Over the years, parents have asked me how they can help their children stay focused over the holidays. The concern is that after a few weeks off, a child loses the “momentum of school,” which for many families has taken months to establish. Before I had children, I used to say something like, “Well, try to keep him to his typical schedule” or “Don’t worry, when the holidays are over, she’ll pick up right where we left off.” I’d like to thank those parents right now for not laughing in my face. Though we all love breaks, there is comfort in the predictable schedule of school, not only the rhythm of a week, but a pattern to the day. The truisms I suggested were well-intentioned, but failed to recognize that disruptions to children are brutal for everyone involved. This is not to suggest, however, that they or I want to skip those breaks!
Rather, the suggestion I have for parents today is almost laughably simple: Spend time thinking with your children—thinking about their reading, thinking about the science of snowflakes, or the way traditions work in your family. Thinking about their budget for holiday gifts, and thinking about how old they will be when they become grandparents and what the world will be like then. Students spend a great portion of their school day exercising their brains, constantly engaged and thinking. Over the holidays, or even a busy weekend, it is easy simply to let well enough alone and, as long as everyone is relatively calm, let kids be kids. For the most part, that isn’t a bad plan.
However, I’ve started giving parents some ideas from Share My Lesson to help them plan for that moment when they realize their child has been staring a little too long at a screen or sleeping out of boredom. Trust me, I’m not judging; I have a certain son in mind who can glaze over from one too many games and a particular 9-year-old who can pretty much lie on the couch for an entire afternoon, more or less conscious. Less when I need some help around the house; more when it is meal time.
The first activity that I want to share is Reading Bookmarks by the ELA Team. I’m partial to reading with kids, but this is an especially great resource because it is leveled so that you can differentiate by distributing bookmarks by ability. Parents are given cues, and they become partners in the ongoing labor of love required to secure the necessary reading skills for success. I am going to make sure that my seventh- and eighth-graders have a book to read over the upcoming holiday break—a book that will stretch them. I’ll notify parents that the bookmarks are coming home and explain my rationale, but I won’t make this a requirement, only an enrichment activity. I want to respect family time while the children are on break.
The next activity is great for families that are in what I’ll call “the museum crowd.” I know them because I see them every holiday myself. By this, I mean the parents who find activities all around town to keep their child what I’ll call “edu-tained” over breaks. As great as those activities might be, parents can enhance the experience by engaging their child personally. NASA Education, a Share My Lesson partner, has provided Using Scrapbooks in Science. It has great examples of how to support higher-order thinking skills in creative ways. This is easily transferable to any subject, but in addition to science, it particularly lends itself to social studies. Parents who might otherwise be uncomfortable in a “teaching” role will find the “crafty” approach refreshing.
Finally, What Are Your Values? is an icebreaker for families. Teenagers sometimes can answer monosyllabically in place of the monologue parents hope for. This is an activity specifically designed to augment parent and student interactions. There are moral and ethical conversation starters as well as fodder for a true exchange of ideas. It is sometimes difficult to come right out and discuss the tough stuff, and parents will appreciate that this falls under the “homework” category, lessening the expectations of a “deep talk.”
As I communicate with parents, I always try to remember that I have their children in increments of 42 minutes. I never want to overstep my boundaries. But at the same time, it is nice to have the conversation starter that will develop skills while focusing on what is most likely to help the children succeed in school: relationships with their families.