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Keeping minds fresh

Tips for stimulating your child’s brain

by Morgan Smith

Keeping kids’ minds sharp over summer break can sometimes be a challenging task with the looming appeal of lazy, hot summer days by the pool.

It’s easy to fall into a summer slumber, where kids sleep in and stay up late, go to summer camps and play in the backyard, while books lay dusty on the shelf and pencils stay unsharpened. But while summer breaks might mean vacation from school, it shouldn’t be the same with learning.

“Taking the summer off – the idea is that school can stop, but learning shouldn’t,” Gary Lang, director of the Ballantyne NewPoint Learning Center, said.

Moms and dads are responsible for keeping their kids’ at the top of their game when it comes to a healthy and alert minds, Lang said, whether its studying multiplication tables or getting your child the help they need at a local tutoring center.

“It is difficult to be at the top of the class where most parents want their child to be,” Lang said. “It takes work.”

Every year, Lang said teachers spend six to eight weeks at the beginning of the school year reviewing information and concepts they learned in years past. If more parents were to study with their kids over the summer, he said, teachers would have more time to focus on new curriculum and wouldn’t have to back track.

Erin Donovan, a recent literacy facilitator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Quail Hollow Middle teacher and a tutor for the center, said there are many games and learning outlets available for parents who want their kids to stay on track.

“The first thing you need to work on is vocabulary,” Donovan said. “I’ve seen it so much in my elementary and middle school kids,” adding that it’s easy for students to lose vocabulary from previous years if they’re not practicing over the summer.

“If you have no literacy activities over the summer, it does take the child several weeks to turn that brain back on. A lot of vocabulary is lost,” she said.

Donovan suggested parents and kids utilize the web for help in vocabulary, with websites such as for older students studying for ACT and SAT tests and for kids on all levels.

“You can practice math, vocabulary and you can even practice foreign languages. With every question you get right, you are actually donating rice to countries in need,” she said of

For each answer students get right on, the organization donated 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger.

Also to help with literacy, Donovan suggested literacy-based games such as Boggle and Scrabble, or even some homemade games.

“There are a lot of games you can play to help stimulate the brain,” she said, “like Making Words, a game where you can give your kid any word, mix up the letters and encourage them to make as many words out of the letters,” where the ultimate goal is figuring out the original word. “Plus you’re actually sitting down with you child and making it a game,” she added.

But Donovan’s biggest suggestion for parents is reading and writing with their kids at least 30 minutes a day.

“It really does make a world of difference,” she said.

In terms of practical math study over the summer, Donovan said the easiest way to incorporate math learning is while parents shop with their kids. She suggested kids be part of the budget process and help keep track of money spent while shopping.

“Those day-to-day activities are so engaging to children. It shows them how we really use our minds everyday,” Donovan said.

Overall, both Donovan and Lang said summer learning is just as important as learning during the school year. Not only do summer activities provide an unconventional time for learning, Lang said, but it’s an opportunity to do it differently, which keeps things fresh for kids.

“Students who do learn over the summer – they really have the upper hand in the classroom,” Donovan said. “I think that’s the big advantage… students being able to jump right in.”

For more information on the Ballantyne NewPoint Learning Center, visit their website,

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