Common Ground: Educational activities can be full of fun

Summer can be a tricky season for parents.

With school out, bedtime rules are relaxed, days are longer and children have a lot more unstructured time to spend at home.

If it were up to my three children, they’d squander the entire summer watching no-brainer kids’ shows, playing “Super Mario” video games, eating candy, gulping down sugary drinks and squabbling among one other.

The challenge for parents is to reverse some unsettling trends occurring among our nation’s children. A study by the YMCA’s Family Health Snapshot for 2012 asked parents to gauge their children’s exposure to physical fitness, reading and healthy foods. The conclusions showed that children are not getting the daily recommended hours of physical activity, exposure to reading, nor the daily amounts of healthy foods. Some 19 percent of children get 60 minutes of physical activity; 17 percent read books for fun and 12 percent eat at least eight fruits and vegetables daily.

The report offers a call to parents to take an active stance this summer. Kristen Hogan, marketing director for YMCA of the Capital Area, said without access to out-of-school physical and learning activities, kids fall behind academically and gain weight twice as fast in the summer than during the school year.

Hogan said summer camps are one way to keep kids active.

For parents, including myself, who are not planning to enroll their children in summer camps, there are other ways to address our children’s health at home. We’ve offered our children a few fun fitness choices to commit to for at least a half hour or more a day. Their choices range from dancing to a favorite song or Wii dance CD, taking a brisk walk, skating on the driveway, riding bikes or making up something they choose to do.

So far, it’s working well.

Another casualty of summer is learning loss. Children forget a huge chunk of what they’ve been taught during the school year. According to Sylvan Learning Center specialists, students lose about 35 percent of the learning that they have gained from the previous school year

Within 24 to 48 hours after learning new concepts, students forget what they have learned unless academic theories are reinforced and applied immediately, according to a Sylvan Learning Center news release.

In addition to reviewing school work and taking weekly trips to library reading programs, my children will highlight their summer activities in journals and, unbeknownst to them, start on their science fair projects this month.

I snuck in a geography and history lesson during our recent road trip to Orlando, Fla. My children plotted our course to Florida using a simple road map, which kept them intrigued and involved. We also stopped at visitors centers where they were tasked with finding out historical facts about Florida. They grabbed dozens of brochures, sometimes shared their findings with each other and wrote up the results in their journals.

Though it will require planning, training and effort this summer, filling in unstructured time periods with activities that address our children’s health, educational and physical fitness needs will ultimately help children in general lead much more successful and healthier lives as adults

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at