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Interview #25: 5 tips for getting your child out of holiday mode
We all remember the excitement of school holidays – the last bell of term and the dreamy days that followed. Then, all too soon, a new term rolls around again, and the back-to-school blues hit in full force. Mimma Mason, cognitive scientist and speaker at the Mind Brain Education Conference, believes there are many things parents can do during the holidays to help make back-to-school a happy and exciting time for children.
"During school holidays, students may get out of the habit of thinking in critical ways,” says Mason. “We know from the science of neuroplasticity and learning that you get better at something with practice. School holidays are key times that can see learning pruned away – especially when kids have a break in the middle of learning something new."
Here are Mason’s five tips for keeping kids engaged throughout the holidays to make day one a breeze.
Sticking to a routine is an easy way to keep your child on track for when school returns. The key is to find a level of routine that suits you.
"Get to brekkie at the same time every day, set a daily deadline or bedtime,” says Mason.
“Putting sensible limits on sleep routines will make a huge difference. In fact, one bad night's sleep can dramatically affect a child's level of focus and problem-solving skills."
The week before the end of holidays is the time to focus on sleep routines. Make sure the holiday sleep routine mirrors your child’s term-time schedule.
When kids are at school, they are constantly being challenged. Regular practice hones any skill, so the school holidays are the perfect time to help your kids sharpen their critical thinking.
"School holidays let kids get out of the habit of being challenged, which is one of the most important elements of being in the classroom,” says Mason.
"A holiday is a fantastic opportunity to learn something new – learn to juggle, ride a bike, pick up a new skill. It can still be fun, but it will also help them return to everyday routine of school."
School is so much more than just academic learning – it’s also where kids pick up important social skills. Keep this in mind to find ways your child can hone these skills during the holidays.
“Catching up with school friends will make returning to school easier, as your child will have practiced his or her relationship-building."
Unfortunately, holidays often result in kids spending way too much time nose-deep in their phones, tablets and computer games.
"Screen time has a huge impact on a child,” says Mason. “Just as holidays can be used to help good behaviours develop, it doesn't take long for questionable behaviours to become bad habits.
You might want to work out a contract that puts a limit on screen time, or reward your child with the Wifi password once his or her chores are done,” says Mason. “It's just about avoiding the passive engagement with the screen."
The holidays are a great time to enjoy a treat or two, but changing your child’s diet can be a big disruption for them.
“Be aware that a holiday diet, especially around Easter, will have an effect on their behaviour,” says Mason.
“Of course it's ridiculous to think that you can avoid the chocolate completely, but just keep their diet as close to the one you follow during school term to make the transition easier."
Sleep, exercise and diet are important factors in a child staying on task at school. If you keep these elements similar during holidays, the shift to the classroom will be much smoother.
For the past 10 years Mimma has worked in Education and Cognitive Science with Clinicians, Educators, Coaches and Workplace Health professionals to raise awareness of brain health: how to measure brain health and how to improve everyday functional wellness and performance.
These techniques are helpful during the holidays, but they’re also good to keep in mind all year-round. "Parents are the ultimate teachers,” says Mason. “Keep engaging your child and deliberately challenging his or her thinking – the more you do something, the stronger that connection in your brain becomes."
You get better at what you practice, so focus on the skills that are critical to learning. If you’re an educator looking to understand how these ideas relate to focus at school, consider attending the Working Memory conference."
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