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Use holiday break to bond with children and enrich their learning

LAND O'LAKES — School's out. Kids want to play. Can you keep their minds at least somewhat focused on thinking, so when they return to classes they won't remain on vacation mode? Should you even try?

Pasco County school student services director Lizette Alexander and elementary guidance counselor supervisor Stacey Brazier spoke with the St. Petersburg Times about how to let children enjoy the break without losing momentum.

Do schools usually give kids homework over the break to keep them active?

Alexander: No, normally not. Normally they don't give them homework over the holiday, or they try to give them minimal work. They want to get them to relax. There are some programs that the kids stay busy anyway, like IB. But normally, the younger the kid, the less likely for there to be much homework, if any.

Is it an opportunity lost then for students? Do they just lose a lot of progression if they don't do anything over that period of time?

Alexander: That's not the issue. The issue is, we as parents supplement that. You know, do reading, talk to your kids. It's time for bonding. Parents, if they are concerned, it would be an issue for the parents to fill in. Normally what happens is, there's a really good opportunity for extended family discussion, and the kids get a lot of history and they learn the value of people who lived in a different time and can talk about life before cell phones and that sort of thing. We see it as a time for the kids in a relaxed atmosphere of home to have their education enriched by the time they spend with extended family and friends.

So the No. 1 thing is to use the time to talk with parents and not just bury yourself with video games and never see them.

Alexander: Correct. You include them in the family discussion.

What else can you do to make sure they don't lose everything? ... How do you keep your mind active so you don't just fall by the wayside?

Alexander: ... We ask parents to keep their kids fairly regular in their scheduling. For example, you stay up a little later but don't vary that by much more than an hour and a half or so for elementary kids. Because the issue of how to adjust coming back, the concerns are behavioral and not academic.

Brazier: Myself, I have four kids, and they're all middle school down to preschool age. And I know that for me as a parent and as a guidance counselor, I wouldn't want my kids in the video games and television nonstop for two weeks. Some of the parents who complain that their kids are getting on their nerves are because they're not interacting with them. I know in my family we take advantage of the free library, every program. And taking walks in the neighborhood. It doesn't have to be a big expensive trip to make it a worthwhile experience.

My son's teacher sent home a note saying, Here are some things you can do to help your child with reading over the break, things that you as a parent can do. Is that something you would encourage as well?

Brazier: I would definitely. I think parents set the example for their kids, as far as reading goes. And if the family is a reading family, then the kids are going to be excited about it and they want their own books. The younger kids want to read what the older kids are reading.

Are there other things you can do that also would be useful? You mentioned little walking field trips.

Alexander: Yeah. It's language enrichment. We're talking about what do you see? For the little guys you'd say, How many blue houses can you count? And how many have Christmas decorations and how many don't? That sort of thing. You do a lot of informal practice while talking to your child.

What about for high school kids? I remember being a high school kid. I just wanted to not hang out with my family.

Alexander: (laughs) That is a battle. So the message to those parents is, choose wisely. Don't overbook your kids. Understand that they have a need to be with their friends and a preference to be with their friends. So pace your activities. You may want to see Aunt Sue, but they may not be real crazy about doing that because they don't have the same memories or attachment to your aunt. So I would just be mindful of their need for independence and autonomy. ...

Any other special advice you give to parents to make sure that their kids don't return to school after two weeks off completely unready?

Alexander: Wired, you mean? (laughs) One of the things that we advise is, we always think of the holidays as a happy time. ... The holiday season is often difficult and depressing for a lot of people. So we need to remind parents to take a little read on themselves and see where their emotional meter lies and just be mindful that for many people the holidays bring difficulty, or painful memories, or particularly because of the economy being what it is, a lot of people when they review their year this year have a good number of negatives on that list. So you need to not press yourself. ... Maybe you need to pick and choose and pace that whole Christmas holiday so it's pleasant and relaxing and not stressful.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Use holiday break to bond with children and enrich their learning 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 9:07pm]
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