When holidays roll around, many parents begin to appreciate just how tenacious teachers have to be to keep children engaged for weeks at a time. Some, faced with children they describe as “too playful”, “restless” or even “destructive”, may turn to home tutors, holiday lessons at schools or unregulated television viewing.
But holidays should be a time for children to relax both their bodies and their brains. They spend long stretches of the year focused on cognitive-based activities and they, like adults, deserve a break.
Here are some ideas for keeping your kids entertained and engaged during the holidays, without pushing them so hard they don’t get some rest. Some parents or caregivers may not be able to take time off work but it would be great to coincide their leave with their children’s holidays. This would help them spend time together.
1. See the sights
Children don’t just learn in the classroom. The environments they visit and spend time in are sometimes referred to as a “third teacher”, alongside parents and teachers, who are the first and second teachers.
Why not visit culturally significant places or beautiful spaces in your own city? In Nigeria, where I live, there are plenty of child-friendly spots: Olumo Rock in Ogun State, Bar Beach in Lagos, Erin Ijesha Waterfall in Osun State, Suspended Lake in Ado Awaye, Oyo State and Obudu Ranch in Calabar, Cross River State.
Being exposed to historically significant places or just visiting new environments gives your children a holistic learning experience. They can ask questions and express how the site makes them feel. They can also move around, exercising their bodies, socialise with others and in the process learn to regulate their emotions one way or the other. All of this is invaluable in your child’s development.
Museums and zoos are great, too. Children can look at artefacts, learning the stories behind them. Some countries even have toy museums which lend out toys.
2. Encourage reading
Research shows that many children in Nigeria read at frustration level. Reading at frustration level means that the reader will need extensive assistance from teachers on texts that are of the reader’s level or age grade.
So, away from the demands of school, find ways to show your kids how worthwhile books are. Let them travel the journey of imagination and creativity through reading clubs or the library. As they read, their interest is aroused: they travel around the world through books, get creative and grow their vocabulary. This also helps their writing skills.
Parents should also create time to read storybooks to their children, either during the day, if possible, or at bedtime. Allow the child to pick a book of interest and read with them. Allow them to ask questions, and answer them honestly.
This experience will strengthen your relationship, a great boost for your child’s emotional stability.
3. Make music, and dance
Music isn’t just entertainment. It also strongly influences all aspects of our development. It is therapeutic: crying babies get succour from music and drift off to sleep. It accelerates brain development, driving the acquisition of language and boosting reading skills. It even has mathematical benefits – learning to play the piano has been proven to improve children’s classroom performance in mathematics, spatial awareness and logical reasoning tasks.
Your child can also enrol in a dance class. Dance is said to aid self- transformation and actualisation. Through dance, a person is able to express their innermost feelings without any restriction.
4. Let’s get physical
Some parents are unnecessarily anxious when it comes to allowing their children to engage in sports. They fear their children might get injured.
But games and sports create mental alertness in children and are a great avenue to socialise with peers. Studies have established that children who engage in team sport have fewer mental difficulties. Children involved in team sports were less likely to have signs of anxiety, depression, withdrawal, social problems, and attention problems than those who did not.
Why not enrol your child in swimming, soccer or basketball during their holidays? To allay your fears, ensure that they are properly supervised by responsible adults.
Some games aren’t physical: Scrabble, Monopoly, chess and other board games are intellectually, socially and emotionally beneficial for children, too.
5. Get crafty and get cooking
Allow your child to get involved in arts and crafts either at home or through a nearby art gallery.
Children naturally engage in drawing, colouring, cutting, moulding or modelling but may get rebuked by their parents or other adults for “defacing or destroying things”. If their natural instincts are not nurtured and properly channelled, they tend to go negative or the potentials become dormant for life.
Get cardboard, art paper, newspapers, gum, glue, crayons, water colours, child’s size scissors, pencils and lots more for your child and allow your child to get creative. Or try crafts like tie dyeing and bead making.
Cooking is another wonderful activity. This should be age-appropriate: your toddler can help in picking one thing or the other when you are cooking. Ensure that you keep the conversation going, explaining what you’re doing. In the process, the child’s vocabulary is being expanded; they’ll also learn to describe a process and to identify objects by name.
Importantly, if your child is old enough, allow them to try new things. With supervision, your child can try baking cakes or cooking rice, for instance. Adults must, however, be available to guide such cooking attempts.
Here’s to a wonderful, fun-filled holiday – for you and your children.
Hannah Olubunmi Ajayi, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Obafemi Awolowo University