August 23rd, 2015

5 Ways to Sharpen Your Brain When the Kids Head Back to School

Brain not quite ready to help the kids with algebra? Follow this fitness regime to get sharp!

It can be so much fun having the kids home for the lazy hazy crazy days of summer (and, in some cases, it’s even better if they are off at camp!)  But September will be here soon, and that relaxing combination of slowing down, sun tanning, and perhaps one too many Slurpees can make it hard to shake off ‘summer brain.’

This can pose a problem, because when school starts again, parents are expected to snap out of the stupor and help with homework and all the new concepts on the curriculum.

If you think that’s stressful, you’re not alone: a UK study last year found that helping with their children’s homework was a cause of significant stress for lots of UK parents. A quarter of those surveyed said they considered their children’s homework tasks to be too hard, while nearly two thirds admitted there have been times when they were unable to help because it was too taxing.

Still, with a few weeks of summer left there’s still time to prep, so here are a few ideas on how to make heading back to school less of a headache.

Speed it up

Quick: What element is represented by the letter K in the periodic table?

If you thought to answer “Krypton” (like celebrity rocker, Gene Simmons) then you may need to start watching Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.

The popular trivia show tests adults on basic facts learned in elementary school, and has stumped many contestants. In fact only two – a Superintendent of Schools and a Nobel laureate – have been able to answer the final Million Dollar Question.

Ease your brain back into gear by playing along with trivia game shows like this, Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Better yet, challenge the kids to the board game versions of these shows, or other brain training classics like Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble.

By the way—“K” in the periodic table is for potassium.  But we all knew that.

Move it

Fractions, geometry, decimals… if these words remind you more of alternative rock bands than math concepts, it may be time for some remedial math study.

Start by practicing everyday math skills without relying on Siri or your smart phone calculator. Next time you have to help calculate the amount for a tip, to convert from pounds to kilograms in a recipe or double-check the grocery bill, do it all in your head! Sound too hard? Recruit the kids! Use back to school shopping as an opportunity to teach them about money and budgeting.

Jog it

Was it Jane Eyre who ran off with Holden Caulfield? Did Mr. Atticus get with Hager Shipley? Or was that Gilbert Blithe??

Decades later, characters and stories from the classics you once read and loved in school may now not exactly be top of mind. But many of those books are still found on school curricula today, so you may just get a chance to share these very same classics with your child this year.

While speed reading To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables would be fast…picking up the DVD version may be faster still, and enough to jog your childhood memories.

Feed it

So-called ‘superfoods’ like blueberries and broccoli have long been known to make us brainier—but eating those repeatedly may get super tedious.

With the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available as fall approaches, this is an excellent time to stock up on healthy – and affordable – alternative brain foods, and to try some new flavours.

For example, for your salad:

  • Leave out the lettuce; instead use a blend of spinach, collard, turnip and mustard greens that are much higher in folate, a B vitamin which is crucial for brain function.
  • Try a fresh handful of sage, an easily found herb known to be an outstanding memory enhancer.
  • Throw in some pumpkin seeds:  they are chock full of omega 3 and 6 – fatty acids found to help with our thinking skills. Tote these smart snacks around for you and your kids to enjoy at anytime.

Rest it

The last weeks of summer don’t have to be all about study…remember to take a moment to relax and recharge your batteries. Research shows that our brains benefit from regular downtime. Whether you nap, meditate or take a walk – regular mental breaks can help increase productivity, replenish attention, and encourage creativity, for you and the kids too!.

Now, no matter how much brain busting prep you do, you’re still not likely to know the answer to all of your child’s homework problems—but that’s ok; the most important part is being available to help.  Even if you don’t know the answers, sorting them out together can be fun and educational for both you and your child.

So get ready, and good luck!

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