Summertime language activities for children and their families

image credit: Personal Creations, Flickr. CC license.

Summer doesn’t mean you have to take a break from stimulating speech and language skills with your children. There are still many opportunities to enrich communication skills. From trips to the zoo, waterpark or beach, to camping and other family vacations, you’ll have plenty to talk about. Here are some suggestions for incorporating language into your fun summer plans.

Schedule play dates with friends and classmates. Play dates foster peer interaction, play, functional communication, and social skills. Offer a few summer activities (bubbles, sand toys, swings) and encourage conversation/interaction. Later, ask open-ended questions about what happened, who was there, and other details.

Plan a day trip. Take a trip to the beach, park, museum, amusement park, or zoo. Providing your child with a variety of experiences gives them a broader vocabulary base and builds connections to stories and books they may read. While planning for the trip, talk about what you need to pack for the trip. After the trip, tell the story of what you did that day. Check online for nearby family-friendly activities and discounts.

Go for a walk. As you walk with your child, encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions (e.g., What do you like to do outside?). Make observations and comment on what you see around you (e.g., I see a blue bird flying in the sky), while encouraging your child to do the same. Or try an “I Spy” game to focus on inference skills by describing items and having your child guess what you see.

Make a snack together. Cooking and baking create natural opportunities to practice following directions. Together, check the ingredients list and create a shopping list. While shopping, discuss what you will buy, how many you need, and what you will make. Talk about the size (large or small), shape (long, round, square), and weight (heavy or light) of the packages and where you put them (in the cart, on, under, above the grocery cart). Then get to cooking! After the snack is made, have your child describe what they made. Take it a step further and see if your child can remember and retell all the steps in the process.

Read. Reading with your child is one of the best activities you can do to promote language and literacy skills. While reading, ask your child different “wh” questions related to the story (e.g., Why is he sad? What do you think is going to happen? Where are they?). Visit the local library to check out new books.

Host a scavenger hunt. Work with your child to write clues and create maps for participants to find the items. While writing the clues together, work on sentence formation and vocabulary development. To target a specific articulation sound, think of items that start or end with that sound. Completing the scavenger hunt targets critical thinking skills and following directions.

Camp in the backyard. Set up the tent with your child, tell campfire stories and make s’mores. Not only is this activity so much fun, but it targets narrative skills, imaginative play, and following directions.

Have a game night. Board games, charades, bingo and card games are very interactive and fun. Most games can have multiple players at a time so invite over the neighbor kids for some laughs! Games encourage turn taking, social skills, rule-following and understanding directions.

What are your favorite summertime activities, and how do you incorporate learning during while the children are not in school?

– Alexandra Barman, M.A., CF-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Our favorite summer traditions

Our family’s favorite summer tradition is a trip to Red Oaks Waterpark in Madison Heights. It has a wave pool, three water slides, a lazy river, and a kid-friendly play area. (Bonus: Oakland County residents get discounted admission.) Our favorite time to go is during the Twilight hours from 4 – 7 p.m. Twilight admission is only $8 for Oakland County residents. We bring a picnic dinner and have lots of fun. I do recommend wearing water shoes as the bottom of the wave pool can be prickly on sensitive feet. Red Oaks also has a River Walk for adults on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, where you can walk against the current in the lazy river from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m. for $8. I haven’t tried it yet but I’m hoping to go this summer. – Emily Swan

Summer traditions … They’re the best and so many to choose from! My kids love traditions, big and small. Some of ours include a trip to northern Michigan with my parents, two sisters and their families. There are 16 of us total: eight adults and eight kids. The cousins just love to be together, playing in the water, running wild, and eating lots of ice cream. It is chaotic and wonderful. There is something special that happens when you get that vacation time away with family. I love planning meals, cooking and eating together, and my favorite is getting the early-morning and after-nap snuggles from my nieces and nephews (sweet bed head, the smell of fresh lakeside air and sunscreen). My immediate family of four also does a weekend in South Haven every summer. My husband and I met at WMU, so the west side of the state is special to us and we love sharing it with the kids. And lastly, before school starts back each year, we do a day at Rolling Hills Water Park in Ypsilanti with our neighbors; the moms even do the slides! So fun! – Kelly Ryan

When our kids were little, one of our favorite summer traditions included exploring the many amazing cities and lakes right here in Michigan. Whether we ventured north, south, east or west, it was all about discovering new and exciting sights that our beautiful state has to offer. Favorite activities involved swimming, biking, mini golf, volleyball and playing cards. Lazy days seemed to center around big scoops of ice cream, while a nighttime favorite included campfire gatherings and eating s’mores. The tradition continues once more! Last summer, we had a blast introducing our grandchildren to the beautiful beaches in the thumb area. – Deanna Robb

Our summer tradition when our kids were little was to visit Kelleys Island in Ohio. My husband’s great grandfather bought a cottage there around the turn of the century and it remains one of the oldest buildings on the island. Our kids loved it because the only rule was “no rules!” – Lori Polakowski

Summertime traditions with our family evolved over the years as the kids got older. But one tradition is we always seem to celebrate is the 4th of July together in our hometown. The big, all-day celebration starts with a parade, then a family fair and craft show, along with hot dog eating contests, and all-star baseball games at the city park. Then of course the big fireworks display tops off the night. It’s always great to have family and friends come over for the day. We have yard games going and the pool is open all day. There’s always lots of great food for grilling as everyone brings a dish. It’s a great tradition that we still enjoy as a family even as the kids have grown into adults! – Lucy Hill

No matter the summer vacation plans, we always make time for a visit to an amusement park! Each summer we visit Michigan’s Adventure or Cedar Point, and to be honest, most summers it’s both! Both are about a 3-hour drive for us, which is totally worth all the fun we have. Michigan’s Adventure has a fantastic water park, which is included with the price of admission and perfect for a midday cool down. Cedar Point has the absolute best roller coasters in the world, my favorite is Steel Vengeance. If you like to plan ahead, both parks offer deep discounts on admission throughout the year. I like to grab their Black Friday Deals! – Nichole Enerson

As my kids have gotten older and busier, it’s gotten harder to get everyone together. But one thing we still do every summer is take a trip to Cedar Point. We are amusement park junkies; we will go anywhere within driving distance to ride the latest coaster, but Cedar Point is our home turf. Everyone has their favorite ride that we make sure to hit. Because we have season passes and visit often, we never wait in long lines since we know we can ride another time. My youngest and I always look forward to the new stage show (Cedar Point has the best in-park entertainment outside of Disney!), and the rest of the family humors us and goes with us as well. Every trip to Cedar Point includes french fries at the back of the park at the Happy Friar. Don’t forget that you can get free courtesy water at every concession stand, which is especially important on hot days. Finally, the trip home will always include a stop at the Dairy Depot on Route 2. After all, it’s not a summer tradition if there’s not ice cream involved! – Nicole Capozello

I am not a tent camper but a few summers ago, my family discovered yurts at a county park. Since then, we’ve gone every year. My son takes his fishing gear and could spend hours at the dock trying to catch something. There are kayaks to rent, arts and crafts, hiking trails, and entertainment. We take our bikes and some board games, too. We love making a campfire, cooking foil dinners and having s’mores. There’s a tractor/wagon ride that goes all through the camp and we look to see which critters we’ll see on the ride. Another highlight is when we see the mounted Oakland County sheriff deputies. It’s a relaxing weekend away for sure! – Becky Bibbs

Two of our favorite summer traditions are family reunions and camping trips. We typically combine the two for a “family hoedown” every year in July and camp for a long weekend to spend time with family from across the United States. The weekend typically includes a fishing tournament on the property’s lake, bingo, treasure hunt, swimming, campfires, and a float down the river. It is such a fun time! – Stephanie Babcock

Fun ideas to help your child unplug this summer

Summer is the perfect time for kids to get outside and play. However, many children turn to computers, televisions and tablets for entertainment rather than their imagination or creativity. While apps, games and shows can be entertaining and keep the kids occupied, it’s important to continue to foster development of other skills without digital assistance.

Here are a few suggestions to keep your child unplugged for the summer:

  • Books
    • Reading helps expand vocabulary, problem solving, inferencing and comprehension abilities. It also aids development of creativity and imagination when children envision the story taking place.
    • Encourage leisure reading with a sticker reward chart. Have your child work towards a special reward like going out to eat at their favorite restaurant, having a movie night, camping in the backyard, making a special dessert or snack, or even earning time with their desired electronic.
    • Set aside time to read with your child. Pick a more advanced chapter book and spend 30 minutes each day reading a chapter together.
    • Plan quiet reading time outside in a hammock, on a blanket or in a tent/fort.
  • Activity books
    • Help kids use logic, reasoning and imagination in a fun way through activity books!
    • Examples include mazes, hidden picture books, sticker books, dot-to-dots, paint by numbers, student workbooks (Kumon or Brainquest), and coloring books.
  • Art
    • Pick a different art activity each day or week to stimulate creativity. Use different types of paper (e.g., construction, tissue, foam, felt, etc.) and different art mediums (e.g., markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint, glue, Play-Doh, etc.) to keep the activities interesting and fun.
  • Games
    • Single-person games are a great way to promote use of logic and reasoning.
    • Examples: jigsaw puzzles, Perplexus, IQ Fit, Gravity Maze, Suspend Game, solitaire, Rush Hour, Scrabble Flash, Mighty Mind, Rory’s Story Cubes, Logic Links, Laser Maze, Circuit Maze, Katamino, Swish, Pathwords, Find It.
  • Sports/Games
    • Introduce your child to new and different outdoor sports and games. These are great for fine and gross motor development.
    • Examples: soccer, basketball, baseball/T-ball, tennis, ladder golf, croquet, Washers, corn hole, hopscotch, bowling.
  • Toys
    • Toys are a great way for kids to learn to entertain themselves and use their imaginations through pretend play.
    • In order to keep toys interesting, set aside specific times during the day to play with these special items. You could also set up a toy swap with a neighbor if your child loses interest in the toys you currently own.
    • Examples: stuffed animals, dolls, race cars, marble tower/track, Silly Putty, wood pattern blocks, puzzles, sensory bins.

Samantha Bailey-Crow, MA, CCC-SLP, is supervisor of Pediatric Rehabilitation at the Center for Exceptional Families, Beaumont Health

Did someone say ice cream?

July 1 marked the beginning of National Ice Cream month. In metro Detroit, we’re lucky to have a vast number of places to get ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato and frozen custard. To help you celebrate all month long, here are our staff’s favorite ice cream shops.

  • Birmingham area: The Dairy Mat on Woodward is like a small hometown DQ.  My kids always liked sprinkles! – Lori Polakowski
  • Birmingham area: Who says you need to wait until it’s warm out for ice cream?  Dairy Deluxe is always the first place to open up for the season, usually February 1! The menu is huge and they have options you can’t get anywhere else. I love the “Crazy for Cookies” sundae (vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and three homemade chocolate chip cookies) and my son likes the cherry Pop Tarts flurry. They have a good Sanders bumpy cake sundae, too. – Becky Bibbs
  • Clarkston area: We love going to Cook’s Farm Dairy in Ortonville! My husband grew up next to the farm and their ice cream is the absolute best! It’s also fun to wander around seeing the farm animals, especially the new calves! – Nichole Enerson
  • Grosse Pointe area: Alinosi’s ice cream, originally located in the neighborhood where I grew up in Detroit, and the place to get it is at the Chocolate Bar Café on Mack Avenue. Alinosi’s ice cream is sooo rich and the hot fudge is to die for. The place is decorated with pictures from the old store, which are like a scrapbook of my childhood. As a kid, I loved the clown and circus sundaes (that one had animal crackers marching around the edge), and in my adolescence, it was strawberry ice cream with strawberry sauce.  Now, I love an old-fashioned hot fudge sundae. My mom used to ask my dad to bring her a double scoop cone (in the middle of the winter because in the summer we walked there): pineapple orange on the bottom and chocolate on the top.  She said it had to be in that order so the chocolate dripped down onto the other flavor.  When my youngest didn’t remember the name “Alinosi’s,” she said, “Ali-what-now?” That’s been its name ever since. – Nicole Capozello
  • Marine City area: Our favorite place isThe Sweet Tooth of Marine City. It’s an entire candy store featuring a 30 lb. gummy bear, old fashioned candy, bulk candy where you can buy by the pound, hand-dipped chocolate items (like chocolate covered pretzels), chocolate covered popcorn, chocolate chips, etc. They also have Michigan-flavored ice creams such as “Michigan Pothole” and more. We like to get ice cream and then walk the streets downtown or sit by the pier and watch the ferry go by! – Stephanie Babcock
  • Novi area: Guernsey Farms Dairy is a family dairy; the incredible ice cream is made on-site and is incredible. In addition to the scoop shop, you can buy their milk and chocolate products, and there is a full-service family restaurant there. There are so many delicious flavors, but our family favorites are: Crème de Novi (their take on mint chocolate chip), Fudge Whip (French vanilla ice cream with the famous Guernsey milk chocolate fudge topping swirled throughout), and Black Cherry (my husband says it’s the best he has ever had!). Outside, there are a few benches and rocks to sit on, a huge oak tree for shade, and a “famous” big rock which is the go-to for pictures for all the families who love it there! – Kelly Ryan
  • Royal Oak area: My favorite ice cream place to go is Oberweis Ice Cream and Dairy Store. Usually on a Sunday after washing and cleaning my convertible, I enjoy a cruise down Woodward and stopping in at Oberweis for a hot fudge sundae (always vanilla, no nuts, but love the whip cream and cherry on top). I’m always with my husband or son and we hang outside and watch the cars cruising down Woodward and enjoy our ice cream. It’s the best! – Lucy Hill
  • Royal Oak area: You can’t list good ice cream places and not mention Ray’s Ice Cream, a classic ice cream shop that’s been around since 1958! They make their ice cream right on-site, employ local high school kids, and you know they have good eats because there’s always a huge line when it’s a beautiful day. My favorite flavor is the Black Raspberry Chip, but they rotate flavors seasonally, so I look forward to when Peach is back on the menu. If you’re super hungry or willing to share with a friend, try the banana split; it’s enormous! – Becky Bibbs
  • Around the United States: It’s part of a chain, but Culver’s is my favorite place for a frozen treat. Their custard is rich and delicious. I like to get vanilla custard with salted caramel and cookie dough. Bonus: A kid’s meal comes with a free scoop of frozen custard. They have a daily special flavor if you’re feeling adventurous. – Emily Swan

A simple guide to sunburn and sunstroke

young sunburned boy

Erin Stevenson O’Connor, Wikimedia Commons.

Now that Michigan is warming up and summer is around the corner, it is important to recognize the signs, symptoms, and differences between sunburn and sunstroke.

What is sunburn?

A sunburn is a skin burn. It happens when you are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or tanning beds. It is important to know that you are still exposed to UV light even on cloudy days. Initial symptoms of a sunburn can include skin that is red, hot, or painful. In more severe cases, blisters can form over the skin with more intense pain and fevers. Most sunburns are not life-threatening.

What is sunstroke?

A sunstroke is when the body temperature increases due to external heat (e.g., prolonged sun exposure). The temperature will rise greater than 104°F. Examples of potential exposures include when children are left in cars on a hot summer day or when sports practice occurs under the blazing sun. Important features of sunstroke include decreased energy, dry or sweaty skin, vomiting, diarrhea, delirium, hallucinations, seizures, or slurred speech. A sunstroke is a medical emergency and could potentially be life-threatening.

How do you prevent and treat sunburn?

Prevention is key!

  • Always wear sunscreen when you are planning to go outside on a sunny (or even cloudy) day. Ideally, the SPF should be 30 or greater.
  • Avoid going out during the hottest part of the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
  • Choose areas that are shaded (under trees, umbrellas for example)
  • Cover as much skin as possible (long-sleeve shirts, long pants, hat), and wear sunglasses.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

How do you prevent and treat sunstroke?

Once again, prevention is key!

  • Always have checks in place (and discuss these with other caregivers) to ensure your child isn’t left behind in the car.
  • Provide athletes with adequate hydration before, during, and after sports practice.
  • Do not allow your child to participate in sports practice if he or she feels unwell.
  • Have a discussion with coaches about the plans that are in place to remove children who are exhibiting signs or symptoms of sunstroke.

If your child has signs or symptoms of a sunstroke, the most important initial step is to remove them from the sun exposure. Call EMS or take your child to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. While you are waiting for EMS or while driving your child to the emergency department, use the following rapid cooling methods: spray the child with water, use a fan, and apply ice packs to the body (on the neck, under the armpits, in the groin region).

– Gurpal Jones, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician, Beaumont Health

Summer slide: It’s not a dance

boy reading

We’re all excited as the school year ends and summer is upon us. Most children are so happy on the last day of school as it means sleeping in, staying up late, and best of all: no homework! But many parents know that we must keep our children reading, writing and doing math to prevent the “summer slide.”

What is the summer slide?

This is the slide in academic skills that happens over the summer. When our children return to school, they’ve fallen to a level lower than they were at when they left school in June. Typically, students can lose up to two months of learning in the summer and it takes the next grade’s teacher four to six weeks to get students back to the level where they previously were. The most profound thing about summer slide is that it is cumulative.

Over the years, the one- to two-month slide adds up and creates a gap by the time the child reaches high school. However, a parent can help your student avoid the “summer slide,” provide the opportunity to step right into the new grade level, and even learn the new grade level materials.

Summer slide is more common in lower-income levels, although no student is exempt.

Reading over the summer

Research shows that the amount of time that students spend reading outside of school is linked to gains in reading achievement. In fact, it shows that if your child reads just six books during the summer months, the summer slide can be avoided!

However, these books need to be “just right fit” books. Talk with your child’s teacher before the end of the year to find the right reading level. The books can’t be too hard or too easy; they need to be just right. This video can help determine a “just right” book.

A child is most likely to read books that he or she selects. We need to give children the time needed to select books that will motivate them to continue to read all summer.

Summer reading programs

  • Most libraries offer free reading programs that are motivating and fun. Check out your library online or at your next visit, so your child is signed up and ready to participate. Libraries are meant to be a place to read, have fun and learn as a family. When my children were little, I packed a lunch, went to the library, then headed to the park to spend some time both playing and reading.
  • Some bookstores offer summer reading programs and discounts on books. One chain even rewards summer reading with a free book at the end of the summer. Also, purchasing books for your own home library may be fun for your child, especially for high interest books. Many stores have a book list for each age and grade that children love, as well as the top picks for different age groups.

Just keep on reading

One of the most important tips that I can offer to parents is to keep reading! It isn’t meant to be something we do for a half an hour a day. It can be done all day and every day.

In the morning, grab a newspaper and read the comics, the headlines or weather. In the afternoon, provide time for your child to read the “just right” books that they selected. In the evening, find time to read with your child and encourage them to read aloud to you. Talk about the vocabulary that you encounter in your reading. Reading together helps build listening skills, as well.

When your child was an infant, you may have had books all around the house. As children grow, we tend to keep books in a central location. Instead, I suggest keeping high-interest books all around the house because kids are more likely to pick up a book and read if they are conveniently set around the house. You might also keep some books in the car; children spend a lot of time while moms drive them from here to there. It’s the perfect place to keep a few books for them to read.

There are many online reading programs that find a student’s level and provide motivational activities and books for your child. Talk to your school to see if this is available for you to purchase.

Another idea is ordering a magazine that your child enjoys. It gets delivered right to your house each week or month. They can be very motivational and can keep kids reading.

Don’t forget about math

Math is another area where students slide during the summer. Provide level-appropriate workbooks to practice the skills that your children learned during the school year.

Estimation is an important skill that can be practiced whenever you can. It can be how many miles to you think it is to grandma’s house, how long you think it will take to get somewhere, how many M & M’s are in the jar. Whatever you think of to support this skill will benefit to your child.

Write, write, write

Writing over the summer is also important. Provide a fun summer journal. Each day, have your child take time to write. It can be a journal of what they are reading, or maybe a place to write a story or poem. It is often fun to reflect in writing what they have done that day. Of course, a letter to grandma is always loved and appreciated. Just find time to practice writing.

Enjoy your summer!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Having fun with baby’s first summer

big brother holding little brother on bench

Gray and Finley on Finn’s first road trip

There is a country song with a line that goes, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” I always love that line because the first time you do something is so underrated in my eyes. I feel like the last time you do something is always remembered but what about the first? Sure big firsts are remembered such as first words, first day of school, first kiss, and so on, but what about other firsts? Things like the first silly word (my 5-year-old boy calls salad dressing “salad sauce” and it will forever remain salad sauce in our house), your first challenge at school, your first bad kiss, etc.?

little boy playing with sandFirsts are a big deal! As a mom, I try to teach my kids that the firsts are just as important as the lasts. I have two boys (ages 5 years and 16 months). For my little guy’s “first summer” last year I made sure to document and photograph all of his firsts that the summer energy brings. Here are a few of my favorites along with a few notes:

  • First fourth of July (Note: Finley did not care for fireworks)
  • First time experiencing a glow stick
    • Mommy was quick to know Finn wanted to use it as a chew toy
  • First haircut
    • Bribed with snacks to try and stay still.
  • First road trip
    • Colorado at 6 months old.
  • First time feeling sand
  • First time strawberry picking.
    • No help picking the fruit but a big help in eating it.
  • First time camping.
    • Camping “up north” as a rite of passage
  • First time hiking.
    • Sure, he was carried on everyone’s back but still a first nonetheless.
  • First time in a bounce house (How fun is this first?)
  • First time swimming
    • Finley was naked in a bucket but we’re still counting it as first swimming.
  • First time playing at a park
    • Favorite park feature: swings
  • First time at the zoo
    • Loved seeing the polar bears
  • First time at the splash pad
  • First time having a picnic in the backyard
  • First time giving “kisses” to mommy, daddy and brother
  • First time eating peas
  • First time playing on slip and slide

trio of little boy "first" photos

Everyone says that the days go by slow but the years go by fast with children. Ain’t that the truth? I know someday I will look back and think about the last time my kids played on the slip and slide, or went up north, but for now I’m focusing on these first moments.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.