Fun ways your kids can keep learning in the Christmas holidays

WHETHER it’s learning to cook a roast dinner from scratch or building a den with pals, fun activities can help kids thrive. During the pandemic, families have struggled with juggling everything from finances and food to learning and staying active, with school holidays posing a particular challenge. But the Government-funded Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) […] ...

WHETHER it’s learning to cook a roast dinner from scratch or building a den with pals, fun activities can help kids thrive.

During the pandemic, families have struggled with juggling everything from finances and food to learning and staying active, with school holidays posing a particular challenge.

Get back out there: the Holiday Activities and Food Programme is giving children the chance to flourish this winter

But the Government-funded Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme is a vital lifeline, providing opportunities for children – especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds – and giving them access to healthy food and enriching activities during the Christmas, Easter and summer holidays.

HAF is available for children eligible for free schools meals, and for other vulnerable children that the Local Authority believe will benefit from the support.

The programme is part of a wider raft of resources available to help with educational attainment and keep kids healthy and happy as we all cope with the effects of coronavirus.

Making memories: the scheme is giving kids a little bit of normality, says Angela Gilmartin

Angela Gilmartin, one of the scheme’s leaders at Grimes Dyke Primary School in Leeds, says HAF has already been a success for hundreds of pupils – and the benefits could be long lasting.

She says: “It’s opened up so many opportunities. The skills they have developed and the experience they have gained – our children will cherish and take these things with them throughout their lives.”

Angela reveals five great ways parents can help their children grow and learn during the festive season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… to learn new skills

  1. Try to make time for the kids when you can. Join in and play with them. It helps the whole family develop together.
  2. Do meal preparation and manage the food budget together. Get everyone to take part in the cooking. It involves social skills, maths, communication – and it’s fun.
  3. Keep a dialogue going with your children to help their wellbeing. Talk to them without the screen on or a phone in your hand. Eat together. Ask what they have enjoyed about their day.
  4. Do something different as a family, even if it’s just playing a board game. We all have fears of the unknown, but this will help build confidence in both adults and kids.
  5. Use outdoor areas. It’s free and it gets you talking and learning – whether it’s bug hunting, walks or birdwatching. Let the kids get muddy!

Some parents have battled with unemployment and financial hardship during the pandemic, while others have faced the challenges of working alongside home schooling.

Angela says it has affected their community “socially, emotionally and mentally” – with the crisis leaving some children feeling isolated and inactive. But, thanks to HAF funding from the Government, lots of brilliant activities have been provided on the school premises, off site and online, for up to 120 eligible kids at a time.

Angela explains: “It’s been absolutely amazing. In the summer holidays we had lots of different activities including swimming lessons, cricket, pond dipping and birdwatching. We’ve brought in outside organisations to do things like teambuilding sessions.”

Mary Lock says HAF has been a “lifeline” for her children – Maisie, nine, a pupil at Grimes Dyke, and Emily, six.

“The last 18 months have taken their toll, so it has been fantastic – allowing the children to socialise with others in the holidays. They’ve done everything from dodgeball to swimming.

“It pushed them out of their comfort zone, boosted their confidence and allowed them to develop new skills.

“Maisie has learnt to cook things like chicken curry and its helped develop her knowledge about eating habits – and now we’re cooking those things together at home.”

Mary, who works in accounts, says she and her self-employed partner Craig found juggling work while looking after the kids challenging in the holidays.

But she adds: “The Holiday Activities and Food programme has really taken the stress off families like mine. Having that in place has been a real benefit and I urge all parents to take advantage of the opportunity.”

How can you catch up?

CHILDREN’s learning has been affected by the pandemic, but there are lots of opportunities so that kids of all ages can get the help they need to catch up and flourish.

The National Tutoring Programme offers tailored academic support – including one-to-one or small group tuition sessions – to those whose education has been most affected. To find out more and to see what opportunities could be available for your child, speak to their school or visit

There are also Oak National Academy resources, which you can use to supplement your child’s learning.

For more information on the resources and programmes available to help your child catch up, visit

For the upcoming festive break, Grimes Dyke is using HAF funding to pay for a visit to a farm with activities like bushcraft, archery and climbing. Plus, families will be offered a Christmas dinner pack of ingredients and a step-by-step online guide to help them cook at home.

Ready, set, bake! Maisie, a pupil at Grimes Dyke, whips up something tasty with the help of HAF funding

Angela adds: “Everything is structured and parents use a booking system for the activities.

“The children’s communication skills have really improved and they’re just happy to have a bit of normality in an environment where they feel safe with their friends again.

“Parents have said how important it has been too. We had a child in school who learnt how to make pizza and then went home and taught her mum. Now they’ve said they’ll never go back to buying a takeaway pizza again!”

As well as providing nutritional food and advice to families, the HAF funding has allowed the school to improve its allotment, with new food types planted for the kids to try.

Now Angela is urging all parents to ask about the opportunities in their local area and the extra support their children might be eligible for. “A lot of people do feel alone and that they need support,” she says. “This has been a brilliant opportunity to give something back to the children.”

Contact your local council or search “Holiday Activities and Food Programme” online to find out about the support and opportunities available to you in your area. Find out how your child can catch up with their studies at

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