Ten easy learning activities for families without breaking the bank

Although it may be hard to believe, students are starting their holiday vacation this week.

But a vacation from school shouldn’t mean a vacation from learning. The holiday break offers an opportunity for students, and their families, to enjoy quality — and fun — learning time together.

This year, educators from virtual school Michigan Connections Academy suggest adding a healthy dose of learning fun to winter breaks by creating your very own mini-camp filled with affordable, hands-on, entertaining and educational experiences close to home.

All you’ll need for your DIY mini-camp is a little planning, some high-fun, low-cost, educational “camp” activities and family time together.

To help get you started, here are 10 family activities from the educators at Michigan Connections Academy. Use them “out of the box” or personalize the activities to match your family’s interests. For example, you might incorporate a Harry Potter, winter sports, or music theme throughout your mini-camp.

Each activity offers an opportunity to reinforce valuable skills and educational concepts. Explore the educational concepts with your child and assess their comprehension throughout the activity. Take breaks to answer questions and explain concepts in more detail as needed.

Just remember, the key is to make your winter break mini-camp fun for your children — they won’t even know they are learning when school is out.

• “Campify” your mini-camp — What’s a camp without a camp song, a mascot, a T-shirt? Children will love to customize their camp with these brain boosting activities.
For your song, incorporate rhyming, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. Have each camper write a verse. When choosing a mascot, research its meaning. And show your artistic side by making camp T-shirts (fabric paint or marker pens will do the trick).

• Get cooking! — Cooking and baking offer numerous learning opportunities. Preparing a recipe uses math and fine motor skills by measuring, counting, sifting, sorting and pouring.

Want a challenge? Ask your child to double the recipe. Or, on your next shopping trip, have children compute the cost of ingredients to determine the price of a given recipe. Looking up culinary words in the dictionary targets reading, writing and vocabulary skills. Various cooking techniques, like boiling, even offer an opportunity for a science lesson.

• We are family … tree — Here’s a personal project that incorporates research, writing, storytelling and history – record your family tree. Start with your immediate family and research the answers to questions like, “What were the top news stories when grandfather was born … Who was the president … Where did they live and how did they live?” Chronicle your family’s story on paper or on the computer.

• A spoonful of science — Conduct exciting, safe science experiments in your own kitchen like the students enrolled in Connections Academy’s Science in the Kitchen Club. Check out experiments like “Balloon Blast Off,” “Goop Galore,” and “Hot Air Aircraft.” Go to www.connectionsacademy.com/news/kitchen-science-holiday-2009 for details and instructions.

• Signed, Sealed, Delivered — Holiday cards and letters offer a great opportunity to practice writing skills. Talk about the parts of a letter including the salutation, body and closing. And, P.S., talk about what “postscript” means.

Give a nod to geography and explore a map to identify where your card recipients live – who lives the farthest away? Who lives north or south of your home? How many different states or countries are you mailing to?

• Wrap it Up — When wrapping gifts, build math and measuring skills by asking children to measure gifts with a tape measure or ruler to determine the correct amount of wrapping paper needed. Or get creative (and green) and ask children to design their own wrapping paper out of reused brown paper grocery bags.

• Homemade Museum — Everyone in the family has items that they treasure. Whether it is a special doll, photograph or found object like a feather or crystal, showcase treasured objects in your family museum (a.k.a. living room).

Designate a curator to direct the exhibit and gather and write detailed descriptions of the objects. Encourage public speaking by having children conduct “tours.” Business-savvy children will be waiting for visitors in their homemade museum gift shop.

• Road Trip! — Escape camp life for a day with a road trip. When traveling in the car, test geography knowledge by trying to name all 50 states and their capitals. Play the “license plate game” and take along trivia questions like those from Connections Academy’s Quiz Bowl Challenge (www.connectionsacademy.com/quizbowl/home.aspx). Have fun developing and asking questions like, “How much will it cost for 10 gallons of gasoline if the gallon price is (fill in the blank)?” Or, “If we drive 60 miles per hour, how long will it take us to go 10 miles, 100 miles, 139 miles?”

• Recess — Get out and play! In addition to the countless health benefits of physical activity, active games and sports can help strengthen social skills, memory, and analytic abilities. From Red Rover, Red Rover, and Red Light – Green Light to touch football and soccer, children will enjoy a game that all can play and feel successful playing.

Younger children enjoy making their own games. Why not suggest that they invent their own game and then play as a family. You’re sure to be amazed at their creativity. If you live in colder climates, enjoy what the weather offers – go sledding and ice skating and talk about the science behind snow formation, and the properties of ice.

And every day… read. Stock up on “camp reads” and use vacation time to immerse yourselves in good books. Visit your local library as a family and spend the afternoon exploring the shelves and selecting books. Read with your children every day. This is one habit you’ll want to keep and one of the most valuable educational gifts you can give to your children.

For more information about Michigan Connections Academy, go to www.connectionsacademy.com.