December break is a time that most K-12 students look forward to. Class is out for a few weeks, and the holiday season and New Year’s celebrations keep things exciting. Often this is a time when kids get to relax and see extended family and their friends.
However, the December break can be quite long, and students may lose academic progress if they don’t keep their minds active. Spending a few weeks out of the classroom can do more to set back a kid’s academic performance than you might think.
Parents should make the effort to help their kids keep learning over the holidays. Not only can this be a great bonding experience, but it can also ensure kids don’t lose the academic progress they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Why Kids Should Have a Learning Holiday
A learning holiday involves students continuing to learn over their December break—even though they are out of the classroom and may have no homework from school.
Why should parents care if their kids have a learning holiday?
Education research expert Kimberly O’Malley has highlighted that there is a risk of decreased performance if students don’t keep their brains active over the holiday break.
O’Malley has been quoted saying that “when students leave school [for winter break]—and if they disengage from learning activities—we see drops in their performance and we see slowing of their education progress.”
It’s important for parents or guardians to keep their kids’ minds active and engaged over the winter holidays. In addition to retaining knowledge, kids who have a learning holiday are more likely to succeed in the new term.
How to Ensure Kids Have a Learning Holiday
Ensuring that your child has a learning holiday doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can even be fun for you and your child!
Incorporating learning activities into the winter holidays is a great way to bond with your kid and make sure that they return to school ready to excel.
Here are some of the best ways to provide your kid with a meaningful learning holiday.
Read Aloud to Your Kid
A great way to incorporate learning into your young child’s everyday routine over the holidays is by reading to them. Often when school ends, kids lose a sense of routine in their days. Reading aloud to them on a regular schedule is a great way to reintroduce a daily routine that involves learning.
The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—of 22,000 students—found that kids who were read to three times a week or more had a “significantly greater phonemic awareness than did children who were read to less often.” Additionally, the study found that the kids who were read to more often “were almost twice as likely to score in the top 25 percent in reading readiness.”
The report Becoming a Nation of Readers says that “the single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
Reading aloud is an activity for kids of any age, according to educator and author Jim Trelease, who said that “a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh-grade books to fifth-grade kids. They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading.”
You can take advantage of your local library to gain access to countless age-appropriate books no matter what reading-level your child is at. Bring your kid along and give them a say in what book you’ll read aloud to them next.
Visiting museums is a fun way to keep kids learning over the winter break, if you can safely go in person. Museums provide a tactile and interactive experience that makes for an engaging way to take in new information.
The National Endowment for the Arts spoke with educators from Blue Star Museums across the United States about why it's important for kids to go to museums.
Jamee Yung—Education Coordinator at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis—said that “museums provide a space for reflection, experimentation, inspiration, creativity, enjoyment and allow for authentic learning experiences and play."
Museums can be enjoyed by kids of any age. Kate Whitman—Vice President of Public Programs at the Atlanta History Center—was quoted saying “as the mother to an almost four-year-old boy and a museum professional, I believe that early exposure to museums fosters curiosity in children. Our first visit to a museum was when my son was only six weeks old.”
Victoria Hughes—Education Coordinator at the Vermont Historical Society—believes that “lifelong learning begins at a young age and museums are a great place to spark an interest in history, art, and science."
Research Supports the Efficacy of Museums in Education
Research supports the view that museums have a positive impact on children’s education.
A study mentioned in the New York Times found that students who were randomly chosen to visit a museum on a field trip “demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.”
A paper prepared for the Smithsonian Institution’s Early Learning Collaborative Network and Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center found a number of benefits to bringing children to museums, including:
Museums provide a “uniquely positive environment to foster learning by young children.”
Kids “can learn disciplinary-specific information, such as history or biology, long before they encounter those disciplines in formal school settings.”
Children “learn by encountering real artifacts which they talk about with others.”
Encouragement from adults—where appropriate—can “enhance children’s learning and exploratory behaviors in museums.”
If your family can’t or doesn’t want to visit a museum in person, don’t worry, you can still visit many world-class museums across the globe virtually over the holiday break.
Check out exhibits at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, and many more on your own schedule and from the comfort of your own home.
Encourage Independent Reading
A great way to keep your kid learning through the holidays is to encourage them to read on a regular basis. Independent reading has been linked to increased student performance by the American Library Association (ALA).
The ALA also found a number of other benefits to independent reading in multiple peer-reviewed studies. Some of the findings include:
Kids who read independently “become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.”
For elementary-aged students, the more they read outside of school, the higher they scored on reading achievement tests.
Small amounts of independent reading are beneficial too. Despite being short, these reading sessions still increase “primary and elementary students’ reading comprehension, vocabulary growth, spelling facility, understanding of grammar, and knowledge of the world”.
Independent reading is a great habit for kids to pick up over the winter break, as it can be done anywhere and at any time. As the ALA noted, even short reading sessions are beneficial for kids’ educational development.
Kids can lose the academic progress that they have gained since the beginning of the school year if their minds are not active over the December holiday break.
Luckily, parents can ensure that their kid doesn’t regress in their academic progress by encouraging them to have a learning holiday.
Fostering a learning holiday can be fun for both you and your child if you follow the three tips in this article.