Students are excited to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones. For as long as we can remember, the holidays symbolized a time for rest, relaxation, connecting with family, close friends, good food, and celebrations!

However, learning should not have to stop completely as soon as the bell rings for dismissal. Parents can still foster a love of learning within their children over the holidays. You could be so sly about assigning holiday homework during winter break, that they wouldn’t even notice.

As a parent and educator, I’d like to share some tips and tricks that have worked for me. These top four strategies have genuinely taught me that exposing students to unforgettable experiences can be more meaningful than tangible things. When a child reflects on their fondest memories, they never forget how they felt- that’s what makes the feeling and warmth of this season so special.

My Inspiration

As a social worker, my mom taught my brother and me empathy during the holidays by having us deliver Christmas gifts to foster children; we would spend time in foster homes, group homes, trailer homes, and within the homes of low-income families that were less fortunate than us. We would often stay to watch the children open their gifts, my brother and I would play with the children as most of them were nearly our same age. The adults would offer my mom coffee or tea, she would take her time, sit, talk, and laugh with them, and I observed how she spoke to them and treated them all like old friends and loved ones. She had this organic, down-to-earth magic about her that didn’t make any of them feel uncomfortable or self-conscious. We were too young to comprehend that we were doing a good deed- and how the lesson we were learning would mold us into the empathetic and caring adults, we are today. All we thought about at the time was that we got to play Santa, and we had multiple playdates that week. We did not know the impact it would have on our lives and the seed it planted in our hearts to be good humans, to avoid judgment of others when you know nothing about them or their hardship, to eliminate the complex of superiority and social class, and not to base that sole commonality as the foundation for friendship.

With this chaotic year mostly behind us, it is more important than ever to practice kindness, and generosity, and focus on giving rather than receiving. Teach your children while they are still young, the pure joy of giving back to their community and helping others. Lock in social and emotional learning as well as academics combined with these top 4 engaging holiday essentials.

Giving Back Is Fun!

Children have more fun in an activity when you give them options. For example, donating gifts to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, church, or community outreach programs have several options to donate gifts to children and families in need. It is important to preface the why behind these donations. Explaining to small children that not everyone has the same living situation and lifestyle as them, and why it is so essential to help others- this seed is so important for parents to plant as early as possible. Tell your child who they are helping, to give them a sense of connection, a brief description for example- the angel we are helping is a 4-year-old girl, and a 7-year-old boy, ask them what gifts they think they would like and have them pick them out. Your child will be so excited to pick out a gift for another child! Children tend to have more fun volunteering knowing they have some say in the activity. Teach them that giving back can be fun and does not have to be a chore.

Food for the Soul

There are several shelters, community service organizations, and faith centers that host holiday dinners for those in need. Donating your time and service to others is also a precious gift. If you have teenagers or preteens having them serve hot meals to families less fortunate during this cold season is a good way to warm their hearts by teaching them humility and compassion for others.

Music and Meaning

Holiday tunes are the best way to get you and your little ones into the spirit! Students of all ages are learning how to interpret books, short stories, and poems they have read in school. Recalling information previously read is one of the best ways to strengthen your child’s reading comprehension skills. Try this engaging strategy. Have your child select their favorite holiday song and ask them questions to help with elaboration techniques in their writing i.e.

Print out a copy of the lyrics or pull it up on their electronic device allowing them to make annotations. Have them interpret the lyrics and tell you in their own words what it means to them, guide them when necessary, use context clues, etc., point out poetic elements like imagery, syllables, and rhythm. This activity can be heartfelt, humorous, and a lot of fun. After the writing is done you can all have an impromptu dance party in the living room.

Memorable Greeting Cards

Have your child write their own personal greeting cards to their loved ones. Give them a prompt to work with. Have them recall a fond memory and why they are so grateful to have that relative or close friend in their lives.

For example: Happy Holidays grandma, thank you for always coming to my basketball games and being there to support me. My favorite memory of us was when you taught me how to make those Polish Christmas cookies to continue our meaningful family tradition etc.

Having your child recall a specific memory and thank their loved ones for their quality time, will help them build their vocabulary, teach them formal letter writing, as well as the most important lesson of all, your student will learn gratitude and the person receiving the card will be so touched, it will be a keepsake to treasure for a lifetime.

As you take this much-needed break to relax and reconnect with loved ones, we hope these tips have been helpful and inspiring during this wonderful time of year.