Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer Break - What To Do To Keep Kids Sharp

Summer Break from school is already here for some of us, and with it comes a break for parents too. Okay, it depends on how you look at it. I relish summer vacation because it's a downtime from homework and school pickups and dropoffs. It may be busier but somehow it feels less stressful. You may not agree but I'm sure your kids share in my joy.

It's easy to fall into the lazy days of summer with too much time spent doing nothing but watching TV or playing on the computer. A little bit goes a long way - too much and they'll be slugs when it's time to start school in the Fall.

So what can you do to keep kids sharp over the summer?

Summer School - One short class may make up for lost time in school or allow them to take something really fun they can't during the school year. Look for something unique like sign language.

Summer Camp - They're not what they used to be. There are summer camps for just about anything you can think of - acting, paintball, fashion design, computers - it's like taking a summer school class except better.

Make a Photo Diary - Most kids don't want to do anything that's like school work. Find something creative like photography and many kids will flourish. Have them shoot at least one photo a day and near the end of summer put together a book or slideshow of their vacation.


Museums - We went to the Reagan Library last weekend and it was perfect. We bought an annual pass so we can go back for free for an entire year. Kids actually love museums once you get them to go inside. They don't cost much and some are even free.


Here's a list of the top 50 children's museums by ShareRanks: http://www.faqs.org/shareranks/1488,Top-50-Childrens-Museums

Plan a Trip - It doesn't have to be outrageous. Maybe a weekend will do, or just one day going somewhere you and the kids have always wanted to visit.

Amusement and Water Parks - The entire family can enjoy this one but it can get expensive. Many parks have season passes that can cost less than two trips. If you have one close to home it just might be worth the expense of the pass. The physical activity is good for the body and the brain.

Summer Job - There are plenty of jobs with cities working as a recreational leader, lifeguard, or summer counselor. Check the Human Resources Department page of your city's website or just look for a link to Job Opportunities or Employment somehwre on the Home page. These aren't difficult jobs and they can build good connections with civic leaders.

There are so many things kids can do during summer break. Whatever you or they choose, it should keep them stimulated so they'll be mentally and physically sharp when it's time to go back to school in the Fall.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Element by Ken Robinson

I recently finished reading, "The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything," by Ken Robinson and like most books that I enjoy after finishing, I find myself going back to it to dig out the nuggets and read them again.

If you don't know about Sir Ken Robinson, you should. I first discovered him after seeing his TED Talk about how schools kill creativity. I love this guy and couldn't wait to read The Element.


In the book, Sir Ken identifies The Element as the point where the activities individuals enjoy and are naturally good at come together. Where natural talent meets personal passion, and people feel most themselves, most inspired, and achieve at their highest levels.

He illustrates real-life examples using people like Paul McCartney, Richard Branson, Matt Groening, Mick Fleetwood, Arianna Huffington, and a host of many others, some famous and some not so much. Many of the people he covers either had known learning disabilities or struggled in school. The common thread among everybody was they followed their passion to find success in their lives and careers, much of the time against certain odds.

With chapter titles like, Think Differently, In The Zone, Finding Your Tribe, Somebody Help Me, For Love or Money, The Element lays the groundwork for why it's so important to find that thing in life that turns you on, that truly inspires you. If you love what you do, it isn't work. Life becomes richer and creativity flows. What you do becomes a Zen moment where everything is effortless and fulfilling and your entire focus is being in the moment. It's reminiscent of yoga or mindfulness. Athletes call it, "being in the zone."

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how different celebrities and business people struggled with school but discovered their own passions, which led them on a career path to success. Knowing that others had overcome difficulties with learning and school by focusing on finding their groove gives hope to so many kids in the same situation. It also inspires the parents of these kids to let them do whatever it is that makes them unique and special.

Initially, my big complaint, which I share with others who were disappointed by the book, was that it didn't show me how to find MY passion. Reading the title of the book, I hoped to find not only my own passion, but a way to find the passion of my children so I could help us all find a fulfilling career path. But I came to realize that isn't really the point of the book in the first place. You have to find your own passion yourself. Nobody can do it for you. Knowing what to look for and how to progress when you find your passion is as much a key to The Element as finding it in the first place.

All in all, it's a fun read with more than a little dose of the lives of people you already know but didn't know the whole story. I would suggest watching the Ken Robinson TED Talk first so you get a sense of of his personal style and wit and gain a little background of what's to come in the book.