After the initial excitement over new toys fades, there's still about 264 hours of holiday vacation left.
How do you fill them?
That's the question many parents of school-age children face during days off from school, especially during the winter months when playing outside for hours may not be possible.
To get children away from the television and inspire them to use their imaginations, local educators offer a variety of activity suggestions that can include the whole family.
By now, the volumes of research promoting the importance of reading has surely reached nearly all parents.
But just sticking a book in your child's face may not be the answer. Here are some tips from Dr. Beth Emmendorfer, director of special services with the Jackson School District, on how to get the most from reading:
* Continue reading out loud to children, even after they've learned to read independently.
* Talk about books afterward, share opinions and draw conclusions. Help children make mental pictures of what's happening in the book.
* Read and discuss a book that was recently made into a movie.
Emmendorfer also suggests asking these questions to your child about the book:
Before the story: What do you think this story is about?
During the story: What has happened so far? What do you think will happen next?
After the story: What was the title? What was the setting? Who were the characters? What was the problem in the story? How was it solved? What was your favorite part?
Russell Grammer, a fourth-grade teacher and science buff who works at Jefferson Elementary, says there are simple science-related experiments that will keep children entertained for hours and teach them a thing or two.
Most of the experiments use items from around the house:
* Static electricity
"Everybody gets shocked through the winter, so this is a perfect opportunity to allow a child to ask why that happens," said Grammer.
One experiment: Use plastic wrap to demonstrate the effect of static electricity. Tear off a sheet of wrap, then rub a paper towel or nylon across the plastic wrap. Pick up the wrap from middle, watching as it stays spread out.
Rubbing a balloon or a straw across the plastic wrap (or even your own hair) can also demonstrate static electricity, said Grammer. For example, rub a straw across your head then use it as a "magic wand" to push salt or small pieces of paper across a table.
"Those kinds of activities are ways kids can explore," said Grammer. "You're creating a child who is curious about the world around them, a child who likes to explore and discover, and is interested in learning as opposed to being deadened by constant entertainment."
* Burned out bulbs
Grammer also suggested using burned out Christmas lights in an experiment about electricity by touching the exposed wires of a strand of lights to a battery and watching the bulbs light up again.
"You can try various experiments, like using two batteries end to end," said Grammer. "Doing those types of things is increasing family connection time and increasing the family bond, instead of just plopping kids down in front of TV."
There are also many educational Web sites that offer learning-based games and other activities for children of all ages. Consider www.kidsdomain.com, which offers seasonal activities and links to other sites.
Also, www.northpole.com offers children the opportunity to visit Santa's workshop, play games, write Christmas-themed stories and color pictures.
No matter what the Web site though, educators advise keeping a close eye on what children are accessing.
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