Holly Shannon, M.A.T., Elementary School Teacher

Home activities for winter break

Ahhhh, winter break... time for kids to sleep in, play, visit relatives, and enjoy holiday activities.  But, after several days, you might be searching high and low for ways to engage your child while keeping the fun holiday spirit alive. Just because days are filled with hot cocoa, cookies, and presents, it doesn't mean that reading, writing, and math skills need to slip.  Here are some fun ways to spark your child's interest and keep both of you happy.

Prompt your child to sort gifts by size, color, or name.  While wrapping, ask your child to cut a certain length of ribbon or a certain number of ribbons. (This might start a fun “in-the-moment” introduction to rulers). For example: "Timmy, will you please cut me a 20" length of blue ribbon?”  Or, "Timmy, will you please cut 20 strings into 40" pieces?"  After your child has cut the string(s), continue the activity with these questions: Are there 20 ribbons?  How do you know you have 20?  (In addition to traditional counting, prompt your child to count in groups of 2, 5, or 10).

Besides eating the cookies, children love counting, measuring, and comparing. The following questions might prompt your child's thinking and learning while baking favorite holiday treats: “How much do you have?  How do you know?  Is this the same as/more than/less than this amount?  Is there another way we could measure this?  Which measuring cup/spoon would be equal to this?  Count out x pieces of x.  How many do you have? How do you know?  We have x number of cookies, and we need x. How many MORE do we need?” 
Holiday Cards:
Sorting and organizing are easy ways for your child to be involved with your holiday cards.  Help your child sort cards by design, color, or size.  Older children can pinpoint the return addresses and states on a map.  Brainstorm a list of holiday card recipients.  Your child may use his/her best-invented spelling for the name list.  You can help him/her correctly spell the names later.  Your child can put the names in ABC order and count the letters, vowels, or syllables in the names.
Shopping: Money, money, money!  Plunk down a pile of coins for your child to identify, sort, and count.  Make a "price sheet" for household items such as cookie decorations.  Give your child a "bank" or a budget and have him/her "buy" items.  Ex: 6 cents for each gumdrop and 2 cents for each M&M.
At a grocery or department store, your child can help you round up prices, determine how much change you will receive, or decide which of 2 items is less/more expensive. 

Although the majority of your tree decorations will end up at your child's eye or arm-reaching level, kids love to be involved in this family tradition.  While your child is decorating, ask for descriptive words (jot the words down).  Ex: "Timmy, tell me about the ornament in your hand.  How would you describe it?"  Timmy: “It's round, shiny, glass, red, and sparkly.”  Add in some of your own descriptors… just beyond your child's current vocabulary level.  Ex: Mom: "Wow! This is fragile and exquisite!"  When new words are introduced in context in a meaningful way, children are much more apt to understand them. 
Holiday Stories:
This is an excellent time to re-read holiday classics and a great time to discover new books!  Whatever your child's current reading level, he/she can help you read as you leave out familiar words in familiar books.  Ex: Pointing to the words, "Not a creature was stirring, not even a _______." Child: "Mouse!"  Talk about the beginning, middle, and end of stories.  Describe the characters in the stories: “Santa is kind, energetic, and large.”  Have your child either tell his/her favorite holiday memories or make up a holiday story.  Have an adult type and print the story.  Your child will illustrate the pages and be able to read back his/her words and ideas.  At your local library, check out favorite holiday stories. Try reading versions of familiar classics and/or check out these fun holiday books: The Gingerbread Baby, The Holiday Handwriting School, The Jolly Postman, The Relatives Came, The Polar Express, If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, The Three Snow Bears, and The Gingerbread Cowboy. Depending on your child's reading level, read to your child and point out elements of the story: plot, setting, characters.  Or, your child can read along with you while he/she learns new vocabulary. If your child is already reading, he/she can practice fluency by reading aloud to the family.  Celebrate a love of reading by setting aside nightly family reading time. Not only is it important for children to read and be read to daily, children should see adults reading for pleasure.  Celebrate a love of reading!
Children can cut out pictures of favorite toys, make a collage, or organize the pictures.  Labeling, sorting, counting, and describing can all be tied into creating a fun holiday collage. 
Holiday Songs: If your child is a beginning reader, print out the lyrics to familiar songs so your child can sing, and “read” the words by pointing to each word as the song is sung.  Look and listen for rhyming words.  Your child might have new lyrics for a familiar tune.  Type and print the new lyrics. Your child will have a blast and feel proud of his/her composing and reading skills!

I hope you have fun trying out these activities with your child this holiday season! 

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