20 fun learning activities for the holiday break

Children playing a board game. (iStockphoto)

Just because school is out for the holidays doesn’t mean children have to take a break from learning. Faculty in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development offer 20 learning activities that are so much fun, they won’t feel like homework.


  1. Play board games that involve numbers and counting, like Rack-O, Monopoly, rummy and Yahtzee.
  2. Play a guessing game. Think of a number between 1 and 100 and take turns guessing. Respond higher/lower until someone picks the right number, then the winner picks the next number. Even trickier: Try doing this with letters of the alphabet.
  3. Find a simple, step-by-step recipe and put the kids in charge of the measuring, mixing and dividing up of the servings. Double the recipe to make it more difficult.
  4. Cut a sandwich into pieces to identify fractions. Have children calculate: If each person in the family gets one-fourth of a sandwich, how many sandwiches are needed in all?
  5. Download math game apps like Dragonbox (a fun way to learn algebra) or Numble (an addictive numbers game you can play with friends near and far).


  1. Visit the public library and stock up on books or download titles to an e-reader. Have children take turns reading to each other or grandparents.
  2. Think of 10 different places or ways to read a book and try them out: under a blanket with a flashlight, under the bed, in a tree, etc.
  3. Gather by the fire and take turns making up and telling stories. Give each child a prompt, such as, “If you were an elf, what would your life be like?”
  4. Play a word game. Write down a three- or four-letter word, pass to the next person and they must change one letter to make a new word. (Example: Cat —> sat —> sit —> pit —> pin.) Continue until a word is repeated.
  5. Play Scrabble in teams of two. Younger children can team with older relatives to make it more fun.


  1. Take a nature walk, snap pictures and make a scrapbook.
  2. Track the daily temperature and create a graph to show the weather’s progression.
  3. Keep a moon journal to record lunar activity throughout the holiday break. Make a diorama of the changing moon.
  4. Instead of holiday specials, watch educational nature shows on the National Geographic channel or Wild Kratts on PBS.
  5. If traveling, have each child keep a travel journal in which he or she records adventures with cousins. The children can write their memories, collect photos and mementos, and draw pictures. Later, share their journals with their teachers and friends.

History/Social Studies

  1. Make a video of grandparents telling their childhood memories. Ask questions about how life was different when they were children.
  2. Partner with an older relative to create and write down a family tree. Get a free trial of Ancestry.com to dig deeper into family history.
  3. Download the educational app Civilization 5, which simulates the historical, political, economic and social evolutions of civilizations.
  4. Get out mom or dad’s old photos and yearbooks. Have them tell stories of when they were growing up.
  5. Do an Internet search to find out how the holidays are celebrated in other countries. Try to recreate one of the traditions, such as a meal, a craft or a game.


  • Amy Palmeri, assistant professor of the practice of education and director of Undergraduate Studies of Teaching and Learning;
  • Heather Johnson, assistant professor of the practice of science education;
  • Barb Stengel, professor of the practice of education;
  • Douglas Clark, associate professor of science education;
  • Kristen W. Neal, lecturer, Department of Teaching and Learning; and
  • Emily Pendergrass, director of the Reading Education Program, interim director of Learning, Diversity and Urban Settings.