To describe the holidays as a busy time is an understatement for most families. The hustle and bustle of end-of-year shopping, meal planning, decorating, sending holiday greetings, and planning for the next year challenges us all to seek the more meaningful, stimulating, and sometimes quiet moments in our relationships.
For our family, holidays are about spending time together, rather than speeding past each other to get to our individual activities. As a parent, I take great joy in getting updates from my college-aged daughters on their experiences, and nothing is better than the laughter we share watching a holiday movie or competing in a game of charades with family friends. Particularly for our youngest child, there is joy in preparing for and engaging in the holidays, often in activities that make us think and challenge each other, without even knowing it.
The day after Thanksgiving is our annual Scrabble tournament at my sister-in-law’s home. Players range in age from 11 to 60. Sometimes we have teams of two and we admit to bending the rules so that maximum points are counted for each word place on the board. This year my 11-year-old son won the final round with words like DROID, TENOR, and SHOVER—yes, shover is a legitimate word. One college-aged daughter pointed out that in Japan the trains are so crowded that ‘shovers’ are hired to push people into the train so the doors can close.
If it is Christmas, it is time to bake. My son and I start by reviewing our recipes to identify ingredients we need, then take a trip to the grocery store. With so many items on ‘special’ it is great to have him around to help me do the math, dividing product prices by their size or volume in his head to get the true cost per pound/ounce. Having him help out with the calculations helps us stretch our dollars as far as possible. At the checkout we regularly play our own version of The Price is Right, with each of us guessing the total cost of our basket of groceries. The one who comes closest without going over is the winner!
Back at home, ingredients are divided up, measured, and mixed for delicious pumpkin bread, chocolate covered pecans, and cranberry oatmeal cookies, to name a few of our favorites. We enjoy eating them ourselves and sharing with neighbors and friends.
All the chaos of the holidays makes the quiet times ever so precious. With all the non-fiction our kids are reading in the classroom today because of the Common Core curriculum, the holidays are a great time to get in some old-fashioned reading. We take an afternoon to go to our public library, browse the shelves, and pick up some good fiction (for all of us). We plan time over the holidays to read –and drink hot chocolate, of course! Sometimes we read one book together or each of us reads our own book silently, in the same room. Later, we share updates on what we have read. Last year, we started the Hunger Game series this way. When the movie came out, it was a special outing for my son and me to see Katniss Everdeen on the big screen together.
Finally, after ripping open presents and two holidays of stuffing our faces, we relish the reflective time of Kwanzaa. As an African-American family, we enjoy the tradition of reading, thinking, and talking about Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of this holiday. Every evening, over dinner, we light a candle and discuss that day’s principle. Each family member shares their perspective and insight on these concepts: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). Our conversations can be wide ranging, covering experiences from work and school, friendships, current events, and politics. It is particularly thought provoking and encouraging to hear our children’s views and how they might address the problems in the world.
All in all, I would say we keep our thinking caps on through the holidays, and learn by doing. Then ready, set, go…for the New Year!
States across the country are implementing new standards for student achievement. The academic growth chart presents benchmarks to help parents understand the course material covered in each grade.
Former New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Lucille Davy offers ideas to keep your child learning during the holiday break and reflects on her own favorite holiday learning memories.
Math expert Bon Crowder has plenty of ideas for how to incorporate math into the holiday traditions. Some of her suggestions are aimed at younger children while others are more appropriate for middle schoolers.