By: Elizabeth Kelsey, Kendall Hunt RPD Intern
Winter break is a time for students and teachers to decompress, reunite with family, and enjoy unstructured free time. However, it’s also important to keep kids’ skills sharp over break … but who wants to be the teacher that assigns homework over the holidays?
This year, try a creative solution: vacation journals. These can take many forms, from simple paper packets to online Google Folders where students upload pictures and work, and can be as in-depth or relaxed as you like. Vacation journals guide students to learn through experiences, not through worksheets. Family traditions, travels, and other vacation activities can help children practice academic and social-emotional skills, and vacation journals help families make the most of those opportunities while making memories together.
Below, we list several possible “bucket-list items” for students to complete over vacation. Based on your geographic location and students’ home lives, these can be altered as necessary.
This brings up one important point: when assigning vacation journals, it might be wise not to include writing prompts such as “my favorite holiday gift” or “the coolest place I traveled.” Such tasks can inspire feelings of inadequacy when students who didn’t travel or receive expensive presents compare their own answers to their classmates’. Instead, make it about learning experiences that many kids can have, keeping activities open-ended so each family can find their own way of completing them.
- Alphabet seek and find
This gem comes from my second-grade teacher, who gave students packets asking them to list one item they saw on vacation that started with each letter of the alphabet. This inspired great creativity (I recall using “zucchini in the fridge” as my “Z” object on one occasion) while also reinforcing vocabulary, spelling, and observation skills. Plus, this activity needn’t lead to students comparing fancy gifts or travels; alphabet items can be found in one’s own home.
- Reading holiday books
Provide a list of holiday books for students to read with loved ones, including books featuring various holidays and religious traditions. Balance Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, The Diwali Gift by Shweta Chopra, and Together for Kwanzaa by Juwanda G. Ford. Here’s a few to get you started. You can also include spaces for students to fill in their family’s favorite holiday books.
- Travel cost calculations
If families are traveling, include workspace and instructions for students to calculate the cost of gas or total travel time for their trip. These simple math activities teach concepts of distances, rates, and measurements in a real-world way. Calculations for nontraveling families can include shopping costs for groceries or gifts, tips at restaurants, or even scorekeeping in family board games or dreidel tournaments.
- Baking with fractions
Many families have traditional holiday baked goods or special meals, so encourage your students to participate in the preparations and write about their experiences working with fractions and measurements. They can include pictures or written work, and they can share family recipes with the class.
Science and Social Studies
- Winter experiments
Depending on the local climate, include a list of experiments relating to winter weather, such as making snowballs and melting them inside to observe changes of matter in action. For older students, Christmas lights can prompt an investigation into electricity and the light spectrum.
- Museums and aquariums
When it’s cold outside, museums can be the perfect indoor excursion. From aquariums to historical sites to science centers to children’s museums, there’s something for all ages, and many are free to the public some or all of the time. Provide a list of local options, with information on how parents can get discounts or coupons.
- Mapping it out
Again, if families are traveling, have students paste or draw representations of a map leading to their destination to encourage them to be the pathfinders for their families. This increases students’ independence and geographic skills.
These activities aren’t just for classroom teachers. Homeschool parents taking a break from typical school routines, and even parents of children in traditional school settings, may find ideas here. The important thing is to keep kids thinking while still relaxing and appreciating time with loved ones.
How will you encourage kids to stay sharp over winter break?