Spring Break Vacation from Routine, Not Learning

It is never too early to begin planning for spring break and, for teachers, these plans often include homework for students to complete during the vacation. As one can imagine, not every student nor parent supports assignments that are given for completion during spring break—even when the assignment is to read for a short time each day and record that information in a log. Potential learning opportunities arise during vacations, though, that just don't occur during other times of the year. The right kind of homework can help students practice new skills or improve upon old ones all while making connections to the real world. As you begin to make your plans, keep in mind that, while some kids will have a week-long staycation at home, others will be traveling.

Assignments must be manageable and, above all else, meaningful. You should carefully consider the materials students must have with them, plus the time it will take for students to finish the work successfully. Stick with basic materials for writing, since they are easy to pack and ubiquitous. You don't want to cut into any student's family time or cause a family to pay for checked baggage if homework materials cannot be carried onto a plane. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about what learning activities will work for your class during spring break.

While not everyone will be driving to another state this vacation, it is likely that your students will spend some time on the road. Learning activities to take place inside an automobile can range from simple to complex. For young children, focus on what can be seen right outside the window. Kids can practice letter recognition and reading skills as they play a traveling alphabet game with their companions. In this game, players must observe the words written on signs and businesses along the road in addition to the words found on other motorists' vehicles. To begin play, passengers keep their eyes peeled for a word outside their vehicle that begins with the letter "A." The first one to find it earns a point, and then the group begins to look for a word beginning with a "B." Play proceeds in alphabetical order until players have found a word for each letter unless players agree to skip hard-to-find letters, such as like "Q." The player with the most points wins. Depending on your students' abilities, you may just want them to report their scores to you. If your kids are beyond that with their skill set, they can record the words found during game play to practice spelling and vocabulary. Having these word lists following the break will be useful in starting discussions about words common to roadway travel.

Besides practicing literacy in an automobile, students can apply their number-crunching skills, too. Consider creating activities for your students that require them to calculate distance or fuel consumption. Vehicle drivers can help by explaining the purpose of a vehicle's odometer or speedometer. One homework assignment could be for students to write a story problem based on their journey in the vehicle. Students can record the mileage covered before and after a period of travel and then figure their distance covered. Likewise, students may be guided in using the distance to calculate gas mileage when fuel pit stops are made. Before leaving for spring break, practice similar problems with your class. These numbers will be great real-life data for your class to compare when the vacation is completed. Remember that some students may be vacationing in another country, like Canada, that uses the metric system. Have students practice converting miles to kilometers or gallons to liters either while they are on vacation or when they return to class.

Homework involving journaling during break can be a great way for students to practice their written communication skills. Provide students with standard writing topics about what they are doing during their time off from school, but take it a step further by requiring students to write with a particular order in mind. For example, students may write about their vacation or a part of it in chronological order. Another prompt can direct students to describe a part of their vacation environment using spatial order. No matter whether students are staying in a hotel, a relative's home, or their own homes, they can describe the furniture and décor in relation to where it is positioned in the room. One other prompt could have students describe events in their order of importance. This is a good way to have students focus on a few key parts of how they spent their time away from school.

For these kinds of journal activities, encourage students to complement their work with illustrations or photographs. Traveling students can also add images from free brochures or other print materials that they collect during their trips. Besides providing students with a chance to practice writing, their journal entries can be the springboard you use to reengage your class when school resumes.

While students need to have fun, rest, and recharge during break, they will need to be ready to jump back into the swing of things when school resumes, especially when high-stakes testing awaits right around the corner. Before giving students work to do during spring break, know how your assignments' objectives will meet the standards students must master for their grade and course.