Redefining the holiday break

Redefining the holiday break
(Michael Neuhaus, Stockbyte photo/Getty Images)

School's out for a couple weeks. Do the kids need an equal break from practicing instruments and other extracurriculars?

Parent advice

(from our panel of staff contributors)

I think it's important to keep steady with things that need regular application — like instrument playing, speaking in foreign tongues, etc. But I'd try to liven up the routine. Kids speak French? Take them to a French movie or a French restaurant. Instruments? Maybe let them play Sondheim instead of Schubert. The goal is to keep the involvement but change up the method so the task seems fresh and not so much like work.

Bill Daley

The holiday break is a good time for some "chill" time from the school routine, as long as it isn't all spent on Facebook, texting or playing video games. I also think it's a good time to make sure they are helping out with the stuff that goes on during the holidays, whether it's wrapping presents or sticking stamps on envelopes for Christmas cards. I think there's good that comes from letting kids zone out a bit. But some of that extra time could be spent doing more of the household chores. And here's an idea: As the break winds down, tell your kids they have to help clean out the basement or garage, and schoolwork will start to look pretty attractive.

Denise Joyce

It's the holidays — let them do something related to the season. It could be something fun or it could be work. (Having a houseful of people over? Let the kid help with preparation.) Just don't let them play on the computer all day or watch mindless TV. Nothing special there. And the holidays are for making special memories with the kids.

Bill Hageman

Expert advice

"The question is not whether to break off from school mode and move into holiday mode," says Kim John Payne, author of "Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids" (Ballantine Books). "It's a question of rhythm. Holiday rhythms can be different from school year rhythms, but a rhythm is still needed."

The break from school, quite likely, doesn't really mean fewer demands on your or your child's time. Holiday parties, family functions, shopping, wrapping and visiting relatives are just a few of the activities that roll in this time of year — to the point that a "break" can often feel like anything but.

If keeping up the usual pace of lessons and practice feels like too much, by all means scale back, says Payne.

"Look at the week and give it a shape," he says. "'We are pulling back from daily piano practice, but we're going to have practice time on Tuesdays and Thursdays.'

"You don't want the holidays to be the time when they drop everything, but you also want to give them a chance to decompress," Payne continues. "And you want to do it rhythmically and predictably. So you don't keep going at full velocity, but you don't throw everything out either."

And consider, amid the holiday chaos and scaled-back practice sessions, scheduling what Payne calls "Sabbath moments" — distraction-free times when you and your children are unscheduled, disconnected from devices and quietly reading or talking together.

"We want the holidays to be special and we spend so much time working to make them special that we forget to create moments for connectedness," he says. "Connections don't happen because you have a really nice Christmas tree. The most beautiful moments in life are always the ones where you feel a deep connection to family and friends, a connection to nature, a connection to self."

And that, too, can require some practice.

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