Winter break student enrichment made easy

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2010; 12:33 AM

When I think of the holidays, I envision seeing the latest films with my wife, gorging on sweets and contemplating the wonder of the schlocky ceramic village I have set up on top of the piano, the result of many visits to Christmas shops.

You'll notice there aren't any children in this scenario. Nobody steals my chocolates or smashes the Sweet Shop from the Snow Village series. That is because only adults live in my house. Grandson No. 2 arrives next month, but he and his brother are stuck in L.A. because their very pregnant mother can't fly.

Local Living editor Liz Seymour, with two children at home, realized I was out of touch with her kind of winter vacation, so she more or less ordered me to gather expert advice on what parents can do during those daunting two weeks without school. Educators have fabulous ideas that I can put to use with my grandsons before long.

Here is how they broke down by age groups:

Pre-k and kindergarten: Denise Thiel and Rosie Blanks teach this cohort at Leckie Elementary School in Southwest Washington. They recommend a walk "along the Pathway of Peace on the Ellipse downtown for a great geography lesson. Each state, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories are represented by a decorated tree."

For parents who don't mind a mess, they suggest covering a baking sheet with shaving or whipped cream and using it as a writing surface. You call out a letter. The child writes it with a finger in the cream. You can even try whole words.

There is also the less-smeary ABC magazine game. Invite the child to look through magazines, cut out each letter of the alphabet and glue them on paper to make an ABC poster.

Elementary school: Linda Erdos, Arlington County schools spokeswoman, found the suggestions educators made to families during last winter's big storms. They include organizing a spelling contest by gathering books, selecting words and reading the paragraphs they are in, then asking for the spelling. Kids get to test you, too.

Kara Colucci, assistant principal at Margaret Brent Elementary School in Stafford County, suggests students plan a meal using grocery fliers. "Have them add up the cost and then make the meal with parents, making sure to use at least one recipe so that measurement is included," she says.

Middle school: Audrey Williams, a parent at the Columbia Academy private school in Columbia, says her sixth-grader likes museum visits, but two hours a day are also going to be reserved for reviewing study guides. He has midterms in January.

Fairfax County schools spokeswoman Mary Shaw had many suggestions involving visits to libraries, historic homes or nature centers. One I liked was turning a favorite book into a one-act play. I want to be Voldemort in the family production of "Harry Potter."

High school: The educators I consulted had less to say about what to do with teenagers. They generally have already made plans that don't keep them home much, except for the 14 hours a day they spend catching up on sleep.

But Tammy Hanna, assistant principal at A.G. Wright Middle School in Stafford County, had an idea that involved all age groups: She notes that families often travel by car during the holidays. Parents seek a quiet trip by making sure all the children have their favorite DVDs and other electronics. Forget that, Hanna says. Try "turning off the equipment and pulling out some things our children often view as old-fashioned. Instead of just reading a book alone, try getting multiple copies and have a reader's theater of sorts with different family members reading selected parts with inflection and enthusiasm."

I like that. It may take awhile for my grandsons to learn to read. (I am making sure their parents select the right school.) But I see in my future a group reading of my favorite children's book, "The Shrinking of Treehorn," by Florence Parry Heide.

Happy holidays.

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