By Dr. Judith Zenna-Valgento

For many students, the holidays provide an opportunity to relax, sleep in, spend time with the family, play games, or hang out with friends. But many parents and teachers may have concerns about how students spend that time during a break. While the holidays allow students time off, it’s a good idea for students to also keep connected to their learning and allow for a smoother transition back to school. Families can organize some simple structure to keep brains active and minds engaged during the holiday break.


Free time during the holidays provides an opportunity for students to catch up on reading that is different from the usual school reading assignments. Studies have shown that reading from a book, not online or using electronic readers, helps reduce stress, increases the attention span, and helps people of all ages to concentrate better on other tasks. Reading also helps students understand the structure of language and can build grammar and vocabulary skills.

The key to holiday reading is to find books and stories that are interesting to your student. Take a trip to the local library and spend some time exploring the different genres and authors with your children. For younger children, taking time to read aloud can provide a significant increase in their attention and focus. For children who read on their own, consider a “reading hour” where everyone in the family sits down to enjoy reading together. Children often find that reading stories aloud to their family members, friends, pets and favorite stuffed animals is fun and increases their reading fluency.

Learning Time

Another way to engage students’ minds over the holidays is to create time to play games or to work on special projects. Many board games keep the mind active and offer more activity for the brain, as well as social interaction with family or friends.

You could also schedule time for your children to learn crafts such as creating a holiday scrapbook or building a ginger bread house. Provide them with a jigsaw puzzle or crossword puzzles. Learn to play chess together. These types of activities stimulate the brain and create pathways to learning.

Consider spending time as a family visiting a museum or the zoo during the holidays. Museums come in all shapes and sizes – art, history, culture, or science. Hunt down a local observatory and learn about the skies.


Many schools now assign homework over the holidays in order to try to curb “brain drain.” Instead of ignoring the homework until the last day of vacation, consider scheduling a “learning hour” or one hour out of each day for students to work on schoolwork. It is important to keep a regular time and schedule in order to help students stay on track and to preserve their learning momentum. Working on schoolwork a little bit each day will help to increase learning ability and will prevent homework panic at the end of the holidays.

With a little time and effort, the holidays can become a memorable experience filled with fun and learning.

Judith Zenna-Valgento, Ph.D. , is the Campus Director at Brightmont Academy in Deer Valley, a private school that specializes in providing one-to-one instruction for each student. For more information, please visit, call 623.738.0710 or email [email protected].