Activities to Keep Skills Sharp during Winter Break
There is plenty of frenetic activity during the holidays—baking, wrapping, picking up in-laws at far-flung airports—but the holiday season is also a time when our regular routines grind to a halt. Kids stay home from school, appointments are put off until after the New Year, and cold weather drives even the most driven among us to hunker down inside.
For parents, the long stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are an especially sweet time, but they also present some real challenges. What do you do with your kids when school is out, and the weather is frightful? When routines are turned upside down, when sugar is coursing through little bodies like pure adrenaline, and when it is too damn cold for the playground it’s pretty easy to sigh, cue up Frozen, and surrender the entire season. And really, anyone who has ever been cooped-up with kids-on-holiday wouldn’t blame you one bit.
Keep Skills Sharp during Winter Break
But we don’t need to hand the last month of the year over to the forces of sloth (and cookies). Studies have shown again and again that kids do well when they have some learning activities interspersed with holiday relaxation. In the 1990s, a social psychologist named Harris Cooper began a study to consider the impact of long breaks from school on children and their learning outcomes. Cooper, now a professor at Duke University, discovered that over summer vacation kids lost skills. They forgot critical parts of reading and writing, spelling and math, and they struggled to re-engage when they came back to school in the fall. What’s more, Cooper discovered that these losses disproportionally affected low-income children because families with greater resources were able to augment vacation time with additional learning options.
Cooper was not an anti-holiday Grinch. He, like many education advocates, believed that children do benefit from the vacation play and fun, but he suggested that vacations—especially summer—could be a good time for students to try different kinds of learning. Instead of the standard curriculum of the school and school year activities, vacation time afforded kids the chance to do fun one-on-one activities with parents and siblings that kept them thinking and learning without feeling like the school year had been unfairly extended.
If your kids are in speech therapy, they probably have a few weeks off over the winter holidays, but that doesn’t meaning their language learning has to come to a stop. The holidays can be a great time to try out new language activities and bring some holiday magic to your kids’ learning routines. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa (or none of the above, or all three + one more), here are three “can’t miss” ideas for simple, family-friendly word, sound, and language activities that celebrate the season and keep kids learning.
Make story time special
If story time is still a regular part of your child’s bedtime routine, hit the library or your local bookseller and select 7 Kwanzaa books, 8 Hanukkah stories, or tales for each of the 12 days of Christmas. Each night, select one to read before bed. Focus on the special sounds of the holiday, and even if there isn’t anything as obvious as a “Ho-ho-ho,” see if they can think about sounds that are special and unique to this time of year. Maybe the striking of a match as you light the Hanukkah lights? What about the sounds of footfalls in the snow? Maybe your family’s holiday sounds are totally different from what you find in books. Instead of jingle bells, is it the sound of an older child’s favorite viral video or the extra laughter from visiting cousins and uncles? While you’re reading your holiday stories, and building excitement for the big day(s)…
Create a keepsake sound journal
There are so many ways to record the holiday season, but this is a really simple and fun one: keep a record of all the sounds associated with your family’s holiday celebration. Songs, phrases, noises: talking about them with your kids is a great way to mark the specialness of the season. Once you have a record of your holiday sounds, next you can…
Write your own family holiday story
This is a really fun project you can do with kids of any age. Find a quiet moment together, and sit down with a pen and paper (or fingertips and a laptop) and talk with your child about how your family celebrates the holidays.
What are 5 things you do during the holiday season that you don’t do at other times of the year?
Do you get a tree or visit Grandma? Is a special place you always go for dim sum on Christmas day? Do you wrap presents or light candles? See old friends or take long car trips? Once you have your list, you can turn your attention to making the book. Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord has an excellent website with clear instructions for simple homemade books, and after you scroll through her website, you might find yourself making your own books to commemorate all the holidays. If your kids are old enough, let them design the book themselves. If they can’t write, you can transcribe their words and help them with the illustrations. Not only will you end up with a cool record of the holiday, your kids can practice their writing and storytelling in a way that will seem totally special and fun.