Keep your child’s brain engaged during school breaks

December 22, 2017 | Posted in: Elementary, Middle Years

During the recent Thanksgiving holiday break from school, my two sons and I decided to do a game night and dusted off Monopoly.

I realized shortly after we started to play that Monopoly is a goldmine for practicing math and reading skills. Adding the dice to figure out how many spaces to move, counting out money to buy property or pay rent and making change from those payments reinforced their elementary math lessons. Reading the directions and property cards required them to pay attention to details and carefully analyze the text so they would know what to do.

And they had no idea they were practicing math or reading. They were having so much fun that we paused the game at bedtime and continued to play the next morning. All was great till my youngest was precariously close to becoming bankrupt, souring the mood and promptly ending the game. You know how that goes.

Despite that, I learned a valuable lesson. Board games are a fun way to keep kids’ math and reading skills sharp during their time off from school. I knew that, but it never really hit home until I saw my 8-year-old quickly calculating the change he should receive from a Monopoly property purchase.

With most schools out of session the last week of December, you may be looking for things to do indoors with your children besides electronics and movies. Board games are a great way to keep your child’s brain active during the winter break and spend some quality time together, said Kyle Gannon, Queensbury Union Free School District’s assistant superintendent for instruction.

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset of devoting time to shopping and finishing everything on your to-do list, he said. But kids aren’t going to remember the time you threw in that one last load of laundry. They will, however, remember the time you spent an hour playing checkers, Scrabble or Clue with them, he said.

“Just having that time as a family to enjoy the holidays is important,” Mr. Gannon said. “The old school games are still good.”

Creating a chart with the goal of playing a different game each day of the school break gives you a visual reminder to take that time daily, he said.

And what kid doesn’t like having a chart to check items off of or to place stickers by completed tasks?

“Make your child hold you accountable,” Mr. Gannon said. “Those are moments they are going to remember…The gift of time.”

Staying engaged during time off from school

Here are some other activities you can do with your children to keep their brains active during the school break, while also having some fun.

  • Cook or bake together. Half-tablespoon and quarter-cup measurements are great practice with fractions.
  • Write thank-you notes. This teaches gratitude and helps perfect writing and spelling skills.
  • Ask for grocery list assistance. Children can help decide what to buy and how much is needed and then write or draw pictures on the list.
  • Do some online shopping. Need a last-minute gift? Have your child help you select presents from online shopping sites, honing their computer and research skills.
  • Spending time in the car traveling? Practice letters and numbers by looking for license plates from different states, finding the alphabet on the license plates or counting the number of a particular color car you see.
  • Read. This is a good time to explore your local library and bookstores. Search online for popular series for your child’s reading level.
  • Create art. Practice art skills by spending time doing crafts, making ornaments or holiday cards.

Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her third- and fifth-grade sons and is looking forward to many more marathon Monopoly games with her boys.

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