8 ways to survive spring break with kids

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By Jay Mathews
Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm moving back to California this summer. (You will be relieved or annoyed to learn I am not leaving The Post.) This will be my last spring, at least as I define the term.

I grew up in the Golden State, the balmy sea breezes of Long Beach in the south and later the sun-splashed hillsides of San Mateo in the north. There was more rain in the winter, but otherwise I didn't notice seasons.

When I transferred to a college in Massachusetts, I felt for the first time the full, disagreeable weight of winter: icy sidewalks and dorky earmuffs. Then it was gone. I rejoiced. The arms and shoulders of female students were suddenly bare. I took off my boots and put on my tennis shoes.

Spring break became special, as it is for many families in the Washington area. How should parents use it to bond with their children? Educators gave me eight ideas for doing spring break right.

1Watch a plant as it grows

Deanna Wheeler, a science teacher at J.C. Parks Elementary School in Charles County, said she prefers a botanical approach to spring that is best for elementary school children but might also intrigue an otherwise bored teenager. "Pick one plant, tree branch, shrub or flower that is beginning to grow," she said. "Observe it each day. Record its changes throughout the week with drawings, paintings, photos or measurements." This fits nicely with the idea of Judy Heard, instructional services manager at Fairfax County schools, to have your children help you start a garden or put planters on your patio.

2Read a book, then see the movie

This appeals to sedentary parents like me. Find a good book that was made into a good movie. Read it and then watch it with your children. Three local educators endorsed this: media specialists Catharine M. Chenoweth at Gaithersburg High School and Tim Brennan of Northwood High School, both in Montgomery County, and Arlington County public schools library and media services supervisor Charlie Makela. A Google search for "books to film" produces suggestions as varied as "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Shutter Island." Oh, wait. Forget that last one. It's R-rated.

3Go letterboxing

For some adventurous families, this might be as familiar as hiding eggs at Easter, but it was new to me. Susan Fontyn, a media specialist at Richie Park Elementary School in Rockville, suggested it. This treasure hunt-like activity was invented on the moors of southwestern England in the mid-19th century, but here is how the modern version works: Hobbyists hide waterproof plastic boxes in enjoyable settings, such as a park, then give clues online to find it. You take a notebook, a rubber stamp that represents you in some way and a stamp pad. When you find the box, you stamp the notebook inside it and use the stamp inside the box to mark your book. There are many boxes in this area. All you need to know to get started is at www.letterboxing.org.

4Relive the Civil War

Rich Parker, a media specialist at Laytonsville Elementary School in Gaithersburg, has a list of battle sites his students might learn from in the 150th anniversary year of America's bloodiest war. He suggests Balls Bluff and Manassas Battlefield in Virginia, Antietam in Maryland and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The harrowing consequences of the fighting are illuminated, he said, at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick. You can also learn more about the war at www.washingtonpost.com/civilwar.


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