Ten Tips For fun and learning over the holiday break

By now, most South Florida parents are plenty experienced in keeping kids amused during long breaks from school. But the winter holidays aren't just any break. They offer a special time to celebrate cooler weather, family and tradition. Here are 10 tips for folding a little learning into your winter time off.

1. COOK OR BAKE TOGETHER. It's the season for cookies, cakes and family recipes. Pull out one -- or a few -- and have a cooking or baking day with your kids' help. Deliver the goodies to neighbors and friends who have helped out in the aftermath of this year's storms.

2. READ TOGETHER. Winter evenings are just made for cozying up in the family room and reading favorite stories or holiday books together. Warm up the hot chocolate and read aloud. If your kids are older, have each of them choose a story to read aloud themselves.

3. CREATE CRAFT CARDS. Set out a box of ribbons, colored paper, glue, sequins, glitter, scissors, old holiday cards and some card stock. Have each family member craft a card for one far-away relative, signed by all.

4. VISIT A MUSEUM YOU'VE NEVER BEEN TO. There are so many museums in South Florida, you can't possibly have visited all of them. Try an art museum such as the Norton in West Palm Beach, which has family Sunday programs, or a history museum such as the Historical Museum of Southern Florida in Miami. Check out the Japanese Morikami Museum and Gardens in Delray Beach or, if you haven't been, the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, which also has an IMAX theater showing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Polar Express 3D during this winter break.

5. PLANT FLOWERS IN YOUR YARD OR PATIO. After this year's hurricane devastation, whose outdoor space can't use a little cheering up? Plant some annuals or colorful perennials to make things look a little cheerier.

6. DRAW YOUR FAMILY TREE. Holidays are a time for thinking about family togetherness. It's simple to draw a tree that shows your child at the center with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins branching out. How many generations can you go back?

7. WORK A JIGSAW PUZZLE, DO A CRAFT PROJECT OR BUILD SOMETHING TOGETHER. With the slower days, it can be a lot of fun to set up a card table with a longer-term project for everyone to do together. Try working a big jigsaw puzzle, building and painting a bird house or model car, or making a special craft project such as a hooked rug. Do what your family would enjoy most. Encourage kids and adults to work on the project off and on throughout the holidays.

8. PLAY GAMES TOGETHER. Even if you already pulled out the dusty board games during hurricane days, get them out again for a round of Monopoly, Scrabble, the Game of Life, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit or whatever game your family enjoys. You'll find they're just as much fun with the electricity on.

9. HAVE A THEMED HOLIDAY. Do a little library or Internet research to find out, for example, how the Japanese celebrate the new year or how the Dutch celebrate Christmas. Pick a culture and a holiday that interests your family. Learn and try out the rituals, some typical foods and decorations from other cultures and holidays.

10. START A FAMILY LETTER BASKET. Have each member of your family write a letter to every other family member. On Christmas or Christmas Eve, during Hanukkah or Kwaanza, on New Year's Eve, or on any other special day, read all of the letters out loud. They will be cherished year after year.

Source: Some of the ideas listed here are included in the book Everyday Traditions: Simple Family Rituals for Connection and Comfort, by Nava Atlas, Amerwood Press, 2005.