props, ideal lighting, and music scores. From a thought to a realization, cognitive benefits include reasoning, formulation of ideas, task management, decision making, planning, and if there are other children involved: teamwork and conflict resolution. Talk about real-life skills!
3. Make and Keep a Schedule
Creating a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule can be a great way to help your child exercise their brain and maintain cognitive performance over summer break. It’s a functional activity, which means it’s useful to their real-life experiences and that’s especially satisfying for a child, who often has difficulty to realize their influence on the world.
Using a calendar to keep track of time, plan outings or playdates, check off to-do lists, or even just document what they’ve done helps create and grow cognitive connections as they relate to concepts like time management, recall, story re-telling, planning, organization etc. Keeping a schedule is an explosion of cognitive learning.
4. Play a Boardgame
This one sounds simple, but don’t underestimate the positive effects of board games on the brain. Did you know that playing board games with children can help to improve their memory, response time, spatial awareness, logical reasoning, and critical thinking? Critical thinking is imperative to life skills as an independent adult. Read more about why it’s important for children to learn critical thinking skills here. On top of all this, playing board games as a family has been shown to be an effective alternative to “Time-outs” to help repair communication breakdowns, increase frustration tolerance, and bond.
Dancing requires effort by the brain and the body at the same time, which yields huge brain-boosting benefits from an enjoyable activity. Moving to the rhythm of music (which we know produces impressive cognitive benefits), helps cognitive skills like memory, divided attention, spatial awareness and reasoning, and even muscle memory which requires cognition and physical control. It can also improve posture and the function of the vestibular system. For those with physical limitations, the cognitive effects can still be elicited through clapping hands, tapping a foot, or bobbing the head.
Dancing also has many positive psychological effects including reduced stress and improved socialization that leads to overall feelings of well-being.
Occasionally, at our house, we host a dance party after dinner. The kids have been sitting through a meal and are ready to move. We put on some dance music, laugh hysterically with one another, and can make it through the next task of the day.
Ready, Set, Summer!
Don’t be afraid to put away the backpacks and textbooks for a while, and have some fun while keeping your brains in tip-top shape for the new school year. These are just a few examples of how fun summer activities can be used to maintain—and improve—cognitive function over the summer break. Now, go and see what other adventures you can learn from!