7 Family Time and Learning Tips for the Holidays

Father and son holding snowballs

This blog post was originally published on PBS Parent. Read the full blog post.

The holiday season is here! Like most families, my household is already in a flurry of activity—decorating, purchasing gifts, preparing for guests and baking cookies and pies.

This is also a special time for family fun and togetherness. But with the holiday rush, the to-do list seems to grow exponentially by the minute.

In the busyness of the season, it’s important to keep learning and quality time with family at the top of the list while your kids are home on break from school.

Research shows that families who spend quality time together and connect activities at home to what children are learning in school have a stronger emotional bond and better communication—and the kids do better academically.

The holiday season also provides great opportunities to expose children to new ideas and information, reinforce skills and knowledge, and encourage creativity, which supports their success in school.

As you are shopping, baking and celebrating special traditions, here are some ideas to mix quality time with learning:

Create a Budget — Encourage your kids to write a list of the people they want to buy gifts for. Then have them allocate a certain amount for each person on their list. While shopping for gifts, help your kids keep track of spending and their remaining budget.

Cook Together — Include your children in meal prep and baking for holiday gatherings. It’s a great way to have fun and teach kids about cooking and nutrition. While you’re cooking, you can practice math and reading skills—and demonstrate cool science concepts through various cooking techniques.

Make Holiday Greeting Cards and Gifts — Have your kids write holiday cards or letters to family and friends. It’s a great opportunity for children to practice their handwriting, as well as their grammar, spelling and creative writing skills. Also, making gifts at home is a way to encourage creativity.

Explore Your City — When you feel a bit of cabin fever, plan a family outing. Many local parks and zoos feature light displays and other festivities to celebrate the season. You can also visit a local museum and historic sites, or see a play at a local theater.

Play Games — Playing board and trivia games during holiday get-togethers is a good way to enjoy quality time together. Look for ideas online. There are a variety of games—for all ages—that are fun and educational as well.

Enjoy the Great Outdoors — Play with your kids in the backyard or at a local park. If it snows, build a snowman or hit the slopes! You can find fun outdoor games that promote physical activity.

And Read Every Day — Take your kids to the local library and borrow books to read over the winter break. And spend time reading together—it helps children develop their literacy skills and excel academically.

Family schedules can be grueling during the holidays, but remember the most important part of the season is spending time with the people you love. And when you add learning to your quality time, it will enhance the special moments with your children and support their success.

Laura Bay is the president of National PTA, an educator from Poulsbo, Wash. and mother of three adult children.

The Smart Talk Holiday Gift Tags

The-Smart-Talk-Holiday-Tags-Horizontal-Wide-750x313Digital devices are topping holiday wish lists for many kids this year. Are you considering giving the gift of technology this year? Perhaps you are upgrading your smartphone and passing down your old phone to your child. Before your child starts using their new (or new used) smart device it’s important to set some smart ground rules.

While many new devices come with instruction booklets- they don’t cover things like who your kid should be “friending” or “following” and when they should share texts with a trusted adult. It’s up to parents to have clear conversations with their kids about using technology responsibly and that can leave many parents wondering where to start. The good news is that there’s a tool that makes the whole process a no-brainer.

LifeLock and the National PTA recently teamed up to create The Smart Talk, a free, online toolkit to help you set up—with your child—some technology ground rules. The goal? A healthier relationship with technology.

Just sit down with your child and review a series of questions on a variety of important, tech topics—from privacy to respect, from apps to social media. In about 15 minutes, you’ll have an agreement you can print, sign and post on the fridge for easy reference.

And just in time for the holidays, we also have gift tags that you can use to remind your family to talk about technology before the fun and games begin. Just print and use as tags on all your tech gifts!

Have a great holiday—and kick off the New Year with The Smart Talk!

Erin Thwaites is the Associate Manager, Health & Safety at National PTA.

Maryland PTA Helps Parents Interpret Results of New PARCC Assessments

parccThis past spring, millions of students across the country took the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments in English language arts/literacy and mathematics for the first time. Parents are now receiving their children’s scores from the tests.

Since these are new tests and assess skills like critical-thinking and problem-solving, the score reports may look different from reports provided to families from previous tests. As part of its ongoing commitment to help families navigate the changes taking place in classrooms, Maryland PTA collaborated with the Maryland State Department of Education to conduct webinars and in-person programs for parents across the state to answer their questions on the new assessments, help them interpret their children’s scores on the tests and empower them with tools and resources to support their children’s success. The information sessions also were designed to help parents work together with their children’s teachers and administrators to fill gaps in learning as determined from the PARCC results to ensure children graduate prepared for college and careers.

The PARCC tests measure the extent to which students are learning the knowledge and skills they need to progress in their K-12 education and beyond. The new score reports are designed to be actionable and be tools for parents to understand where their child is doing well and where there may be a need for additional support. This information, along with grades, teacher feedback and scores on other tests, will help give parents a more complete picture of how well their child is performing academically.

As part of the information sessions, Maryland PTA utilized BeALearningHero.org and Understandthescore.org. BeALearningHero.org features a search engine where parents can find tools and resources—in English and Spanish—specific to their child’s needs­. UnderstandTheScore.org includes a Score Report Guide to help parents identify the key factors that determine their child’s performance on the PARCC test, as well as his/her academic gaps and strengths in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Once parents pinpoint their child’s strengths or needs, they can connect to resources, tools and activities that support their child’s achievement.

We know every parent wants the best for their children and wants to support their learning in the most effective ways. Maryland PTA will continue to deliver regularly-updated, timely information to help parents feel confident and informed.

Parents can visit www.MDpta.org to learn more about the PARCC results and to receive regular updates with tools, tips and resources.

Elizabeth Ysla Leight is the president at Maryland PTA.

Family Reading Ideas for Holiday Break


Families should read together during holiday break to help make a smooth and successful return to school, without forgetting important skills students have already learned so far this year. There are many ways to read without cracking open a book. Get creative this holiday!

Here are some fun ideas to help your kids remember important school skills like reading, writing and math:

  1. Ditch those school books and replace them with fun classic holiday books. Make sure even the big kids are included by taking turns reading. My oldest loves reading the Night Before Christmas for her little sisters and cousins.
  2. Get your kids involved with holiday cooking. Have them read the recipe while you all prepare the meal. It works great with cookie baking, too!
  3. Make your holiday cards this year, have the kids write them out and display their art work. Who doesn’t love a handmade card?
  4. If you’re driving this holiday break, then use signs and license plates to find hidden alphabet letters, or try and find all the states license plates on a map. Have them color in each state on a map!
  5. Grocery shopping is always a fun way to practice counting and reading with your kids without them even knowing! The bigger kids can learn math by helping you stick to your budget. Tell them what you want and how much you’d like to spend. The smaller ones can read and cross off the items on the list. You can even give each child a color and they have to find items for it, for example, yellow = bananas.
  6. Play games as a family that require reading, math and spelling. One of my 6-year-old’s favorite games is Yahtzee! It was so much fun—everyone was playing, grandpa, uncles and aunts! She was so happy! Little did she know it was reinforcing her math skills.
  7. To keep your kids up on their computer skills, ask the teacher for links to the websites they use at school for math, spelling and reading.

Use your imagination because reading can be so much fun!

Julie Spence is the National PTA Family Reading Ambassador and 2015 #FamiliesRead Challenge winner.


Ditch the Sweets & Choose Healthy Fundraising: 5 Reasons to Start Today!


As the parent of three children, I understand how frustrating and overwhelming it can be to choose from all the options for school fundraisers.

Overwhelming because there are so many programs to choose from and frustrating because so many of them promote unhealthy snacks and candy.

From bake sales to pizza parties, it seems like unhealthy choices are coming at you from all directions.

Fortunately, there are more healthy fundraising options available. Active Schools Fundraising is an exciting new tool for PTAs, school groups and booster clubs. It will revolutionize your fundraising. Here’s how:

  1. Physical activity + online fundraising = a winning strategy. Active Schools Fundraising combines the power of online team-based fundraising with healthy, active events—like walk-a-thons or classroom fitness minute challenges—that families, teachers and school staff can get excited about.
  1. Your school keeps more of the money you raise. With Active Schools Fundraising, your school or PTA group keeps 75% of all funds raised online and 100% of onsite fees, such as registrations or giveaways. There are no start-up fees or costs, so the up-front investment is minimal.
  1. Walk-a-thon or Fun Run? It’s up to you! What is your school doing to be physically active? Have you held successful runs or physical activity events before? Use your knowledge to leverage the power of Active Schools Fundraising by adding online fundraising to your existing event. Join our monthly huddle calls to hear great ideas for structuring your events.
  1. You choose the event timing and schedule that works for you. Active Schools Fundraising allows you to plan your event anytime between Aug. 1 and Dec. 1 or Jan. 1 and June 30. Within those parameters, you set your event dates and total length of your fundraising campaign. (Hint: The most effective fundraisers are between 3-6 weeks in length.)
  1. Creativity rules! After signing up as the team captain, you can customize your team page using your own messages and photos, or use the standard messaging that we provide. Each team member also has the opportunity to create their own customized pages and add new team members. The more people you invite, the more money you raise!

Want to learn more? Visit ActiveSchoolsFundraising.org to sign up today.

Cass Isidro is the executive director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.