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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

How to keep your children's brains engaged this summer

Ensure that children retain their learning by stimulating their minds and having fun during the holidays

Challenges in a meaningful summer fun and games programme can be both physical and mental. Getty Images
Challenges in a meaningful summer fun and games programme can be both physical and mental. Getty Images

For the next eight weeks or so, parents across the UAE will be preoccupied with one all-consuming task: keeping their kids entertained.

According to experts, making sure your child’s mind and body remain active, using creative activities and entertainment, is important not only to the health of their rapidly developing brain, but also to their ability to use it.

Jeyla Shikhlinskaya, child psychologist and founding partner of Dubai’s Blue Sky Holistic Family Education, says that when it comes to children’s brains, particularly during their formative years, it is crucial that parents are constantly reinforcing what is being learnt in school.

“Simply put, this is a case of use it or lose it,” she says.

While Shikhlinskaya isn’t advocating that you keep your kids as busy during their holidays as they are over the course of the school year, she does highlight the importance of asking children to keep flexing their mental muscles during their time off. “Whether your child is learning mathematics, languages, music, sports or creative expression, when you remove the activity, the neural connection is suspended. If it’s suspended for too long, the brain will discard it as unnecessary.”

This is especially true for children who are finding languages and maths challenging, says Shikhlinskaya. “A lot of it is often connected to their processing speed,” she says. “If over summer they don’t keep practising their mathematics and reading and writing skills, they will lose a lot of the gains made over the course of the year.”

If over summer they don't keep practising their skills, they will lose a lot of the gains made over the course of the year. Courtesy KBS Communications
Adventure HQ at Yas Mall is currently the only place in the Middle East that has indoor caving. Courtesy KBS Communications

In short, if it is not trained regularly enough, the brain will become out of practice. Getting back into the swing of things once school resumes will prove more difficult, and your child may be too busy remastering the basics to access and process new information.

“The dangers of letting everything go over summer are the same as letting any good habits go. They are very quickly forgotten and replaced by bad ones,” explains Shikhlinskaya. “How long will it take them to read or write a paragraph or solve an equation? It’s not that they will forget how to do it, but rather, they will lose the ability to do so quickly and efficiently.”

So, what is a parent to do to make sure their child doesn’t slack off this summer? Shikhlinskaya is a firm believer in encouraging children to have fun over the holidays. “It is paramount that you do not turn their summer vacation into an endless succession of tutors and math problems, and reading and writing assignments,” she explains. That said, she recommends that parents put on their thinking caps to show kids how the subjects they are studying in school, including maths, languages, history and science, can be applied to daily life. For example, ask them to help you figure out measures when baking or cooking. When riding in the car, allow them to figure out the distance between point A and point B. Or grab a book and discuss all the wonderful places they can visit.

For Sasha Quince, an Abu Dhabi-based yoga teacher and mother of two boys who are ages four-and-a-half and 14 months, the summer break is a chance to unwind with the kids, which isn’t always possible during the school year.

“I truly believe in more relaxation and free play over the holiday periods,” she says. “The boys have a great time just playing with their toys, games and throwing a ball around at home. The free play allows their minds to relax and to feel the calm that isn’t available when we are on a strict schedule in school months. I also like to enrol them in recreational activities, such as swimming lessons, art or ball games.”

Keeping kids occupied without sticking them in front of the television all day long doesn’t have to be complicated or break the bank. In fact, what’s required can be as basic as a pen and piece of paper. Simple ideas that stimulate the brain include puzzles, painting, drawing, as well as educational board games.

Those looking for activities beyond the confines of their homes can start by scrolling through Surviving Summer DXB 2017, a Facebook group that regularly posts activities that parents can take part in with their kids. And while it’s tough to beat the heat, the UAE has plenty of indoor entertainment option beyond the traditional soft play areas. Active escapes include Bounce, a trampolining heaven; wall climbing at Adventure Zone by Adventure HQ, both of which have locations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. One for the more adventurous, Parkour Dubai offers classes and camps that teach kids the fundamentals of movement in a way that stimulates both body and mind.

A child participants in a class at Parkour Dubai. Anna Nielsen for The National
A child participants in a class at Parkour Dubai. Anna Nielsen for The National

Meanwhile, science buffs can polish up their skills at Stem, an educational summer camp in Dubai that provides children aged between 5 and 10 with the opportunity to delve into more cerebral subjects, such as mechanical engineering, robotics, computer programming, aerospace engineering and more. In Abu Dhabi, Little World Fun Discovery Centre, an “edutainment” area that offers 12 zones where kids can enjoy activities ranging from theatre to computer science, is a great choice for tots as well as older kids.

And, because it isn’t actually your job to entertain your kids every minute of every day, allowing your child to become bored sometimes won’t necessarily earn you a bad parenting award. In fact, every second of their lives does not need to be filled with noise. Who knows what they might discover in a state of boredom? A new book that will transport them to a distant land; a recipe for a favourite treat; a long-forgotten toy that could use some repair; a chance to take up an instrument; or a thrilling game of their own invention? That sounds like quite the summer.

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