New York — Children may not be hitting the books during the holiday break, but that doesn't mean they're not learning anything.
Many typical family activities such as traveling, cooking, visiting with relatives, playing games and looking at photo albums can offer hidden lessons.
"Actually that's the best kind of activity, when kids are learning and they don't even know it," says Richard E. Bavaria, vice president of education for Sylvan Learning Center. "Anytime they get to read, create, use their creative imagination, kids love that."
Going on a road trip? Get out the map and let your child help plan the route. Work as a team to figure out the distance between your home and your destination, how long the trip will take and the route you should take.
"It shows the child that we adults use reading, writing and mapping skills every day," Bavaria says.
Another way children can have fun while learning is by documenting the holiday using a disposable camera and compiling a family scrapbook.
Laying out the pages can be a game that reinforces math skills. For example, parents can ask how many 3-by-5-inch photos will fit on each page, Bavaria says. Or they can split the photos and mementos into categories and calculate how many pages are needed for each category.
"They don't even know that they're doing math, they don't know they're doing geometry," he says. "They're also a good way to make the child feel loved. It lets a child know his or her place in the family and in the world."
With a little preparation and participation from the other members of the family, a scrapbook project can teach history as well. For instance, to help with an 8-year-old's project, ask all the family members to bring pictures of themselves when they were 8 years old. As the older relatives reminisce over the photos, children get a sense of what childhood was like for past generations.
Parents also can encourage their children to role-play, perhaps playing the part of a TV reporter interviewing older relatives. Parents can help children prepare questions beforehand about events in recent history.
"A lot of children are shy about talking to older people. This gives them a script to rely on and it breaks the ice between the generations," Bavaria says. "It gets everybody conversing, everybody writing, everybody reading. Therefore the children see that adults use the things they learn about in school."
Children are usually begging for more time to play video games, and Bavaria says they are fine in limited quantities, but board games are better teachers.
"We teach children all the time to think before they speak and this is the perfect opportunity to disobey their parents just this once," he says.
Elaborate games or projects aren't necessary to make an impact on your child; the most educational activity is simply time spent together, Bavaria says. Take a nature walk and point out the types of trees in your neighborhood, or play in the snow, if you're lucky enough to get some white stuff during the holiday break.
"It doesn't matter what you do -- it's quiet quality time with an adult. Sometimes quiet quality time with an adult is truly the most valuable thing we can give to a child, without siblings, without other people. Sometimes they don't want more stuff," Bavaria says.
More suggestions for holiday break activities are available in a free brochure that can be downloaded at Sylvan Learning Center's Web site, www.educate.com/activities.