How to Stop Holiday Brain Drain and Keep Kids Learning This Season

Believe it or not, there's a lot of learning hidden in holiday fun!

Believe it or not, there are many teachable moments hidden in fun holiday activities!

As a teacher, assigning work over the December break was always a challenging decision to make.  Some parents wanted homework for their child to limit downtime during the holiday, in hopes any academic progress would not be lost, and other parents, saw homework as a significant imposition on much valued family time.

As a parent, however, I have to admit that I fall into the second camp.  I like the holidays to be a time of more relaxed schedules.  I see it is a time to regroup as a family and do things our usually busy schedule doesn’t allow us to do.

That being said, as a parent of a child with some learning difficulties, I also know the importance of keeping our learning goals firmly in focus. And so, in our household, we have developed traditions that give us a chance to come together as a family while still making sure academic progress is not lost.

Make literacy a fun part of the holiday:   When my daughter was younger, we had a tradition of certain books only coming out at Christmas time and much like an advent calendar, we would read one each night leading up to the holidays.

We read T’was the Night Before Christmas ON the night before Christmas and we have voice recorded it and given it as a gift several different times over the years. This keeps reading fluency as a primary goal and has taught my daughter that reading and literacy are important parts of our family values.

Create a holiday wish list:  Another way we show the importance of literacy in our household is when my daughter does her Christmas wish list, we ask her to use these categories:

  • “Something you want”
  • “Something you need”
  • “Something to wear”
  • “Something to read”

This way we are ensuring that there are always new books on hand over the holidays.  It’s something that could easily be incorporated into Hanukah, or other observances which occur in late December/early January.

Check out programs at your local library or bookstore.

Check out programs at your local library or bookstore.

The winter break can simply be a time to visit your local library and take advantage of special programs being offered.  You could also take a trip to your local bookstore to stock up on something new for each member of the family to enjoy over the break.

Organize a family game night:   This has been a long standing tradition in our family and it is a night we all look forward to. It is a great chance to connect with aunts, uncles and cousins.  Strategy games like Risk or real life games like Monopoly and The Game of Life are a great way to have fun with children of a variety of ages, while teaching meaningful thinking skills.

Explore museums and art galleries:   We also use our time off to hit museums and art galleries as a family.  It is a day we plan for right down to a trip to the gift shop and a lunch or dinner out.  It is a wonderful way to spend time as a family while still exploring an interesting piece of history.  Museums and art galleries are great ways to have conversations about interesting topics and ideas in a real life context, and not just from the pages of a textbook.

Take the kids out on an adventure and explore sites around the city.

Take the kids out on an adventure and explore sites around the city.

Holiday math – budgeting & baking:   From the time my daughter was four years old we would go together to buy presents she wanted to give to various family members.   As she has gotten older it has become a great way to teach her about money in a real and meaningful way.

As a young teen, she now has a budget of $100.00 and must plan what she would like to buy for her friends and family to fit within that budget.

Baking is a great way to incorporate math without kids even realizing it!  This shows how fractions are used in real life..  Getting out the measuring spoons and cups gives children hands-on experience to understand how the concepts they are learning in the classroom can be used in the kitchen.

Over the winter break there are lots of ways to keep our children’s minds active.  While there will always be workbooks or websites to access to help keep them busy, in our family, we try to keep our daughter’s mind active by doing things that bring us together as a family.

This way, we are creating amazing memories while making sure when she goes back to school, she is ready to simply jump right back in to learning.

Jennifer Anstiss

Jennifer Anstiss holds a Masters of Education in Literacy from Mount Saint Vincent University, specializing in the Early Intervention and Prevention of Learning Disabilites. She is also an active member of the Ontario College of Teachers. She has been trained in the delivery of Direct Instruction Programs and is a Certified Fast ForWord Practitioner. Jennifer's field experiences include over 15 years of private clinical practice and 10 years of Special Education Teaching for both the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and Peel District School Board. She specializes in the design and implementation of remedial programs for students with Learning Disabilities and Attentional Issues within both public and private settings. Jennifer gives presentations to parents, professionals and community groups.

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