Overwhelmingly, parents and caregivers spare no effort and no amount of energy in raising their children for the first few years of their babies' lives. Of course, most spare no effort or energy beyond their kids' toddler years too. But then, something strange happens: we sometimes assume that it’s only schools and teachers that can influence our children’s educational achievements.
That’s not true – caregivers' time with them has just as big an impact.
That impact comes from what we do and how we engage with our kids. Simple things like spending time and holding conversations with them influence their skills, knowledge and confidence, all of which have an impact on achievement.
The value of these perfectly mundane aspects of everyday human interaction can, in the busyness of life, be forgotten.
For those times when your children are out on school holiday, Superprof presents a few simple opportunities to make such times more influential and impactful on your kids' development.
Activities for Every School Break
Whether in winter, summer or every day, teaching moments regularly present themselves. You only need to recognise them, seize upon them and make the most of them.
Even something as commonplace as preparing the evening meal offers a host of teaching moments.
In the frenzy of preparing meals, it's quite common to prefer that the kids not be underfoot, near the hot stove or in the way of sharp knives. One family I know went so far as to banish both kids and pets from the kitchen when food preparation is underway.
Think of all the lost opportunities that position creates - everything from food safety and how to handle kitchen equipment to explaining the difference between latent and sensible heat. Measuring ingredients, calculating ratios and proportions, even organisation and sequencing - is it better to wash up as you cook or afterwards? All lost!
The kitchen, often considered the heart of a home, could be 'learning central' but the hearth room is not the only place where learning can happen.
You may watch documentaries in the family room and talk about them during advert breaks or after they end if no adverts are screened. If your streaming package allows it, you could also pause the show to discuss points of interest, and then continue it once curiosity is satisfied. If your kids are younger - say, under seven years old, perhaps animal documentaries would be best.
What if your children don't like documentaries at all?
Playing video games is also educational, believe it or not. For one, it improves hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills - physical abilities that will serve them their entire life. Playing such games also helps them develop strategical thinking and decision-making skills as well as problem-solving skills.
Naturally, they don't have to play alone; you can be right there with them. It would probably be a good idea to keep the more bloody and aggressive games out of your library, though. Especially if your kids are younger.
Cooking, cleaning and shopping; working in the yard, on the car or their bikes... while relaxing and even until they drift off to sleep, your child's day is full of chances to learn. Take as many of them as you want!
Here are a few novel ways to approach the everyday so that the learning becomes child-led (rather than parent-driven):
- Notice what your kids are interested in and doing and ask them about their stuff - why they like it and what it means to them.
- You could play 'What if?', as in: "What if we had to move house and couldn't take everything, what would you leave behind?"
- Make time to listen attentively, even if it’s boring. I bet they’ve had to listen to you being boring at times!
- Use effective listening techniques: rephrase what they said and repeat it, ask open-end questions
- Play with their toys/games at their level, do what they tell you rather than take over.
- Watch their TV programme or game with them – their rules! Ask them about it.
- You might also let them plan the menu one night per week - with guidance, of course.
- Chat about the stuff you watch or play at other times (mealtimes are ideal) when you’re away from screens.
Spending time apart is vital to any healthy relationship. When the kids come home, don't let your inquisitiveness turn into an interrogation; the spirit of sharing that you build into every other activity you do together should foster their desire to relate experiences.
We'll probably have to wait for the end of this pandemic to pursue independent activities, though.
Activities for Winter Holiday
When school breaks for two weeks around Christmas and New Year, they're presenting caregivers with the perfect chance to teach and reinforce civil principles that directly tie in with the spirit of the holiday season.
In the run-up to winter break, you can talk with your kids about charity and kindness; the spirit of giving that permeates the time. You can ask questions like 'Why do so many people only open their hearts and wallets around Christmastime when people need all year 'round?' and 'What would/could you do to make the world a better place?'.
To teach about charity and giving, take your kids with you when you donate food, serve in soup kitchens or volunteer in a shelter.
To one extent or another and at any given time, your child - like so many others may feel underprivileged. How better to demonstrate the good life you provide for them than by showing them, in real-time, how much worse off other people are?
In the days before Christmas, one family spent quality time in the kitchen baking treats, which they then delivered to firehouses, police stations and hospital A&Es to thank them for keeping them safe all year. The experience was an object lesson for the kids. The next year, they asked if their friends could participate.
In our joy at seeing family and welcoming friends during the holidays, we often forget those who will be apart from their loved ones, either because of a call to duty or because they are confined to hospital due to illness.
Volunteering at your local hospital - reading to elders and kids, participating in events and providing companionship is an excellent way to teach your kids the value of caring and giving - lessons that are just now coming into a great deal of focus.
Our country's Adopt a Grandparent programme is an idea that has long been begging to be realised.
This pandemic has brought one of our most serious social ills to light: loneliness. This crisis is not new; people in elder-care homes have struggled through countless Christmases, birthdays and other significant days with nary a reveller by their side.
It's terrible that it took a deadly virus to make us realise that we could have been helping our nation's elders all along - I guess you could say that COVID provided a teaching moment for all of us. Let's not let it go to waste! Even after we resume normal life, let's continue to visit and do for our elders - especially around Christmas.
Of course, you probably won't spend every evening in service to others; you'll want to spend a few at home. Here are some activities to encourage learning:
- scrapbooking - to help develop artistic skills and vision
- making ornaments and decorations
- you might make jewellery to give as gifts, too!
- discussing winter holiday traditions worldwide - you could make a game of it: the 12 days of Christmas, each from a different country or culture
- Plan and prepare traditional holiday meals from different countries/cultures
- Participate in your neighbourhood's, town's or church's holiday pageant
So far, all of the activities we've listed have little to do with (formal) education and everything to do with development and learning. When you weigh the two, which one matters more?
Activities for Spring Holiday
Being released from winter's long, icy grip is a wondrous feeling. Besides dancing in the sunshine and smelling that new-earth smell, what can you do with your out-of-school kids?
Planting a garden is an excellent activity to bring them closer to nature. Whether you want homegrown veggies or beautiful flowers, unlocking Mother Nature's secrets by instigating a growing cycle is an awesome undertaking.
Little kids love playing in the dirt and the look of wonder on their little faces when they see the fruits of their labour shoot up is simply priceless.
If you don't have a plot to plant a garden in - maybe you live in a flat, you could still plant flowers in a pot. One bedsit dweller I talked with even grows tomatoes in her room!
If planting anything is out of the question - say, you're known for your brown thumb, you might visit a farm.
Taking the kids out of the city in itself offers substantial benefits and, if you can arrange for them to see how animals and/or crops are managed, the learning will happen without any direct effort from you.
Should you have the wherewithal to do so, how about building beehives and bird feeders?
A bit of carpentry can help your kids apply the maths concepts they learned in school - angles and measurements. Also, seeing something take shape and knowing it will have a function when you're done building gives a feeling of accomplishment that no academic exercise can match.
Springtime is the perfect time to build hives and feeders. That's when the flowers start to bloom, the bees return to their busy lives and birds orchestrate their twittery symphonies.
Wouldn't it be great to give bees and birds a home? And think of all that honey you'll get to harvest...
Activities for Summer Holiday
Summertime fairly demands to be enjoyed out of doors. What could you not do during the summer? Everything from photographing a summer storm to kayaking down tranquil waters is on the table.
If you want to keep things simple, plan some family meals/barbecues/picnics when there are no mobiles/tablets present and make time to talk. If this is hard and you’ve never done it, just chat about the current issues in the news or sport or ask them about themselves.
Should you prefer cityscapes to pastoral scenes, take your kids to places they've never been. There you can explore that city's history and architecture. You should make it a point to dine only in local restaurants and eat the foods/dishes particular to that region.
If you prefer natural environments or travelling to remote areas where there is no laid-on entertainment, explore and engage together. Observe, discuss, speculate, question, chat. Make your platform the phrase 'Take only photographs, leave only footprints and kill only time'. It perfectly sums up the potential for learning through such experiences, both intellectually and spiritually.
School summer holidays are the perfect time to get moving together. Physical activity is essential for brain development and good overall health. Don't let your kids off the hook just because they don't have any classes to go to!
Involve them with daily life activities, decision making and chores in a way that shows them that you value and respect their help, opinion and company. Even something as mundane as the weekly shop is an opportunity to share and talk.
Relax and enjoy your children/young adults. You don’t get a second chance to be with them, engage with them, or raise them to be the people you want them to be.
With these activities, you ensure that they will grow into people who will make their own valuable contributions to society - today and for all of their lives, as you are doing, through your parental teaching.
Do you have a fav holiday activity you enjoy with your kids? Let us know in the comments below.