During winter break, school children may spend many unsupervised hours watching television, viewing everything from videos to reality shows. While parents cannot turn off the TV when they’re at work, they can create ways to make their children’s television viewing educational and entertaining.

Before you dash out the door in the morning, give your children paper, pencil, a list of the appropriate shows to watch, and activities such as those below:

Judging Court TV

On a weekday afternoon, it’s hard to flip channels without being drawn into some colorful court case. Whether it’s Judge Mathis or Judge Joe Brown, our kids love the arguments that swell from a jilted lover’s unpaid parking tickets.

Fortunately, Court TV can help our children master listening and comprehension skills instead of just the callous retorts. For example, your child can summarize the arguments of both the plaintiff and defendant by writing a brief paragraph about what each party wants and why. Summarizing is an important comprehension skill that students in all grade levels should master. You can also have your children identify statements that are relevant and irrelevant to the case. Have them write two columns on a sheet of paper, labeling one column IMPORTANT and the other one NOT IMPORTANT. Then have them listen to the case and write statements in the appropriate columns. This activity will help children become better listeners and note-takers.

Analyzing the news

Often news broadcasts, packed with local, world, and entertainment news, can overwhelm our children. Encourage your child to pull out the important elements of the news in order to become a more critical thinker.

By second grade, students should have a basic understanding of the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When, and Why questions that detail any event or story). While your little ones are watching the news, have them identify the 5Ws in each story. Perhaps your child only has the attention span to view the 5-Day forecast. Have him or her practice math skills by creating a line graph that shows the temperatures for the next five days. For upper-grade students, have them create a double-line graph to show the highs and lows. Such activities will allow your child to not only learn about current events, but utilize the skills they learn in school.

Cooking with words

Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart are two of the most popular cooks on television. We like them because they make tasty dishes and seem to have fun doing so. You’ll find that your kids will love them, too.

Because cooking is an active task, cooks use many active verbs while showing viewers how to prepare a dish. Use these famous television personalities to help your children broaden their vocabulary and become better writers. First, explain to your child the meaning of active verbs (verbs that show action, such as “march,” “dance,” and “tackle”). Then have him or her watch a cooking show in order to list all the active verbs spoken, such as “sautĂ©,” “dice,” “slice,” and “broil”. After work, review your child’s verb list, having them cross out the verbs that aren’t active (non-active verbs include “am,” “were,” and “is”). Then have them write a story, poem, or paragraph using the active verbs.

Cooking shows are also a great way to introduce your child to new foods. On a sheet of paper, have your child list ingredients from the show that they don’t eat regularly. For example, we often cook with ground beef and garlic, but when is the last time your family has had veal or horseradish? Using your child’s list, go to the grocery store and look for these items. Have your child observe, touch, and smell each item. Then have them draw a picture of it in their notebook and label it. Before long, your child will be asking you to pass the paprika instead of the salt.

This winter break, give your kids work that makes them think critically about what they watch. You’ll not only help them learn, but you’ll find out what you’re missing on television.