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Tips for preventing 'brain drain' over the holiday break

While holidays are a time for celebration, time away from school can interrupt a child’s learning. The break can be especially disruptive to children who are learning a second language.

Two Texas Woman’s University professors say there are many things families can do to ward off “brain drain” during the holidays.

Connie Briggs, Ph.D., professor of reading, said parents can keep their children’s reading and writing skills active by making holiday wish lists and comparing prices, writing a holiday letter or note to family members or writing “thank you” notes for gifts.

Children also could help write grocery lists for holiday cooking, and help organize the list by category to aid in shopping. These tasks would require children to use their reading, writing and critical thinking skills, Briggs said.

Math skills will come into play when children are encouraged to shop for the best bargains and compare the costs and sizes of products, Briggs said. They also could help in the kitchen by reading recipes and measuring out the ingredients using measuring cups and spoons.

“Parents can ask children to write examples of one virtue — thankfulness, hope, kindness, love, joy, peace — each day on paper turkeys or snowmen and post them around the home,” she said. “They also can start a family tradition of selecting a children’s book appropriate to the holiday, and have the children read the text several times so they may present it orally to everyone before or after the family dinner.”

Some of the holiday books Briggs recommends for children are:

  • Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story (primary level) by Pat Zietlow Miller;
  • The Night Before Christmas (primary level) by Clement C. Moore;
  • Oskar and the Eight Blessings (primary, intermediate level) by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon;
  • Hanukkah is Coming! (for preschool age) by Tracy Newman; and
  • Cork & Fuzz: Merry Merry Holly Holly (for preschool, primary age) by Dori Chaconas

Ideas for children learning a second language

For Mandy Stewart, Ph.D., assistant professor of bilingual education, her concern for bilingual/bicultural students is “not so much about loss, but about not fully taking advantage of the language and literacy opportunities that exist.”

Stewart is fluent in Spanish and is raising her children to be bilingual. Yet she believes even parents who do not speak other languages can use breaks to expose their children to other languages and cultures.

“Children can immerse themselves in a different language over the holiday break,” she said. “You can go to the library and get books written in a different language or that contain a few words in another language. If possible, spend time with others who speak that language. Appropriate Internet sites also are a wonderful way to learn. Capitalize on all the language and multicultural learning opportunities that might not be widely available to your children in school if they are not in a bilingual education program.”

For families that already speak a language other than English, Stewart suggests they encourage their children to speak their native language during the holiday break – while cooking, shopping, making lists or simply spending time together.

“This is a wonderful way to develop language skills so the students can work toward being totally biliterate (able to read and write in two languages),” she said.

For adolescent students, Stewart encourages providing literature they want to read in the language they are less exposed to in school.

“I believe their literacy skills will develop when they are reading what they want in any language,” she said.

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Karen Garcia
Communication Specialist

Page last updated 4:27 PM, January 10, 2020