Kiss Your Brain: Avoid Summer Brain Drain- Part 2

-From the Desk of Heather Tuttle, Curriculum Writer-

This year, as the final school bell rings and your kids leave their math books behind, be sure they don’t forget to bring the learning with them. Prevent the infamous summer ‘Brain Drain’ by creating daily learning opportunities at home. From learning on the go to planned educational activities, it’s easy to surround your kids with some scholarly summer fun.

Science

By simply exploring the world around them, your kids will enhance their science brains.

  • Go on a nature hike or nature scavenger hunt. Collect or take pictures of specific items on a list. Observe and compare different types of rocks, animals, insects, and leaves.
  • After watching the summer weather patterns, make forecasts and weather predictions together. Make a rain gauge out of everyday items you have at home. Then, predict the amount of rainfall during a certain day, week, or month.
  • Plant a garden and watch seeds develop into plants. As a bonus, you’ll have some healthy summer snacks to munch on as well.
  • Give your kids the opportunity to separate recyclable materials. Teach them why recycling is important and show them where all the waste ends up in your community.
  • Have a treasure hunt at the beach. Discover shells, seaweed, fish bones, and beach glass. Bring along a field guide or go online to do research about your treasures when you get home.
  • It will be a tasty and hands-on science experiment when you and your kids make a delicious summer treat in a Ziploc bag! With just a few ingredients and a super scientific explanation, ice cream in a bag will be a summer treat and a cool experience your kids won’t forget!

Reading

Studies have shown that reading above all other academic activities stimulates and sustains the brain, making it grow the most. Kids who read during the summer start the next school year leaps ahead of those who don’t open a book all summer.

  • Encourage your kids’ interest in reading by letting them choose books to read about their favorite topics.
  • Make a chart to keep track of all the books your family reads during the summer. Set goals or make it a competition.
  • Visit your local library regularly and sign up for the summer reading program.
  • Read aloud to your kids. Older kids can read to you or their younger siblings.
  • Listen to audio books as a family while you’re on the road this summer.
  • Help your kids write a letter to their favorite author or favorite character from a book.
  • Cut out words from a newspaper or magazine and arrange them into a letter for a friend or family member.
  • Help your kids write a storybook of their very own, complete with illustrations and the key elements of a good story.
  • Start a family or neighborhood book club. Your club can be as simple as two people reading the same book and chatting about it afterwards.

Work Learning Into Daily Life:

  • Talk with teachers and look ahead in the textbooks for what’s on your kids’ school schedule next year. Then, when you plan the family vacation, take this future learning into account. For example, if your kids will be learning about the Civil War, consider booking a trip to Gettysburg. Or, if they’ll be studying geological features next year, visit a national park. Trips to historical villages or science museums are also great ways to get the mind in gear and prepared for what’s ahead.
  • Bust Boredom: When the chorus of “I’m Bored” bellows from the backyard, you’ll be prepared with some great educational ways to break down and beat the boredom blues.
  • Going on a road trip this summer? Packing the learning along with you won’t take up a ton of space, plus it will make the car ride free from the never ending questions of “Are we there yet?”.
  • Summer is a great time to get creative and crafty. From tissue paper flowers to origami and coffee filter butterflies, your home will become a gallery of creative learning.
  • It’ll be magic to the mind when your kids learn while putting on a mystical magic show.
  • The musical tones of summer will echo in your kids’ minds as their brain expands by creating a homemade rock band.

Re-gen! Regeneration!

Balancing Character, Story and Game Play: Part 1

– From the Desk of Glenn Seidel, Game Designer–

Have you ever been to the circus and watched a performer on tight wire spin plates and keep their balance? Finding the right balance between characters, story and game play is pretty similar. It can be tricky not to let one element over whelm the other two. Often what happens in many games is that the focus of the production favors one over the others and the whole experience is weakened. It is like baking a good cake and who doesn’t like cake? Over the next few weeks, I will look at each piece of the pie….err cake.

I personally think you start with the characters. Colorful characters, with interesting and fun personalities can make any game sink or swim. Of course the sort of game you are making might need different sort of characters but it is a good rule of thumb. Psychonauts was a platforming game that came out a few years ago about a psychic kid’s summer camp. Tim Schaffer and Double Fine Studios did a great job of making fun, recognizable characters to populate the world. Even the characters that populated the world had fun and interesting things to share when you talked to them, like the girl that just wanted to play drums. These kinds of characters can make a mundane task really entertaining to complete.

Characters that reflect the same issues and problems the player experience are instantly recognizable and relatable. We all focused on this when we made our recent Jumpstart Worlds. We worked to create characters that were fun, but relatable. Eleanor, for instance, is a pink elephant that goes from a small little girl in a pink dress to a herculean figure. As she aged through each grade she got bigger and stronger but never stopped being the little girl she was in our first game. Eleanor wanted everyone to think of her as the same girl that liked having tea parties with her teddy bear, even if she could move boulders. Lots of kids (and adults) have that fear of growing up and being perceived differently. We never really came out and said any of this to the player directly but it helped us know her, as well as the other characters in the JumpStart world. It allowed us to recognize and find funny moments through out the game to elevate this concern.

Awww look at those eyes!

Awww look at those eyes!

We designed missions around her and the other Jumpstart character that would take advantage of their unique personalities and needs. And it helped us game designers as we created the story around our games. Next week, the flour of our game cake story!

Homework: Your Child Can Practice Life Skills as well as their Lessons

-From the Desk of Heather Tuttle, Curriculum Writer-

Life Skill #4: Communicating with Authority Figures

We talked about how homework can improve your kids’ communication skills with their peers. But it is also a great tool to teach kids how to communicate with authority figures. First of all, sometimes there is just too much to do – your kids plug everything into the calendar and see that they have a five-page paper, a science project, a social-studies test, and a math mid-term all on the same day, and that day happens to be the day after they get home from band camp. Whether they have conflicting assignments, band camp, a school performance, or a family vacation, it’s important for your kids to start assessing their workload and admitting when they just can’t get it all done.

“Well, that’s great,” you say, “but what does it have to do with communication?”

I’m glad you asked! One important aspect of communication is giving plenty of notice ahead of time that you can’t get something done. By assessing the workload and admitting they can’t do it ahead of time, your kids will be able to communicate their situation to their teachers well in advance and give them time to find a solution.

Another great skill your kids can learn from homework is the ability to ask questions. It’s never too early to develop the habit of clarifying assignments, which is a good communication skill to have with any boss. Your kids can learn to approach their teachers with any and all questions. If your kids find they don’t understand a lot of assignments, they might want to start talking to the teacher after class routinely, to double-check that they get how to do everything.

Lastly, your kids can learn how to admit when they made a mistake. Assignments get overlooked. It’s a fact of life. If your kids can man up… er… kid up, admit their mistake, and propose a solution (i.e. turning in the assignment late for a lesser grade, or doing a make-up assignment), any teacher worth their salt isn’t going to turn their back and force your kids to take a zero. It’s great practice for your kids to approach their teachers and learn how to take responsibility, since, odds are, that’s a skill they’ll be using at some point once they get into the working world!

Kiss Your Brain: Avoid the Summer Brain Drain

-From the Desk of Heather Tuttle, Curriculum Writer-

As the month of May comes to a close, your little ones have probably already begun their countdown to the much anticipated summer vacation. As much as your studious pupils deserve some fun and relaxation, it’s important that their brains don’t take a break all summer long. Research shows kids in grades kindergarten through sixth lose between one and three months of learning, or about 45% of what they learned during the school year, throughout those long summer days. This summer slip in learning happens when kids don’t get a chance to engage in educational activities during their vacation. Prevent a brain drain this summer and keep your kids’ minds in gear all summer long with these fun and simple brain boosting activities for kids of all ages!

Math

Since kids lose more math skills than anything else over the summer, try to incorporate some math-related activities into the daily routine.

  • Help your kids mathematically monitor and keep track of a summer sport. Research your favorite team’s statistics, averages, and rank and keep a chart monitoring the team’s progress.
  • Cook a meal together, letting your child follow the recipe and use measuring spoons and cups.
  • Hang a thermometer outside to track the temperature throughout the summer.
  • Make paper airplanes or egg parachutes and measure their flight paths and distances.
  • Let your kids help you shop. Tell them how much money you’re aiming to spend and let their estimating go to work as you throw items into the shopping cart. Be sure to get their estimated total before you get to the register.

Writing

Help your child’s vacationing brain build creativity, writing skills, and vocabulary with these activities:

  • Fill in summer’s special days and events on a homemade calendar. Use pencils, drawing paper, and rulers to create, decorate, and fill in a personalized summer calendar for your family.
  • Make the summer a time to relive for an eternity by creating a scrapbook of summer events and memories. Your kids can fill pages by writing details of their experiences, adding photos and captions, and placing any items they collected during the summer months inside. Add their artistic and creative skills to this project, and you’ve got a brain building memory to last a lifetime.
  • Writing made-up or real-life accounts of summer adventures is always a fun way to get the imagination and the mind going. Work together to create a ‘choose your own adventure’ book where the ending is always unknown.

Social Studies

It’s easy to learn about history, geography, and culture without even realizing it during the summer months. Here are few ideas to make studying social studies simple.

  • Help your kids set up interviews with older community members or relatives. Delve into lives of the past and learn firsthand about history and how things used to be.
  • Help your child make a map of the places and landmarks she’s visited. Color the places visited in one color and shade in the places that she’d like to visit someday in another color.
  • Visit a historical monument, a national park, or a history museum.
  • Your kids will feel great ownership and quite proud when they help you map out and plan a family vacation or day trip. Let them help you research activities by poring through brochures and websites. Make it a math lesson as well when you give them a shot at budgeting the family entertainment, dining, and lodging.
  • Take your kids to an international market or an ethnic restaurant. Try new foods and research the country or region the foods came from.
  • Be a tourist in a new city- explore, navigate, and learn together.

Stay tuned for more ‘Brain Drain’ prevention techniques next week, when we’ll look at building the summer brain through reading and science!

Cute 4 year old doing JumpStart “gumball” math!

Can you guess what he’s spelling at the end?

Homework: Your Child Can Practice Life Skills as well as their Lessons 3

-From the Desk of Heather Tuttle, Curriculum Writer-

Life Skill #3: Communicating with Peers

Life-Skills #1 and #2 (keeping a to-do list and time management) are pretty obvious life-skills your kids can learn from homework. But how about one that’s a little more out-there: Homework can be a great opportunity to teach your kids some lessons in effective communication. Now, I see your skeptical expression (well okay, I don’t really see it), but hear me out.

To start, homework provides an opportunity for your kids to reach out and network with other students in the class. Your kids should have at least three contacts in each class, logged neatly in one place so they won’t get lost. Seems like a lot of work and a lot of contact info, but trust me, you’ll be glad you have it when your child can’t remember an assignment. But what exactly can a kid learn from calling up a friend? Your child can learn what times of the day it’s appropriate to call people (for instance, 2 AM the day the assignment is due is probably not a good time to call), how to leave a phone message (don’t forget to state clearly who is calling, keep it brief, and make sure to include your phone number slowly and clearly), and how to be polite and clear on the phone.

Groups and partner projects are another great way for your kids to learn communication and team work. Your kids will have to learn to schedule meetings, follow up, and delegate tasks. You can help them determine everything that has to get done, and then divide up the responsibilities as evenly and/or fairly as possible among the team members. I would strongly recommend that you have the group write down all the tasks and who’s doing what, and make sure that each member has a copy. Otherwise, the group might be in for an unpleasant surprise when two of them do the report on bee pollination, but nobody put together the diagram of the hive.