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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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Summer skills and strategies for helping kids stay sharp

June 21 was the official beginning of summer. But now that your teen is out of school, why quibble about dates? Summer break began a split second after the last school bell sounded.

Of course summer is a time to relax and have fun. But did you know that children can lose much of what they’ve learned during the previous school year? This can have a negative effect on their performance in high school and college.

There are plenty of ways – no matter what their age – to keep your children’s brains active during the break from school.

Consider the following suggestions as just jumping off points. Think of your own creative solutions.

Summer book clubs — Look no further than your local library, bookstore, local sports team or retail outlet. It seems everyone is interested in encouraging young adults to read. Not only will your son or daughter build reading and comprehension skills and escape to imaginary worlds, there’s often a prize at the end of the program.

Brain power plus rewards? What could be better? If you can’t locate a book club, visit the American Library Association (www.ala.org) and type “best books young adult” in the search menu. There you’ll find 86 top picks for ages 12 -18 for 2009.

Career exploration — Guide your teen or encourage him or her to go solo. One great place to start is ACT’s World-of -Work Map at www.act.org/wwm. Click on “student version” to learn about 12 distinct areas. Once your child takes EXPLORE, PLAN and the ACT, he or she will learn even more based on the results of the interest inventory.

College research — What does your teen want to do when he or she grows up? If college is on the radar, encourage your child to begin thinking about potential majors and areas of study. ACT’s Map of College Majors (www.actstudent.org/majorsmap) details topics, work tasks, available degrees, related occupations and majors, along with salary, size and occupational growth.

Camp — Consider sending your child to a summer camp in the area or far away. Choose what you can afford and don’t forget to ask about scholarships or financial help. Ignite or renew your student’s passion in art, music, sports, debate, or any other area. Traditional camps — think campfires, horseback riding, and archery — are wonderful places to make friends, stay active, and learn independent living skills before college.

Travel — Sure, Paris would be great, but expensive and not very practical. Why not load up the family and take some day trips? Or visit a nearby city and stay for just one night? To save even more money, camp or arrange to stay with relatives near a place you’d like to visit. Presidential libraries and national parks were two of our family favorites. Where possible, try to take a college campus tour or two. If you plant a seed while your child is young, your son or daughter may discover an interest in college. And the more college trips you can make, the better informed your child will be when it comes time for the actual college application process.

Get outside — Set up daily routines that keep both you and your teen active and provide quality together time. Walk the dog with your child when you return from work every night. Join a team together – sand volleyball anyone? Hike a nature trail. Sign up for a bike race. What do you love to do?

Community college — Enroll in a summer class or check out your local college’s continuing education courses. Use the summer to learn sign language or French with your student. Or perhaps you two would enjoy Chinese cooking? Yoga? The sky’s the limit, but prices are usually very down-to-earth.

Real-world experience — Encourage your teen to find and secure an internship or a job shadowing experience. The daughter of a co-worker has a young daughter who wants to be a veterinarian. A quick word with their doggie doc led to a job shadowing experience. It never hurts to ask.

In addition to keeping your teen’s mind sharp this summer, encourage him or her to begin planning and selecting school classes that will promote success in college and the workplace. Sit down together with a school curriculum guide and determine which classes are most rigorous.

During high school, ACT recommends a strong core curriculum of at least four years of English, at least three years of math (including Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II), three years of science (including Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) and three years of social studies.

Sun and fun are certainly part of the summer equation. But to prevent seasonal brain drain, make learning enjoyable for your student. Challenge your teen to find new opportunities and enrichment programs during the summer. Come fall, they’ll be ready for school and on target for whatever comes next.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. She is a mom and has a master’s of education in guidance and counseling. For more college and career-planning information, visit www.act.org.

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