In summer, youngsters' lessons go beyond book-learning


Q: What do you recommend for summer school activities? Our 10-year-old is a good student. I don't want him to lose ground but he doesn't seem interested in any of the summer programs I suggest.

A: We think it's just fine, and probably even a good idea, for a child to have a break from formal education in the summer. This is particularly true since your son has no school deficits to make up.

There are many things a child can learn best out of school -- things that he can observe both from nature and from a broader social environment. The feel of a hammer in his hand, the path of a bee among flowers, and the stories of a senior citizen can all be educational. Don't discount what he learns from his own parents.

Most importantly, a break from highly structured activities will also give your son time to exercise his imagination -- absolutely necessary if he is to develop his fullest potential.

Set an example by reading for pleasure yourself and make it easy for him to do so. If you can, plan some short family trips to historical sites or other places of interest from which he can learn while having fun with the family.

You and your son will need to agree ahead of time on an upper limit for daily time in front of the TV and a time by which he will be in bed. If he is not by nature an active child, you may need to encourage exercise.

Of course, a 10-year-old still needs on-site adult supervision to prevent injury. If you can provide that, and some playmates from time to time, you should be set for a wonderful summer. You'll be surprised how your child's mind has grown by the time school starts again, even though he didn't sign up for anything but vacation!

Q: Is it safe for an infant to be in air conditioning? The rest of the family has been complaining mightily about the heat, but I don't want the baby to take a chill.

A: During the first hours of life, while babies are adjusting to the environment outside the temperature-controlled womb, we are careful to keep them from losing too much body heat. Such care improves survival, especially for very small babies. The head of a newborn is a large part of the body from which heat can escape, so in some hospital nurseries, babies even wear hats.

However, full term, healthy newborns are soon able to cope with ordinary temperature variations. Your baby is probably most comfortable at the same room temperature that pleases the rest of the family. So, it's not going to hurt your baby to use air conditioning if your family feels it's needed. Your baby is probably hot, too!

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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