Dr. Bob Wilmott

Dr. Bob Wilmott is chief of pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.

For kids across the region, it's the "most wonderful time of the year." In addition to holidays and spending extra time with families, schools will close their doors while many people celebrate their respective religious festivals. However, being "home for the holidays" doesn't mean children can't continue the learning.

Kids certainly deserve a break from the classroom but parents can encourage a good balance of relaxation and staying mentally active. There are many activities families can do to keep young minds developing and learning while still enjoying a break from school.

A favorite pastime during the holiday season is watching holiday movies, but there are many iconic Christmas books as well. Young bookworms will enjoy curling up with these, but children who are not natural readers may need an extra boost of encouragement. For these reluctant readers, parents can encourage children to write their own holiday story by prompting them with funny questions — such as, "How do farm animals celebrate Christmas?"

One terrific activity that lends itself well to the season is inviting kids to give Mom or Dad a hand baking holiday cookies. Preparing food is a fun activity but it also teaches children about measurements and following a recipe to create something good. Many families have wonderful stories and memories about the specific treats they choose to prepare, and creating them with children is a great way to pass on this family knowledge and nurture a tradition. Even the smallest kids can be given jobs in the kitchen, such as stirring ingredients or gathering supplies.

Likewise, families can choose to make holiday crafts or even homemade gifts. Many websites are devoted to child crafting, and many offer step-by-step instructions on how to create treasures from common household items. Whether your child is measuring ingredients for the family's famous fudge or material for homemade sachets, creating something together is a wonderful way to show how following directions can yield wonderful (and delicious) results.

For picture-savvy families, kids can have a great time creating scrapbooks with photos taken throughout the year. This can be a great bonding time for families to remember special moments through 2011 while allowing the kids creative license to showcase their favorite memories in unique and interesting ways. By making collages that depict the months of the year, my daughters have created calendars that they had printed to give to family and friends.

The holidays often bring extra family time, and parents can use the opportunity to encourage their children to do nice things for family members and other loved ones. Homemade cookies and crafts can be given to grandparents as a holiday gift or even a "Tuesday before Christmas because I love you" present. Photos that children color themselves can be delivered to neighbors and playmates to remind children of the importance of connecting to a community and doing things to make other people happy.

There is much to be said for making ourselves happy, too. The holiday break might be a wonderful time to introduce your child to a new hobby or encourage them to do something that makes them feel good about themselves. Your child will have many ideas of things that will make them happy, but if a flying pony that owns a candy store isn't in your family's budget, you can come up with creative alternatives. Rearranging their bedroom and creating some fun art for the walls might be an option.

No matter what activity you and your children land on, it's important to keep their minds moving. Relaxation is a wonderful thing and kids deserve it as much as adults, but finding fun and engaging activities will keep their minds stimulated while creating lasting memories.

Dr. Bob Wilmott is chief of pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and is a professor of pediatric medicine at St. Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child's health, go to the "Ask Dr. Bob" section of the Cardinal Glennon at