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Avoid summer brain drain

To keep your child's "educational brain" from losing steam during the summer, make sure that you help expose him to every knowledge-gaining activity that you can. Try these tips that make learning feel less like summer-school homework and more like fun:

Will you be going on a vacation this summer? Ann Dolin, author of "Homework Made Simple" (Advantage Books, $14.95, 2010), suggests helping your child document summer trips or camps in a scrapbook with photos and written captions.

For each book read, encourage your child to submit a quick book review to Amazon and other online sites. Short reviews are a good way to practice writing topic sentences with strong supporting details.

Other ideas from parents to make writing fun and creative in your household:

*Have a dry-erase board with markers or a chalkboard. Encourage them to write notes. Your kids can easily try and try again without worrying about messing up.

*Set up a writing corner in your home that is stocked with paper, colored pencils, pens, markers, glue sticks and scissors.

*Cover inexpensive notebooks with wallpaper scraps, and attach ribbons to their spines. Make one for a family vacation, and encourage your child to jot down notes about your journey.

*Let a trip to the movies inspire your child to write a brief review telling friends whether they should go. Star stickers optional.

*Give your child the newspaper's comics pages to get inspiration for writing "talk bubbles."

And here are some ideas from the National Writing Project, a program for teachers:

*Exchange sticky notes with your children. Put the notes on pillowcases or mirrors, in lunch boxes, books or any unexpected location.

*Help children assemble photo albums of family events and write captions for the photos.

*Ask children to put their wishes into writing and to suggest how they may work toward getting what they want.

*Help children create a family newsletter or website to share with relatives.

*Make writing useful by having children write grocery and task lists, reminders and phone messages, instructions for caring for pets, or directions for getting to the park.

A study at an early childhood education center at the University of Vermont showed that talking with your child -- especially thinking out loud about what is happening, what you are doing and why -- goes a long way toward building language skills.

A tip from the study: Look back at some of the artwork and writing saved from your child's school year. Then together talk about and write down brief anecdotes on the back of the art and stories.

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Parenting tip

Read picture books with short sentences to help your child recognize short words by sight. When you see these same words in your daily life, point them out. Even pretending to read is an important part of child literacy.

Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and teaches preschool. If you have tips or questions, please e-mail her at p2ptips@yahoo.com or call Parent to Parent at 704-236-9510.

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