The holidays may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but the break from school can also present some challenges. There’s lots of stimulation like sugary treats, new toys and holiday TV programming to be had. Why not indulge in a little “funcation” (fun + education) time to help keep your smart little folks active and learning during the holiday vacation? Here are some ideas to help keep your children merry and bright!

Get out and explore Mother Nature!

Whether in the city going to local parks (Central Park, Fort Tryon Park, Inwood Park, Riverside Park), or taking a day trip up the Hudson Valley for a family hike, there are so many things to explore in nature and different ways to keep busy and engaged.

Scavenger Hunts (and there are lots of ways to implement them)

Kids love to find things and having a list (with pictures and words) will keep them interested and engaged for hours. All the materials needed are simple: clipboard, pencil, paper and a bucket.

Find and Collect: sticks, rocks, acorns, leaves (variety of colors), moss, fern, colored stones or pebbles

Wild Life Spotting: adjust list based on where you will be “nature explorers:” squirrels, chipmunks, deer, beavers, rabbits, birds (all types: owl, hawk, finch, blue jay, robin, wren, pigeon), frogs, turtles, snakes

Insect Spotting: Spiders, ants, worms, grasshoppers, flies

Litter Bug Patrol

Kids love to be super heroes and there is nothing more heroic than helping to take care of the environment! Materials needed for this activity include protective rubber gloves (which can be worn over gloves if it’s cold outside) and reusable bag to collect trash.

After you have collected the trash you can do some activities that develop math skills by sorting and counting it as paper, plastic, and metal. You can also make up a guessing game about what types of things are made with these materials.

Take it a step further with counting by actually writing the numbers. When counting, children should be able to use one-to-one correspondence as they count, practicing writing numbers when they have counted all the materials in each category.

Graph: create a graph showing which type of trash has the most, least or any piles that are the same – greater than / less than / equal too

IMPORTANT NOTE: Parents must let children know that they have to get a grown-up if they see any glass or cigarettes for the grown-up to pick up. Also, adults should stay close to the child to make sure they are not picking up anything that could be unsafe.

Turn Trash into Art

Can any of the materials be used to create a collage or sculpture? (This might be best done with your own trash as you know where it’s coming from!) A bottle of glue and some sparkles can create some bright artwork for your home. As long as you’re comfortable where the trash has been (obviously avoid sticky or yucky items), let your child use his or her creativity and get to work!

Whatever you do this holiday break, take advantage of what’s around you. Many of us recall having our most fun memories of childhood being those spent doing simple things like explorations in the backyard or making art from things found in the house. What we didn’t realize was they were all part of the learning process, keeping us stimulated and learning while playing (check out our recent blog post on the Reggio Emilia approach). The school vacation can be the perfect time for your little ones to accomplish a bit of everything – merry-making, relaxing down time, having fun and, yes, even learning!