December is crazy for families in the best of times: school winds down, holiday season ramps up, and there are a million things to do. Add in a pandemic that’s gone on way too long? Parents are exhausted.
The holidays will be different this year. We can’t travel or gather with loved ones, and there are few things to do in the community, thanks to closures. This, combined with the lack of routine that comes with school holidays, will make this break harder than ever for parents.
Despite this, you can still prepare for a holiday that’s relaxing and fun — one that has a comfortable balance of family time, independent activities, and rest. You can create new memories while also staying sane and healthy (mentally and physically!). Consider some of these suggestions:
1) Brainstorm with your family.
Ask your kids what they want to do over the break, and make a list. Include activities indoors and out, on screens (think movie nights and family Zoom parties) and off (board games, crafts, and baking), solo, and social. Try to come up with things you’ve never done before. Everyone in the family gets a voice here!
2) Mimic the school day — with flexibility!
Think about how your child’s teacher schedules the school day to make things work: there’s a balanced variety of activities to keep kids interested, motivated, and burn some of that limitless energy. There are also passive activities, when kids aren’t “on” but still learning something. Use the school day as a guide to set up your day, and plan the day’s events together with the kids! Better, do this the night before at bedtime!
Include fun activities that involve creativity and focus, outdoor play, physical activity, social connection, and something passive. Keep an eye on the time, but let the schedule/plan go if the kids get into “flow” in an activity.
3) Let go of your screen time boundaries — for now.
We know the drawbacks of too much screen time but the reality is, screens help us stay sane during long stretches of time with the kids. Under these “indoor” (winter) circumstances, use screens as needed. Remember: screen activities in which learning and creating occur are beneficial, and, social and more passive activities such as YouTube viewing are fine in moderation. Even video games have benefits (can improve higher-level thinking, social and communication skills to name a couple).
4) Encourage independent play (or “quiet time” for the older kids.)
Everyone needs some daily “down-time,” so set up a routine for it. Pick at time of day (mid-afternoon would be divine!) and model this activity consistently. Mom and dad can take a nap or read a book, and that’s the signal to the kids that it’s time to find something to do without you. They can learn to get comfortable in their own skin.
If you haven’t already done it, set up a personal workspace with your child, for your child. Find a place with few distractions — their bedroom is perfect! Provide things to encourage creativity, focus, and imagination. Include books and school supplies, puzzles, toys, instruments, and craft materials. Set up a formal desk with a task light for concentration and homework, and provide a cozy spot to curl up with a book or screen.
Establishing this routine takes work and patience — and probably a ton of reminders. Set expectations in advance, use a timer if you need to, and be consistent with follow-through. It’s tough to set up this routine, but worth it in the end. You can do it!
5) Let your kids figure it out.
Don’t worry if you don’t have every minute planned or if your plan goes off track. Boredom is good for kids! It’s a place for creativity and problem-solving skills to grow. You don’t need to have a jam-packed schedule of exciting things to do, with kids behaving perfectly all day long.
While this holiday season will be different — stranger — than any other, this break may be the most memorable one, ever! There are always silver linings. We’ll have to think outside the box to enjoy this school vacation, but I’m guessing families will bond more than ever in spite of the challenges and sacrifices.
Happy holidays and stay well!
More about Jane Kristoffy
A teacher and guidance counsellor for over 25 years, Jane founded Right Track Educational Services in 2012. She’s a popular speaker on a variety of education and parenting topics, and a regular expert on national television news programs. In 2021, Jane will release her first book, Launch Your Kid: How to Promote Your Child’s Academic and Personal Success (without being a helicopter parent), which is jam-packed with no-nonsense tips for parents about how to get their kids through school and ready for the real world!