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Courtesy of Jo Young Switzer
Informal cooking lessons are an excellent way to combine education and entertainment. Here, Dave Switzer cooks with his 2-year-old granddaughter, Emily.

Making children matter

The gift of attention is a start toward a lifetime of learning

Summer gives most of us more time to pay attention to children. At a restaurant recently, we watched a grandmother and cute little girl having lunch. It didn’t take long to notice that the grandmother was completely focused on her cellphone.

When the girl spoke to her, Grandma said nothing. The grandmother paused to order lunch, but immediately went back to her texting. The little girl drew flowers on her napkin, but when she showed them to her grandmother, they could not compete with whatever was happening on the cellphone.

It was terribly sad. That grandmother could have made her granddaughter feel special, but she didn’t. There are so many small and important ways to help children learn and develop confidence. Taking a grandchild to lunch was a great idea. Ignoring her was not.

Here are some simple activities anyone can do to expand a child’s world. I learned some of these in my formal education, but I learned more of them as a mother, aunt, grandmother and neighbor.

First, if you have young children in your home, read to them at least 20 minutes each day. Many research studies show that this simple task improves children’s learning significantly. Twenty minutes reading to children each day helps them for their entire lives.

Second, make sure each child in your home has age-appropriate jobs to do. In summers, children have time to help scour sinks, clean their closets or sweep the garage. In one family I know well, each person carries dirty dishes from the table after the meal and puts them in the dishwasher. Nobody leaves the kitchen until the table is wiped off and the pans and platters are clean. It takes less than 10 minutes. They’ve done it so long, no one complains. Try it for a month. Kids need to learn responsibility.

Third, write notes of thanks to teachers. Your children can write notes to them, too. Teaching is a hard job, and salaries are not always based on things the teachers can control. Teachers appreciate hearing from students and their parents.

Fourth, use the summer to keep kids learning. You might want to plan your own cooking show at home without the cameras. Imagine how much fun it will be for children of any age to learn to make something like brownies that they can share and eat. Our grandchildren enjoy a cooking class with us each summer when they return to Indiana to visit.

Fifth, enjoy the amazing area attractions for mini-adventures with children. Most towns have great parks and swimming pools. Our libraries have great children’s programs in the summer. North Manchester has a covered bridge. Tin Caps games have an amazing mascot, good baseball and ballpark food. The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is Indiana’s top attraction. Pokagon has great swimming, and festivals across the region happen all summer. Stay active.

Sixth, advocate for early childhood education. Children who get a head start with learning have a lifelong advantage. Consider volunteering for a local early childhood education organization, helping with children, donating or contributing supplies. If you know young single mothers, volunteer to help teach them parenting skills.

Finally, laugh with the kids you live with or know. Laugh at the dog’s antics or the way Grandma snorts when she laughs too hard. Catch them off guard by doing something uncharacteristically funny when they least expect it.

July 2014 is a bright window of time to support and love the children of northeast Indiana. Start today!

Jo Young Switzer retired from 45 years as an educator on July 1, most recently as president of Manchester University. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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