If your children see “learning” as something they do because their teachers say they have to, the best thing you can give them for Christmas (aka winter break) is a taste of fun learning. Keep notes on what you learn, and you’ll be ready when the long summer break rolls around. 


Here’s a Top Ten list of ways kids can continue learning while official “education” is on pause—and enjoy every moment of it.


1. Play board games.

Chess teaches strategy. Scrabble improves spelling and vocabulary. Monopoly carries economics lessons. Even if your kids’ favorite games are strictly follow-the-roll-of-the-dice, there are opportunities to hone counting, reading, and concept skills


2. Work puzzles.

Kids can assemble a jigsaw puzzle and learn to match shapes and colors (and that each seemingly insignificant piece is vital to the unified whole). They can develop an eye for detail through word searches, test their understanding of word nuances through crosswords, and hone their organization skills through Sudoku. 


3. Make something.

A quilt, a painting, a carpentry project, a sand castle—all are great opportunities for learning how things are put together. 


4. Read.

Books don’t have to be nonfiction to be educational. Fiction can teach the reader about seeing things from other points of view, not giving up, making logical connections, and noticing details. And of course, all reading provides opportunities to improve vocabulary. 


5. Watch an educational documentary.

Documentaries are made on every conceivable topic. They can be more exciting than fiction, and they provide at least as much variety in “plots” and take-aways. 


6. Visit a museum.

Modern museums are nothing like the old dry-and-dusty stereotype. They provide information on every topic of interest, with interactive exhibits—and you can play “I Spy” with a mural or diorama. 


7. Visit a zoo.

In addition to reading the posted information, encourage your kids to really watch the animals’ behavior and share questions: “Why do you think he chews like that? How does that lion remind you of our cat at home?” Make a list of things to ask a zookeeper or look up further. 


8. Take a nature walk.

Just as at the zoo, observe wildlife carefully and come up with questions about it. Give your kids binoculars for a better look at the bird in the tree or the rabbit across the creek. Look at plants too: how do they change from season to season? Why might they be shaped or colored the way they are? 


9. Start a garden.

Even when it’s below freezing outdoors, you can start herbs or flowers in indoor pots. Plan for the main gardening season too, studying soil quality, light levels, and planting times required for various species. 


10. Care for a pet.  

A live animal is a huge responsibility; you literally have another life in your hands. But if you all understand what’s needed—or if you already have a pet and the kids are ready to take a bigger hand in its care—this is an incomparable opportunity to learn close-up how animals act and respond, and how they have distinct individual personalities. There’s no learning like learning through interaction!