Tag Archives: summer vacation

Turning The Summer Slide Into a Ladder Up

After our kids work hard all year-long they are thrilled for the break of summer vacation! I remember well how great those seemingly endless days of sleeping in, playing outdoors and reading books in a sunny spot felt. But now that I am the parent, I worry summer months represent a time for my kids to lose ground academically and as a doctor, I know they can be months of slipping into unhealthy habits. Teachers know they send kids home in June at a certain level of knowledge only to expect them to return in the fall having slid down a bit lower   Summertime with its long, lazy days of freedom is a hallmark of childhood but can be a harm to children’s education and fitness.

There are far-reaching benefits to the free-form days of summer. They can be a time of family connection and exploration – I wrote about this last summer. You can focus together as a family on the value of fitness by heading out for a walk or to the park after dinner each night. Summer can also be a time to develop new skills. And the slide in knowledge base that teachers experience is something parents can help prevent.

Making regular reading part of those summer days at home can help kids avoid losing academic ground. A recent study: “Stories to Stop the Summer Slide: Books to Prevent Summer Learning Loss Among Low-Income Students” demonstrated this. Providing our kids with books (preferably of their choosing), the time and sunny space to read in should be one of our goals each summer.

Ideas to get started with:

  • Does your child have their very own library card? Time to get one! Many libraries have summer reading programs and competitions to motivate young readers.
  • Let your kids choose their books. Comic books? Age-appropriate graphic novels? Say yes!
  • Ask their teachers for ideas that fit well with your child’s current reading level.
  • Check out these reading lists for ideas:
  • Be sure to let your kids see you reading. In this electronically focused age it can be hard for parents to put the phone down and read something paper based. Summer can motivate us to take time to relax with a good book too – let your excuse be acting as a role model for the kids!
  • Consider hosting a beginning-of-summer book swap party.
  • Start a parent-child book group. I have been in one with my daughter and her friends since she was in elementary school and have enjoyed reading their books as a way to bond and understand their world.
  • Choose a book to read as a family. One year we read The Calder Game together. It provided plenty of opportunities for conversation and we even tried making mobiles together!

This year at the start of school maybe our teachers will smile to see that our kids have climbed up a ladder to better reading over the summer! Because as they read this summer, our kids will have grown through the stories they soaked up – those of adventure and laughter, those of mystery and fantasy.

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. 

– George R.R. Martin



Sugary Cereal, Cornchips and S’Mores or, Moderation in All Things

What’s a parent to do? The news is so full of nutritional advice it can seem impossible to know where to begin an attempt to feed children well. Sugar is increasingly viewed as dietary suicide. Fiber is fantastic for preventing constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and is linked to a reduction in colon cancer. Blueberries and walnuts have antioxidants, salmon and tuna have vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Too much tuna has too much mercury. Too much cow’s milk can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Too much soy milk is risky as well. How does a parent put all of this advice into action?

My patients’ parents often ask questions about nutrition. I offer them a collection of nutritional advice soundbites; the top ten of which may form my next blog posts. One bit of “wisdom” I have always put out there is this: “Make snacks count”. Snacks are a great chance to get in the foods we most want our kids to eat. As a mom of 15, 12 and 10 year old kids I certainly try to practice what I preach. Sometimes though, I fail. It struck me today as I watched the 12 year old gleefully eat her bowl of very sugary cereal complete with colored marshmallow bits,  that there is something about summer vacation that seems programmed to allow these failures.

My childhood summer vacations were spent on the beaches of Virginia, North and South Carolina, in the woods around my grandparents home on the Chesapeake bay and on a lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were formed of long days of freedom, swimming, exploring and happiness. Sand and heat, mosquitoes, crabs and fireflies, lemonade and Fritos formed the texture of the days.

Fritos? Yes. Now looking back on those days I realize how much of my summertime memories center around foods enjoyed only then. Some of course were healthy summertime treats, some were not. S’mores, Fritos and the occasional bowl of sugary cereal were a wonderful break from the extremely healthy diet my mother usually fed me. Now I realize that I have programmed my own children to expect the same sort of nutritional holiday. Sugary cereal never enters my house and to their credit, the kids don’t ask for it either. They know though, that on vacation away from home they are allowed to get a box of the junkiest cereal their little hearts desire. It seems to me that this kind of holiday has a place in their lives.

I may have benefited from being allowed to lie in a sunny spot on a houseboat with my bowl of chips. How? It taught me moderation. As the Roman writer Petronius said:

moderation in all things, including moderation.

Perhaps if we allow our kids the occasional nutritional holiday they will crave the junk less regularly. Outright prohibition doesn’t seem to work well, for adults or for children.  Allowing junk food holidays at times provides us an opportunity to discuss why it is usually not allowed. Maybe they will appreciate it more. I do know for certain that as I sit here now I am certainly enjoying my bowl of Fritos.