7 days of at-home spring break

Take kids on a different ‘trip’ each day—and sneak in some learning

Whether Spring Break 2020 was the last trip your family took—or the first trip you had to cancel (due to COVID-19 concerns), Spring Break 2021 might be a not-so-happy reminder that many families have been socially distanced, masked up, and living in bubbles for over a year.

With travel restrictions likely to remain in place for whatever spring break looks like this year, why not “go” on a full week of activities—without leaving home? To help you get started, we’ve created a sampler of seven different pandemic-proof spring breaks, one for each day of the week and all with a learning component. But don’t worry … these ideas are so fun your kid won’t figure that out.

SUNDAY: 'Visit' a national park—and learn about biodiversity

DISCOVER what biodiversity means—and what kids can do to preserve it. Researching national parks can show children why biological diversity (the variety of life in a place or on Earth) is important for the health of plants, animals, and humans. A great place to explore biodiversity is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park’s mix of plant-covered mountains, abundant rainfall, and high summer humidity nurtures a mind-boggling variety of life that’s reliant on the health of the entire ecosystem, including synchronous fireflies and 30 species of salamanders. Show kids how the park’s careful monitoring of human impact on the land also helps preserve its biodiversity.

DO: Fill kids’ backpacks with trail snacks, a water bottle, and a naturalist’s notebook (paper and markers). Then, hike into your yard or a corner of your house to find and observe "pocket worlds," little spots of nature in places like flower beds or houseplants. Examining these spaces gives kids a glimpse of how teeming with life the world can be, says Logan Rosenberg, youth programs manager with the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. “It’s amazing how when you slow down and get down, you see such variety of life,” he says. (Learn how to take kids on an indoor or backyard safari.)

MONDAY: 'Travel' overseas—and learn about culture

DISCOVER how exploring other cultures helps kids see things from different perspectives. At home, research international destinations based on something they love or dream about doing. Chocolate? Switzerland. Pyramids? Egypt. Soaring like a superhero? South Africa (home to some crazy-long ziplines).

DO: Pick three places to “visit” over one big globetrotting day. Eat, play, and live like families in each country. Rearrange furniture and use pillows and other items to recreate traditional living spaces: Mongolian yurt, Japanese tatami room, Finnish family sauna, etc. Practice local cultural etiquette; for instance, in Croatia, family members greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks. Learn some words in the local language, such as thank you (asante in Swahili) and ice cream (dondurma in Turkish). Play a popular game like Hacky-Sack-ish jegi chagi in South Korea or football (the soccer kind) most everywhere. (Here are some other popular international games.) For meals, make kid-friendly versions of culturally distinct street foods, such as South African bunny chow, curry served in a scooped-out quarter-loaf of white bread.

TUESDAY: 'Hang out' at the beach—and learn about protecting the ocean.

DISCOVER how humans and warming seas are changing the ocean and affecting the animals that live there. Observe sharks and other marine creatures with Google’s Underwater Street View and see if your kids can spot any damage (like bleached coral). Use the U.S. Geological Survey’s water cycle for kids to talk about how keeping trash out of rivers and creeks close to home helps keep the ocean healthy.

DO: Wear sunglasses and bathing suits. Pump wave sounds through a smart speaker or phone. Then look at an unspoiled ocean (a big glass bowl filled with water). Have kids add beachy things—sunscreen, bits of paper, plastic straws—to observe how skincare chemicals and other ocean trash hurts the ocean. Take a litter walk around your neighborhood to help prevent debris from reaching the sea.

WEDNESDAY: 'Go' camping—and learn about light pollution

DISCOVER how light litterbugs—things that create too much artificial light in the night sky—affect the natural behavior of sea turtles and other cool creatures (including humans!). Check out Dark Skies for Kids to connect light pollution to things that matter to kids. Work together to create a  night-sky-friendly home by only using outdoor lighting when and where you need it. “Light glaring up into the night sky is equivalent to a sprinkler spraying water onto a sidewalk—it’s wasteful,” says Bettymaya Foott of the International Dark Sky Association.

DO: Pitch a tent or build a blanket fort. Download a stargazing app to create a portable planetarium. After dark, go outside and point the app skyward. Identify twinkling objects kids can see overhead then check out the stargazing wonders—like meteor showers, the Milky Way, and Jupiter’s moons—they can’t see because of light pollution. Compare your family’s night sky observations with what others can see by joining a Globe at Night Spring 2021 citizen-science campaign.

THURSDAY: 'Visit' a theme park—and encourage creativity through STEAM.

 DISCOVER how STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) activities bring creative ideas to life as theme park attractions. Take a virtual tour of Walt Disney Imagineering to help kids start connecting stuff they’re learning in school to what engineers use to design and create fast, fun, and—sometimes—white-knuckle scary rides.

DO: Go all-in on the theme park concept. Find wacky hats and other silly gear to wear. Turn the kitchen table into a workshop equipped with paper, scissors, a tablet or laptop, and other theme park-design tools. Craft mini versions of Sleeping Beauty Castle and King Arthur Carrousel (it spins!) using these cut-and-paste activity sheets. Older kids can take a deeper dive into ride design using this two-hour, project-based course. (The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of National Geographic Partners.)

FRIDAY: 'Tour' museums—and foster curiosity 

DISCOVER exhibits matching your child’s interests—art, dinosaurs, music, whatever!—by taking virtual museum tours. Exploring world-class institutions like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History can encourage kids to want to learn more about a subject—and to visit museums when not-at-home vacations are safe again.

DO: Check out the Field Museum’s Science Hub at Home projects, which challenge kids to think like scientists (dino-obsessed kids will also enjoy the Mission to the Mesozoic learning game). After your tour, make your own family museum: Give everyone gallery space to curate and display an exhibit on something they collect or are curious about—comic books, slime, crawly bugs. Host an opening, complete with sparkling grape juice, cheese cubes, and other museum-y finger foods. Take turns describing your exhibits and sharing fun facts.

SATURDAY: 'Take' a road trip—and learn about geography

DISCOVER why geography—basically, looking at where things are and why they’re there—is way cooler than what you might’ve learned in school. “Geography is so much more than memorizing state capitals on a map,” says Nancee Hunter, director of Oregon’s Center for Geography Education. “It’s about looking at the interaction between people and places.” And that, Hunter explains, helps kids understand all sorts of things, from climate change to why we eat what we do.

DO: Brainstorm ideas for where to go. Use Google Maps street view to plot the route together, then pile into the “back seat” (a comfy couch) for a virtual ride. Try a world-famous road trip route like Iceland’s Ring Road. Go slow so kids can build an awareness of place by noticing what’s out the window: trees, buildings, landforms, weather. “Stop” the car to ask questions and look up answers: Why is the state line in the middle of a river? Where are the trees? How did Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, get its name?

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