Spring break ideas

Whether you’re homeschooling and need a break or your kids are in school and you’re not sure what do with them, spring break is a fun opportunity to mix things up.

When my kids were younger I made up a daycamp for the week and we made sure to ‘pack’ lunches and go swimming a few times and end the week with a field trip to the zoo. We haven’t done that in a while but I’m still thinking I’ll mix things up next week.

Here are some ideas:

1. If your kids can’t take the entire week off school, make your own personalized worksheets. This is really easy for sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. Rather than forcing them to learn a word list that has no meaning for them, draw on their favourite things for ideas. For my son today, I made him up a capitalization and comma worksheet where all the sentences were silly things about his favourite TV show. If your child needs penmanship practice, learn calligraphy together. A pack of pens at Michael’s will only set you back a few dollars. If they need reading practice, write a story for them and have them illustrate it. If they’re learning their letters, give them 26 sheets of paper and have them draw a big capital letter on it and turn it into something else by drawing on and around it.

2. Negotiate screen time with your kids ahead of time and push it towards the end of the day. I hate starting our day with pulling the kids away from the TV. I find it works well to give them that time before dinner.

3. Check out your local community. Try out a locally owned store that you’ve never been to. Tell them you’ve never been and they’ll likely give you lots of info.

4. Read a story together that you can finish before school starts up again. We love the Flat Stanley books, My Father’s Dragon, or a short Roald Dahl story (like The Twits!) for spring break. Read aloud regardless of whether or not your kids are reading on their own.

5. Go for a walk or play outside, every day, no matter what the weather. Then come home and bake together, or make hot chocolate or lemonade. Reading is perfect before or after a walk.

6. If you’re planning on doing a summer garden, plan it out and buy your seeds now.

7. Check out what the astronauts are doing in the International Space Station.

8. Go to the library and get books from a section you’ve never gone to before. Look at kids cooking books and easy craft books for lots of ideas. If you’re worried about math, there are tons of great math stories at the library that teach skills without feeling ‘educational’. Get out comic books or other light reading. Get some magazines for yourself.

9. Have the kids make lunch one day, including menus and prices. My kids LOVED doing this! They set up a little table and took my order and gave me a bill. Now my oldest likes doing a ‘mystery box’ challenge like on MasterChef.

10. Have your kids set up a pretend store or garage sale and price their things (assure them that they’ll get them back!). It’s a great way to learn to make change.

11. Don’t use the week as time to ‘catch up on school work’. Give them a change of pace no matter what their marks are like. Then they’ll go back to school with a more positive outlook. We are taking a break from our usual curriculum and doing reading and writing that is more of their choosing.

12. Cut construction paper or coloured card stock into strips (about a centimetre or 1/2 inch wide) and weave little baskets for Easter. I cut strips the length of the paper in two different colours and it makes a cute little basket that can be filled with chocolates or candy.

13. Spring cleaning! Open up the windows and doors, clean the outside of your windows, and get the yard ready for spring. If you’re snowed in, do your spring cleaning inside by going through closets and toy bins and clearing out old stuff. Show your kids the things they loved or made when they were younger.

14. Have your kids show you their favourite YouTube videos. Find some of your own to share with them. If you haven’t seen it, watch The Story of Stuff. Check out funny commercials to get everyone laughing.

With my youngest going away with his Dad for a few days, my oldest and I have decided to get out DVDs from the library of our favourite shows. We’ll be sure to make meals that they don’t like as much and go shopping for them for Easter.

Whatever you’re doing, have a great spring break!

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Computer Programming

I’m taking a beginner course in computer programming so that I understand it well enough to help my son take the same course in the future. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the course (Programming for Everybody through Coursera), especially how each assignment is a mini-project in problem solving. I also like how it’s either right or wrong – no grey area here! I’ve found that programming has a lot in common with homeschooling:

1. If you want to write a good computer program, you first need to define what you want to do. Although this definition will not be seen in the actual program, if you don’t know where you’re headed then you don’t know where to start and you’re likely to write a bunch of lines of code that don’t get you anywhere. In homeschooling, we have overall goals for our children and then each year we set goals for each of them (with their help). Then we make weekly goals that help them get to their year-end goals. As Stephen Covey talks about in his 7 Habits books, “Begin with the end in mind”. If you write a computer program without a defined goal, you often end up with a page of messy code that makes no sense when you look at it the next day. Try to run it and it will be full of errors that you can’t fix because you don’t remember what it was that you were trying to achieve. So you have to start over. Starting over is easy with programming but not so fun with homeschooling; it’s better to set some goals.

2. When writing a longer program, it works best to check it at the end of each stage because the program will only tell you about one error at a time. If you finish the program without checking it, you may get an error that only occurs because another error occurred earlier that you are missing. In homeschooling, this translates to checking our child’s progress against our goals on a regular basis. I always have to adjust our year-end goals! We either get too much done, or, wait, that has never happened, we often go off into an area of interest and then I adjust our goals to fit what we are currently doing. Or we get stuck in advancing in writing or math and have to pause to develop skills before moving on. This is one of my favourite things about homeschooling; we don’t have to push forward, we can stall wherever needed to master skills.

3. In the programming language Python, you can place a hashtag before a line of programming to remove it from the program without deleting it. It’s very helpful in telling others what you were trying to achieve, it’s also a good way to remind yourself what was happening before taking a break. I also think of it as a check or pause for the program (not in the program – they don’t stop time) that enables me to make sure I’m on track. I think of it in homeschooling like taking a day off to do something fun or not doing math lessons for a week while we play games. A pause is a welcome distraction and a fun break from the daily and weekly routines. Too many #s in the code and it gets hard to see what’s actually happening, just like how too many breaks from routine destroy the routine and become the norm.

4. In programming we can write a ‘function’ and then call that function when we need it. Like in parenting and homeschooling, we have days where we are either distracted or ill and need to call on some old favourites to get us through the day. In our house, that was a few videos when the kids were little, or board games, or colouring pages, or a bag of my old toys. Whatever would help us still have a good day without just lying around in front of the TV. We can’t call a function for everything, and we have to write it first, but when we do need them they are really handy to have around.

If you have found other things that relate to homeschooling, I would love to hear them!