March Break. Those two words can spur feelings of exhaustion for some parents faced with occupying their kids at home for five days straight.

But it doesn’t have to be so onerous, says a University of Guelph professor.

Jamie Gruman says parents need not fill up the week fighting the March Break crowds at museums, indoor play gyms and every other kid-friendly spot.

Simple activities kids can do at home are not only easy on the parents but also have plenty of benefits for kids too, said Gruman, a professor in the Department of Management and a founding member and chair of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association.

Take video games. “Now this may go against everything you equated to being a good parent, but this March Break you should feel guilt-free about letting your kids pick up a gaming console and playing for a bit,” Gruman said.

A recent study published in Economic Inquiry found that playing video games helps kids solve practical math problems. “This is because video games constantly bombard the player with problems that need solving, giving that part of their brain a serious workout,” he said.

Another recent study found that video game challenges can help players build feelings of competence. “This in turn improves self-esteem and mood, because the child experiences the positive effects of mastering a skill.”

Encourage children to spend time with a favourite hobby, Gruman said.

Whether it’s playing a musical instrument or playing sports, a hobby offers plenty of advantages for kids.

A recent German study showed learning a musical instrument during childhood and adolescence increases cognitive skills.

If it’s shooting hoops or another sport that your child enjoys, encourage him or her to go full throttle when playing, Gruman said. Findings show that kids who engage in high-intensity exercise have 13 per cent less stress compared to those who engage in moderate- to low-intensity exercise.

“But no matter what the activity, having a hobby that they enjoy doing on their own allows kids to express themselves and become who they are, both of which are associated with well-being.”

If your child has yet to pick up any sort of hobby or is looking for something new to do, March Break may be a good time to help them expand their activities, he added.

And if you’re still looking for options to fill up the five days, how about just spending time at home with your kids?

One recent study reported that adolescents who spent time with their parents had less stress, improved mood and greater enjoyment, regardless of the activity they were doing together.

“This can be as simple as watching television, sitting down to a meal as a family or even playing video games together,” Gruman said. “It doesn’t really matter what the activity is as long as you are sharing in it with them.”

Prof. Jamie Gruman
Department of Management
519 824-4120, Ext. 58730