Fun ways to stop summer brain drain

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When I was a kid, summer meant completely disconnecting from telephones, TVs, and technology of all kind. I spent my days riding horses, making macramé keychains, and swatting mosquitoes at a rural camp in Tennessee. My only academic activity was a long summer reading list. But kids today are expected to come back to school not only with a fresh repertoire of campfire songs, but also with clear memories of everything they learned the year before. What’s a parent to do? When your children are at loose ends, press your Mac into service. Here are some ideas:

Visit educational Web sites Some of our editors’ favorites include Starfall for fun reading and pre-reading activities aimed at preschool to second graders; the Monterey Bay Aquarium site for live Web cams of sea turtles, sharks, penguins and more, as well as activities and games; and National Geographic Kids for strange animals videos, games, and science and history articles aimed at children. My personal favorite is NASA’s kids page —an easy place to find video and activities that will satisfy a robot- and spaceship-obsessed kid.

Help them learn an instrument Study after study has demonstrated the connection between musical training and academic skills, so it makes sense to encourage kids to learn an instrument. Besides, it’s fun! Your aspiring rocker might enjoy the very interactive iPlayMusic’s $50 Beginner Guitar Lessons for the Mac. This software includes hours of video demonstrations and is integrated with iLife—once your child masters a tune, he or she can record it in GarageBand. If you’d like to learn simple songs to play for your toddler or preschooler, take a look at the $25 iPlayMusic Play Music Together DVD.

Send them to Apple Camp Parent and game-master, Peter Cohen, heartily recommends Apple’s own free summer camps where kids ages 8 to 12 (and their parents) troop off for a few hours to learn how to podcast, use iWeb, make music using GarageBand, or create movies using iMovie. Read about Peter’s experience for yourself.

Explore the science of sports If you have sports-obsessed older kids, check out ESPN’s Sports Figures for action-packed videos of athletes discussing science and math principles. (You’ll need to be able to play Windows Media content on your Mac. Download a QuickTime Player plug-in here.) Likewise, you’ll find many online games that relate math skills to kids’ favorite games. For instance, practice multiplication and addition with Batter’s Up Baseball.

Try educational software When you need quiet time, try sitting the kids in front of the Mac instead of the television. The Parent Channel maintains a list of recommended educational games organized by ages and topic, as does Learning Village. Public libraries are often a good place for children to play educational software for free.

And don’t forget your library and its Web site My library, like many around the country, runs an extensive summer reading program. Kids win prizes for completing reading goals—whether they’re reading on their own or a parent is reading to them. (My 3-and-half year old is already whipped up into a frenzy about winning his red summer-reading t-shirt.) Most public library Web sites maintain great book lists and advanced search technology—perfect when you’re looking for just the right adventure book to engage a reluctant reader. You’ll often find lists of local, kid-friendly activities on your library’s site too.

Did I miss your favorite way to engage the offspring? Share your ideas on the forums.

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