OK, summer can't be a _total_ waste of time...
July 15, 2007 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Any ideas for how to keep a bright 8-year-old mind ticking over during the summer?

We've got a very bright 8-year-old boy. (OK, that's parental bias, but still--he's great). He totally deserves to enjoy some free time over the summer, but at the same time, he would benefit from some ongoing intellectual challenges. He can't spend the entire summer either playing video games, or impatiently _waiting_ to play video games.

We're not looking to have him skip a grade, or anything like that. We're just trying to find a body of interesting, appropriate problems for him to solve on a regular basis, until school kicks back in.

The perfect answer would be a body of problems where we could establish a rule that every morning, "No Nintendo DS until you do a page of problems." If he does them in 10 minutes, great. If he puts them off all day, then tomorrow, he's got 2 pages. (He's already responded really well to that approach.)

He loves math, so just arithmetic would be OK, but a blend of math, English, etc., would be even better. I guess we're looking for "home schooling light". Any suggestions?
posted by LairBob to Education (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect you may have considered this already, but if he's into the DS, does he have Brain Age?
posted by danb at 7:22 PM on July 15, 2007

Hmm.. making sure he reads a lot at that age is also good. It doesn't really matter WHAT he reads, so long as he reads. For the problems- what is he interested in? ships? airplanes? trains? I can see some obvious time/distance problems, age of the item problems, cost of items, ect. Also, you can teach him something most kids his age wouldn't know- fractions, multiplication, and so on. Or about money, or about different time systems- Zulu, military. Or history problems he needs to look up.
posted by Jacen at 7:29 PM on July 15, 2007

Does he read? At that age I was a voracious reader, forget video games. It's the best learning method for younger ages, in my humble opinion. I suggest (classic) science fiction, it's entertaining but definitely employs the mind.
posted by Phyltre at 7:30 PM on July 15, 2007

Does your local library have some sort of summer reading contest for kids? IIRC, whichever kid reads the most books on the library's summer reading list wins a prize at the end of the season. The competition element might keep him reading, if he's not otherwise inclined to do so.
posted by amro at 7:32 PM on July 15, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I've considered that, but it just seems a little unstructured. (No offense, but I just don't think it would work with my guy.)

I guess I'm looking for insights into a more structured curriculum, where there's some direction around "if your kid's already mastered 'X', then here are some problems to help him think about 'Y'".
posted by LairBob at 7:33 PM on July 15, 2007

Does your local university run summer courses for kids his age? When I was 9 or 10 I took a kids chemistry course at my local university and loved it. It was fun chemistry - making volcanos erupt with baking soda and stuff like that. I'm sure similar programs exist.
posted by meerkatty at 7:41 PM on July 15, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry--was referring to the "Brain Age" suggestion. (Wow, it's great to have so many immediate responses.)

The general reading thing isn't an issue--he'll take a book and read in bed for an hour or more most nights. Which is _great_, in and of itself.

We're more just trying to figure out how to keep him used to the discipline of school. We don't want to make summer into home-schooling, but he's _very_ ready to fall out of the regular pattern of a little bit of homework every night, etc. We're just looking for a way to keep him "in shape" on that front, without ruining his summer. (Thanks, all.)
posted by LairBob at 7:48 PM on July 15, 2007

Best answer: Get him a Summer Bridge workbook. Amazon Link We have these for my daughter and they are wonderful. Fun, challenging but not too hard and they even have a great system for you to set up your own family reward system. My daughter does 4 pages a day (most days) and she'll get a special treat when she finishes the book. The best thing about it is that you can be flexible and still get some learning in over the summer. Good Luck!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:49 PM on July 15, 2007

Your question suggests that maybe you've already done this, but in case you haven't: How about visiting a school store? Along with being able to really look through workbooks and the like, I'm sure you'd be able to find knowledgeable staff with good ideas.

Usually there's games and toys mixed in with the school stuff, so good association might rub off if you bring your son with you, too.

On preview: 2nding meerkatty as well. I did something similar at that age and have very fond memories of it.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:51 PM on July 15, 2007

Then no offense, but I just don't think you're going at this the right way. Learning isn't a structured thing. It isn't a chore. If the only learning I'd received had come through school-type structured learning exercises, I would have hated learning in general.

My opinion here (and of course you're free to ignore it, no hard feelings) is that the kid needs to have an interest in learning or it becomes a chore. He need to learn how to learn on his own, because that's how actual real memorable learning happens--pursuing an interest. The (very real, IMO) danger here is that you will burn out his desire to learn if you force it like that. I wouldn't mention it if I hadn't seen it happen to friends and relatives. Of course, you know your child and I do not.
posted by Phyltre at 7:51 PM on July 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Phyltre, point totally well-taken. My wife and I are both former teachers, who taught at a school with _many_ parents who went totally overboard, so we're very sensitive to that.

On the other hand, when we look at the possibility of a three-month break with _no_ structure at all, for our little guy, it's clear it'll be a _very_ tough transition for him to get back into things in September. He's just the kind of person who deals best when he's got a little bit of consistency across the board. Whipsawing back and forth between a totally unstructured summer, and a very structured school year--no matter how much he learns through native curiosity--is going to be hard for him.
posted by LairBob at 7:59 PM on July 15, 2007

Since you want to teach your child to love learning, you might want to look for mix of structured, required learing and "fun" experiences. So, if he likes reading then get him the library program and let him read at his own pace. If he doesn't then maybe you could set aside a time to read to him (or with him).

Usborne Press used to have an amazing catalog of fun/educational books.

I assume you would have already done this if available but do a search of "summer enrichment" classes in your area. Also, look for a teacher supply store - they often sell a wide range of workbooks so you can try to find something that fits. You also do a search on amazon for books with "fourth grade" in the title.

There are also book of science experiments - those are usually fun and you make a plan to do one a day and read about why it worked. (Probably will require some help from you)

by the way, as a parent of a gifted child, you want to look for learning opportunities that are not normally covered at school - otherwise by teaching him next year's curriculum you are just ensuring that he will be even more bored. Instead, he can learn about things that get him excited about a topic and then he can go to school and imporess his friends with what cool stuff he did this summer.
posted by metahawk at 8:00 PM on July 15, 2007

I think what you should keep in mind is that he is a child and summer should be fun. It's like the weekend for adults. While I entirely agree with keeping him intellectually stimulated, I also believe 'making' him do something might not be the greatest idea...
(If he is eager and interested in packets or problem solving on paper, then THAT is awesome) I really like the summer courses for kids suggestion. Summer is a wonderful time for children to explore things that they aren't otherwise able to during the school year. Have you tried new experiences such as outdoor activities, growing things, or arts and crafts and science projects? There are really a lot of super neat kits and things out their for children his age. I agree that video games are not condusive... It's so nice to see that you are concerned, caring, and seeking things to help enrich your child. That is more effort than most in this video game and television infused environment.

One more thought, although this may not fit into the 'do not make you child do things' original stream, have you tried instruments? Learning to play an instrument is much more valuable than I can elequently state and something that he will always have.
posted by NotInTheBox at 8:04 PM on July 15, 2007

I don't know what Ann Arbor is like, but when I was that age I spent a lot of time outdoors (I was lucky to live in North Vancouver, waaay up in the mountains) and I think exploring the outdoors (and the greenspace - plants! and bugs! and things swimming in the water!) really helped me get interested in biology and curious as to why things are as well as developing a strong sense of direction.

Don't forget about the spatial aspects of being "bright." Arithmatics are great and all, but what about building models (both from kits and from scrap bits laying around the house - airplanes, animals, vehicles, settings for my action-figure-toys, &c - the flat top part of styrofoam egg-cartons was one of my favourite mediums as well as papercraft)? I think that I was about that age when I figured out trigonometry (you know, like sine, cosine, and tangents) on my own from just building stuff.

I really wish I had gotten into (formal) electronics earlier - I can take stuff apart and put them back together but I don't have an "intuitive" sense for current flow.

Having a quick, agile, and well-stocked mind is well and good but having a good body to go with it is nothing to scoff at. How about enrolling your son in organized sports/martial arts or formal swimming lessons?
posted by porpoise at 8:08 PM on July 15, 2007

In one of Ted Nelson's book I read an aphorism: "The job of a school system is to teach students to hate subjects of study. The subject they learn to hate the last is the one they make their career."

Are you really sure that this won't be counterproductive? A bright 8 year old is entitled to a break from studying, and shoving too much material down his throat might yield backlash.

If you want your son to like studying, then letting him have a break from it might be the best way to achieve that.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:01 PM on July 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: SCDB, generally, yes, you're right. We _don't_ want to turn him off to school. (And porpoise, both our boys have been in a variety of sports. Because of a move, they won't be in anything this summer, though, so we're trying to compensate for that, as well.)
posted by LairBob at 9:10 PM on July 15, 2007

What kinds of video games does your son enjoy? Could you come up with activities that are related? This would make the learning a little more organic, but you could approach it in a somewhat structured way.

Today, my mom was saying how she had never read Dracula until recently, but that she seemed to know much of the story. She was baffled. Then I explained that I'd had a vampire text adventure game for my Vic-20. Together, we'd read books on vampires, worked out various plots, mapped and so on.

Because of adventure games, I also learned a lot about compass directions, Paul Bunyan tales, pyramids, caving, synonyms, chiggers and so on.

Eventually, I started creating my own adventure games. This involved concept development, planning, mapping, researching, writing, programming, etc. (Note that I was a girl and that this was pretty darn unusual for the times.)

I know kids aren't into text adventure games these days, but I bet there's a creative solution that will allow him to adopt some independent, multi-disciplinary learning without resorting to boring workbooks.
posted by acoutu at 9:14 PM on July 15, 2007

How about some project to work on part time over the summer.

Here is one: How many different insects can he find outside. Tools: a butterfly net, a jar, a camera, a field guide. If he likes bribes you could offer say 50 cents for each new one.

This teaches systematics and how to make use of a reference book.

Many biologists and doctors started out as bug collectors as kids, and as a hobby it is more educational that collecting trading cards.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:07 PM on July 15, 2007

My wife and I (half) joke about the Tintin curriculum being a perfect course of self directed study for the right kid.

The idea being that kids of around your son's age often love the books, so no persuasion is needed to get them to read and enjoy them. But rather than just leaving it at that (though nothing wrong with that), you then use them as a jumping off point. They are filled with travel, geography, history, ethnography (I'm thinking more of Crystal Balls than Congo here, though there are lessons about colonialism there if you want them), science, navigation, technology, astronomy... you name it. You don't need to beat it to death, but follow the individual kid's interest.

For example if he likes space, Destination Moon could raise all sorts of issues that you could dig into, math problems you could work on, discussions about how close the guesses that Hergé made in 1953 were to the experience of the Apollo astronauts 15 years later, discussions of the practicality of nuclear rocket motors, and so on... Not to mention the creative end of drawing your own new, pictures writing new incidents and adventures.

Fun problems to work on, things to look up and research -- more than enough to keep the mental gears turning without seeming in the least like boring school work. Maybe I'm being cynical, but the brighter the kid the less likely he is to take kindly to things like bridge workbooks, and the more he will like following his own interests and digging as deeply as he wants into the parts that really interest him. Something to structure the interests around, but not a straightjacket.

The only downside I can see is that it might take quite a lot more work on your part than using something predigested; but then the benefits are also commensurately greater.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:11 PM on July 15, 2007

If all you are looking for is a little structure, how about a day camp type of thing for anything of his choosing? That'll give him the structure he needs, but not make it school like...my nephew went to surfing day camp when he was little (8 or 9) and now he's part of the LA County Junior Lifeguards program (15 this summer) But he'd also been to art 'camps' at local museums for little guys and stuff like that...If he likes video games, there might even be a program at a local school that teaches the kids how the games are created or something like that.

I can see you aren't trying to monopolize your son's summer with school work, just trying to keep the brain from totally going to flab :)

posted by legotech at 12:55 AM on July 16, 2007

When I was younger, my father picked up books in the series, What Your Kth Grader Needs To Know (Link goes to the 1st grader version of the book). There's were great books for me to read. My favorite part was the section that taught you words from other languages. I'd read these the summer before the grade in question started.
posted by mge at 1:08 AM on July 16, 2007

Agree with Quinbus Flestrin, I grew up on Tintin, and absolutely loved it. It was a jumping point for all other kinds of books, and it's really cultural education.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 8:04 AM on July 16, 2007

FUN! Summer is for fun. So how to combine fun with learning? Model rocketry, kite building and/or flying, gardening, I like the bug collection mentioned earlier, Day trips to museums, visit the local small airport and get a plane ride...There'll be plenty of time for books the rest of the year.
posted by Gungho at 8:18 AM on July 16, 2007

I would strongly suggest that you reconsider Brain Age, it is mostly math and word problem as well as spacial thinking exercises that can be beneficial. That being said, use it for a reward, not the main activity. If you want to keep him stimulated I would suggest a lot of field trips, take him to as many places around town as you can so he can see how things work for himself, it will be much more valuable to him then shoving worksheets into his precious summer.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:52 AM on July 16, 2007

Sudoku! Oh my goodness, I wish that were around when I was 8. But, i'd never have done ANYTHING else with my spare time.

A fun artistic exercise is to get a bunch of paper and draw one mark on the paper. A wavy line, a dot, a circle, a right angle... aything. But just one thing. Have your child create a picture from that one mark. Very fun - I did lots of those when I was in 2nd-5th grades.

Legos are great, kits or no... There's an endless amount of creativity to be had there, especially given the M.C. Escher replicas that were recently posted.
posted by odi.et.amo at 11:42 AM on July 16, 2007

music lessons!
posted by Gregamell at 3:41 PM on July 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. I guess the title was a little bit flip, but there are a lot of great suggestions here.
posted by LairBob at 3:14 AM on July 17, 2007

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