If I am being completely honest, I think 6 weeks is far too long for holidays. I know – that’s probably an unpopular opinion amongst school students – but I am sure there are many parents around the country who would agree with me!
6 weeks is almost one eighth of the year, and that is a long time to go without learning. The mind is like any muscle, and if it isn’t being used it is going backwards. All those hours your children spent learning their times tables or remembering important historical dates will be wiped out by Netflix and Xbox. Mental stimulation fires up those brain cells, and without daily challenges the sparks get dimmer. It even becomes physical – go ask your child to write something with a pen and I bet you that within 5 minutes they will be complaining that their hand hurts!
Perhaps the biggest consequence of the 6-week long Christmas break is that it takes even longer to get going again when School resumes at the end of January. I remember when I was in school that it would get to week 5 of term 1 and it would only hit me then that school was back. I spent those first few weeks warming up because I had spent so long cooling down.
If you can get your children training their brain now with 3 weeks left of the holidays, it will make a huge difference when school goes back. Here are 5 of the best ways to get them learning (without them feeling like they are actually learning).
Get them reading
This is my number 1 tip for any student who is struggling with English based subjects – start reading. I don’t have a scientific study to support this, but in the last 10 years I have noticed that time and time again, the students who excel at school also read as a hobby – and inversely those who struggle never touch a book. Reading opens our minds up to new possibilities and perspectives of the world and develops vocabulary, spelling and grammar skills. Young people should see it as an enjoyable activity and not a chore. If they hate it – they probably haven’t read the right book yet.
To get this ball rolling try to find them a novel that connects with something they are interested in. If they are ultra sporty there are plenty of books that feature athletes as the main stars. If they like video games, many of the most popular video game series have books or graphic novels to go with them. Try to choose books that are appropriate to their level – if it is too hard they may get frustrated and throw it across the room in a fit of rage (I’ve seen it before…)
Watch documentaries together
Most young people under the age of 18 will laugh at the idea of watching a documentary in the holidays – but this is because most documentaries they have seen at school are terribly produced and were made in the 80’s. Documentaries these days are awesome – and at times they can get so intense they’ll even think they are watching a movie!
Find some great docos, sit down with a big bowl of popcorn and use them as a starting point for a research project for your kids to do on a rainy day.
Netflix has a pretty good range of documentaries. For primary school students, explore things like dinosaurs, animals, science and shows like Myth Busters and Shark Week (if they are a bit older). For High Schoolers, they usually find things about space, history and natural disasters really intriguing. Ultimately you will know your children, so try a few different shows until you find something that works for them.
Projects and experiments
This might lean more towards primary aged children, but it is a great way to get them using creativity to solve problems.
Come up with a simple challenge and get them to solve it for you. A good one is telling them you are going to drop an egg, and they need to build something to stop it from breaking – give them limited resources to do it. Or create a bicarb volcano. Experiments like these will make the summer holidays memorable – but also teach valuable lessons about science and technology.
I’ve got a 2 year old and she can spend hours playing with play dough or colouring, but I know too well that as we get older we lose this ability – which is such a shame. I am a firm believer that creativity is one of the greatest skills we have – and that the unique creative abilities we possess are a reflection of who we are.
If you can encourage your children to use their creativity over the holidays they will start the school year with their mind warmed up and ready to go. Anything will work – music, dance, art or writing. Creative writing is a particularly good one, can be enjoyed by students from K-12 and may provide an outlet to release some of that teenage angst that has been building up over these rainy days.
Make the most of technology
Whilst technology might be doing its best to cripple the social skills of the younger generation, it provides an abundance of learning opportunities that make it a great educational resource. Learning potential exists on most tech platforms: even on the Xbox or Playstation. If your kids play Minecraft it isn’t all bad – It teaches them how to manage resources and think creatively. There is a console game called Portal that is a great platform puzzler without any violence. On the iPad and iPhone you can play Heads Up (one of my personal favourites to use with students) or quick draw.
Chances are that if you have teens, they are staring at a screen 80% of the day, so you may as well find a way to turn that in to a learning experience.
The holidays are a long few weeks – probably more for parents than anyone else – but if you can turn them in to an opportunity for your children to learn they will start the year strong and ready to go at the end of January.
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