July 15, 2010 -- Most parents have lots of outdoor activities planned for the summer to keep their kids active. But what about the "brain drain?" Studies estimate that students lose two months of math skills over the summer, and if your child is a reluctant reader, getting them back into the swing of school can be painful for you both.
Luckily, there are plenty of activities and nifty products to keep your kid's brain from melting in the summer heat.
Fat Brain Toy Co., ages 6+
Younger kids who like puzzles and older teens facing geometry class will love this toy. These 24 interlocking "geometry turtles" snap together in more than 100 different ways. It comes with a book of puzzles that are sure to jumpstart math skills. Reptangles teaches kids to visualize the shapes they construct and to rotate them in their mind as they build. Plus, they learn what truncated octahedrons or lesser rhombicuboctahedrons look like -- so there's a bit of a spelling challenge too.
Lots of adults -- more than 20 million -- have already discovered fantasy sports, but summer is a great time for kids to join a league and draft a team. This requires researching averages, problem solving, using statistics and crunching numbers. Participants follow their team throughout the season. To get your kid started, you could grab one of the many magazines that list players' vital stats, and there are free leagues online.
$2.99, ages 12+, Available on iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch
Secret Ada is an iPad or iPhone app created by a dad for his tween daughter. He wanted to spread the message that math, science and technology are not just for boys -- which is unfortunately a message that a lot of girls get. So not only do kids have to use statistics and logic to decode the cryptograms, breaking the code unlocks the biography of a famous woman scientist or mathematician.
Web Extra Pick: Math Gear Fast Facts
Innovative Kids, ages 7+
These are flash cards all dressed up. Easily totable, these fast fact sets allow kids to quiz themselves on basic multiplication and division by sliding new equations (and their hidden answers) into place along a disc.
Web Takeaway Math Tricks
Incorporate math into chores and travel: For example, calculate how much chlorine needs to go in the pool given the pool's volume or calculate the mileage and estimated travel time of your upcoming trip.
Cooking requires lots of math skills -- fractions, proportions, measurements and counting how many cookies you can eat in an hour.
Secret Science Team Kits
Ectropy, ages 9-12
These kits allow kids to become miniature CSI analysts by combining chemistry and problem-solving with good old-fashioned pretend play. Each kit comes with a case file and the tools to solve a mystery. For example, in one kit, a bike has been stolen and your child has to test to see if the crime scene sample that's provided is red paint or blood. Once your scientist-in-training has analyzed the evidence, he or she can go online to see if the case was successfully cracked.
Heavenly Hair Kit
GiddyUp, ages 8+
The Heavenly Hair Kit is another product great for girls who think science is a "boy's" subject. It's an introduction to doing experiments -- a little biology, a little chemistry, but it's all about hair. They'll find out why hair's curly, why it's red, why we need to wash it (of course that might be a good lesson for the boys to learn, too). It also teaches kids how to make their own shampoo and conditioner -- although you might want to test it out on the family dog before lathering into your own tresses.
$13.99/$9.99, ages 12+, Available on iPad/iPhone 4
Not only is "The Elements: A Visual Exploration" visually spectacular, with more than 500 images you can rotate and move, it's well-written. There's even the song "The Elements," by Tom Lehrer, which you might remember from your own chemistry class. Ideal for the student who wants to brush up on or get ahead in physics or chemistry -- and have fun at the same time.
Web Extra Pick: The Dangerous Book for Boys (Essential Electronics and Classic Chemistry)
Thames and Kosmos, ages 8+
Based on the popular book, "The Dangerous Book for Boys," these science sets give boys (and girls) classic, hands-on experience with basic scientific principles. For example, in the electronics set, your child can learn to build his or her own circuit board.
Web Extra Pick: The Young Scientists Club
All ages depending on kit
If you have a budding Marie Curie or Albert Einstein at home, The Young Scientists Club is a great way to keep them learning. You can order one kit at a time, or you can order a subscription. Sign up for the kits you want, and you can have them delivered once or twice a month. Kits cover everything from earth sciences (garden kits) to animal science (animal tracking kits) to astronomy.
Free, Available on iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad
If you've ever wondered what the Cassini spacecraft has been up to since completing its initial mission to Saturn in 2008, the NASA app can tell you. Updated daily, the NASA app is a treasure trove of launch information, telescopic images and galactic news for astronomy enthusiasts.
Workman, ages 10+, good for older kids
Perfect for kids 7 and older, Bananagrams is a fun way to play with words. Think of it as a fast-moving, competitive "Boggle" meets a crossword puzzle, with a dash of "Scrabble." It can be played with only two players or with a group. Kids can hone their spelling and vocabulary skills with this game.
The Sesquipedalian Word Game
Innovative Kids, ages 12+
Sesquipedalian is like charades and "Pictionary" but with definitions of words like tachyphasia (extremely rapid speech). Players have to complete challenges like drawing or acting out the words while other players guess the word. And if your student has a list of vocab words they need to learn over the summer, you can use that list to play the game. Sesquipedalian is great for kids aged 12+ and it comes with other word game suggestions too.
$1.99, ages 12+, Available on iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch
iAssociate is an addictive word-association game. Players start with one word or topic and then use connotations, synonyms and definitions associated with that word to build a web of words. For example, "movie genres" leads to "thriller" which connects to "Michael Jackson," then to "King of Pop," then "scream," which takes you to another movie genre -- horror.
iAssociate 2 is available for free.
Web Extra Pick: Language Arts Windows
Carson-Dellosa publishing, ages 6+
Younger kids can use these self-checking cards over and over again -- provided you use a dry erase marker rather than a Sharpie. The cards fit in a binder and quiz kids on consonants, vowel sounds, plural endings and the like. It also comes in Math Windows.
Web Extra Pick: 'Words With Friends' by Newtoy, Inc.
Free/$2.99 (ads/ad-free), ages 12+, Available on /iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad
If you like Scrabble, you'll like Words With Friends, a word game that you can play on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with friends. So if you have a texting, Facebook, Twitter-obsessed teen, this is a great way to get them thinking while they chat online.
Web Takeaway Science Tricks
Plan a treasure hunt with clues and puzzles to analyze and solve.
Chores can be a great way to talk about science: Why is vinegar a surprisingly effective cleaning product? Etc.
A Few More Things You Can Do for Free (or Nearly Free)
Encourage them to keep a journal or help them start a blog.
Buy the script of their favorite movie or grab a play (and take turns "acting"). Or encourage them to write their own scripts and possibly film it themselves.
Bring back the pen pal -- either via snail mail or email.
Start a summer book club.
Introduce them to the Scholastic Story Starter, which offers prompts to get their creative writing juices flowing.