Asia Linn Bukszpan is the Lower School After School Coordinator at the prestigious Saint Ann's School in New York, and she also has a kindergarten-age son at home. She's a brilliant woman who is, essentially, a professional at distracting children.
Bukszpan -- and other creative parents -- shared what helps keep kids happy and distracted when the classroom day is done. More crucially, they shared how easy and inexpensive it is to keep children joyous and active during vacations and breaks. (Also, to help moms and dads retain their sanity!)
Read on for a treasure-trove of ideas that'll keep your entire family peaceful and happy during school breaks.
Open a Hallway Art Gallery
A creative and fun way to encourage your kids' artistic sides is to let them to color on the floor! Not directly, of course -- this activity is only appropriate for mature elementary-school children. Unroll some heavy-duty craft paper down a wooden hallway, tack down the edges with pushpins, and tell them to be as creative as they like. This is fun for kids and adults, especially during rainy or snowy breaks. Don't be surprised if yours becomes the most popular house on the block and if some of the creations are frame-worthy.
Go Pitch a Tent
A terrific idea for warm-weather breaks is to assemble an inexpensive tent in your back yard. Kids love to have their own little hideout -- it's a great place to share secrets and laughs with friends, to read books or to think. And parents find that kids with their own little clubhouse are much less likely to suffer from the dreaded "I'm bored" syndrome.
Chess: Not Just for Grown-Ups
Complex boardgames requiring intense concentration like chess and backgammon are astonishingly easy for kids -- some as young as 4 -- to learn. It's a skill that will help them with reasoning and learning math. A bonus for mom and dad: It's generally silent. Sign up your kids for a local course, or, if you know how to play, spread the wealth to your children. You may be surprised at how quickly they learn how to beat you!
Marvel at Museums
Many museums offer school-break-timed programs, so do some research online to see what your local institutions offer. If you're lucky enough to have a wealth of museums nearby, you can tailor visits to correspond to your kids' interests. A botany fan could hit a science and nature museum. An art lover might have fun sketching at a local modern-art collection. Though some kids might initially think that museums are dull, parents' enthusiasm can be infectious -- and there a lot of cool butterflies and sculptures behind those gallery doors!
Take Time to Bake
Food has always been a terrific way to unite people, and your family is no different. The simple act of mixing up, baking and decorating sugar cookies is a real thrill for school-aged kids. Parents should supervise the stove portion of the preparation for safety.
Asia Bukszpan has a fun, cozy tip for winter days, "Stay in your pj's all day and lounge!" Her own son loves to do this with his mom and dad. "We will eventually motivate to go out to the movies or the grocery store to do mundane things and make them adventurous...the grocery store can become a scavenger hunt." Once in awhile, it's perfectly okay to be lazy and chill out with your kids. You'll likely find it's a much more bonding experience than you expected.
Bukszpan and her husband went through her son's toys with him one Christmas break before his new presents were opened so that he could choose things to pass along to younger kids. "He was surprisingly amenable," she says. "He even said, 'I want to choose more toys to pass along.' Not only does this make space for new, age-appropriate toys, I think it also instills a giving spirit." Indeed, creating a tradition like this when your children are small will help them appreciate that other kids aren't as lucky as they are.
Harvest Something Delicious
"I always recommend that families go apple or berry picking during the appropriate season," says Bukszpan. Her son went to a once-a-week summer camp for over a month and a half at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. She says, "He loves getting into the dirt and picking stuff, planting stuff...and it's valuable for kids to learn how the food they eat grows."
Lessons for something a child has always wanted to do is a great gift. Choose a qualified instructor who will be dispassionate about teaching the necessary skills (i.e., who won't get frightened if your child takes a small tumble on the bunny slopes). Any kind of lesson -- from crafting to knitting to skiing to horseback riding -- may well give a child a whole new passion in life.
Visit a Nearby Landmark
Chances are, if you are a New Yorker you never get to the Statue of Liberty, or if you're located in San Antonio you figure the Alamo will always be there. When it's school-break time, it's a wonderful opportunity for families to do cool, unexpected things in their own home towns. Make exploring your own city or region even more interesting by bringing an age-appropriate guide book along.