Connections Academy, an online public school, has come up with some great suggestions for using winter season events to help children learn. From baking cookies to talk about measuring and adding to talking about geography on family trips, they have great ideas for making the most of family time. It isn’t about constantly quizzing children or turning every snowball fight into a discussion of physics. It is about keeping both parents and children vitally engaged in observing and assessing the world around them and sharing a love of curiosity and learning. I’d add one more suggestion: thank you notes. Even a preschooler should take some time the day the gift is given to draw a picture and even a first grader can write a note of thanks. All children should write thoughtful, specific notes explaining why each gift is especially meaningful to them. That will help them with grammar, spelling, and creative writing as well as with manners, empathy, and kindness.
Here are the suggestions from Connections Academy:
1. Baking Cookies — When cooking or baking, read an age-appropriate recipe together and write an ingredient shopping list. You can look up culinary words in the dictionary (reading, writing, vocabulary). Visit the supermarket and figure out how much the recipe will cost to make (math skill). Prepare the recipe – measuring, counting, pouring, sifting, and sorting target math and fine motor skills. Various cooking techniques, like boiling, even offer an opportunity for a science lesson.
2. Gift Wrapping — When wrapping gifts, you can build math and measuring skills by asking kids to measure gifts with a tape measure or ruler to determine the correct amount of wrapping paper needed.
3. Holiday Greeting Cards — When sending holiday cards, you can promote writing skills by encouraging children to help. Winter break is a great time to write letters to friends, grandparents and others.
4. Shopping – Ask your children to help you count the number of recipients on your family’s gift list. Brainstorm creative gift ideas – especially for your children’s teachers. While at the store, ask your child to count the number of items in your basket, or other details like, what color is this? Which is the biggest item? Which looks the heaviest? How many people are left on our shopping list? If you are comfortable discussing prices or budgets with your child, you can also encourage your child to keep running tallies of spending and budget remaining.
5. Decorating Your Home – Whether your family celebrates Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa, you probably have seasonal decorations for your home. Make decorating your home a family affair by giving your children age-appropriate tasks that they’ll enjoy – while they learn. If you have an advent calendar, menorah, or seven candles in a Kwanzaa Kinara, ask kids how many days there are to start, and each day thereafter, ask them how many days are left until the holiday. If you decorate with evergreen garlands, test kids’ math skills by asking them to help you calculate how many feet or yards you’ll need. How many times does the dreidel spin before it stops? If you spin it 10 times, what is the average number of spins?
6. Teacher Gifts – If your family tradition includes giving holiday gifts or cards to teachers, enlist your child’s help to make a either personal gift or card. He or she can make a drawing or craft project, and then help mom or dad wrap it.
7. Visiting Family and Friends — When traveling in the car, test geography knowledge by trying to name all 50 states and their capitals. Play the “license plate game” and take along trivia questions. Encourage kids to ask older relatives and friends about how they celebrated holidays when they were young, to learn about how traditions have changed over time. Kids can also use family visits as an opportunity build family trees, working with older relatives.
8. “Stay-cation Field Trips – If your holiday break finds your family on a “stay-cation” at home, take a family field trip to a local museum or park, especially places that offer activities for kids to get involved, like “art detectives” or “geologist for a day.” Develop a scavenger hunt for your outing. For example, at a museum you can “find 3 sculptures” or “find a painting of a child.”
9. Snow Day – Whether your family is hitting the slopes or building a snowman, a snowy day provides lots of learning opportunities. Talk about snow – why does it snow? How does a snowflake look? After a snow-filled day, ask children to write a story or draw a picture about their day, or draw snowflakes. Encourage creative and descriptive language–see how many words they can use to describe snow.
10. And everyday…read! Winter break is a great time to enjoy your local library. Spend an afternoon selecting books about the season and enjoy reading with your children.