12 Days of Learning | Day 4: Holiday Music

4 Dec

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Holiday music is steeped in tradition and is a fundamental part of people’s holiday spirit. The cheerful holiday tunes you hear at this time of the year are unlike any other because they exude love, hope, and joy. You can’t help but smile and sing along any time you hear songs such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” on the radio.

Children love listening to holiday music, so make sure you play some in the car and at home. You could even give your kids a radio for their bedroom, so they can fall asleep listening to it at night. It’s important for you to incorporate holiday music in your family’s holiday plans because holiday music is extremely engaging and provides many educational opportunities for children. Teaching children holiday songs, for example, is a great way to introduce new words and help children improve their memorization skills. Encouraging children to play holiday songs with musical instruments can also increase their creativity and help them develop a love for music. If children are younger, give them sleigh bells and jingle bells to ring and hold in their hands.

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You can also research the history of holiday music and share any interesting facts you find with your children. TLC’s Christmas Song Trivia is a great place to start. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) also lists some interesting facts about holiday songs:

  • “White Christmas” is the most recorded holiday song. It has over 500 versions in a variety of languages.
  • “Sleigh Ride” was originally written as an instrumental piece. The Boston Pops Orchestra first performed it at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1948, and it did not receive lyrics until Mitchell Parish added them in 1949.
  • “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Winter Wonderland” were both written in 1934 and are two of the oldest popular holiday songs still being regularly played on the radio.

The ASCAP also releases a list of the top ten most-played holiday songs each holiday season. The top ten most-played songs in 2012 included the following:

  1. “Sleigh Ride” – Performed by Leroy Anderson
  2. “Winter Wonderland” – Performed by Eurythmics
  3. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” – Performed by Harry Connick Jr.
  4. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Performed by the Carpenters
  5. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – Performed by Bruce Springsteen
  6. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” – Performed by Whitney Houston
  7. “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) – Performed by Nat King Cole
  8. “Jingle Bell Rock” – Performed by Bobby Helms
  9. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – Performed by Brenda Lee
  10.  “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” – Performed by Bing Crosby

Which holiday songs do you think will be most popular this year? Share your thoughts and your family’s favorite holiday songs on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Check back tomorrow for Day 5 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Learning | Day 3: Family Traditions

3 Dec

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The holidays are all about family, but the demands of the holiday season can sometimes take away from quality family time. Finding your kids the perfect gift or making the holidays as perfect as possible may seem important, but remember that the quality time you spend with your children can have a much more lasting impact. One great way to ensure quality family time this holiday season is to start a new family tradition.

Family traditions are a big part of the holidays and are one reason we enjoy them so much. It’s important to keep your family’s holiday traditions alive because children like the routine and normalcy they bring each year. Holiday family traditions will also be something that children fondly look back on as adults and possibly carry over into their own families. Here are a few tips to help you have quality family time, keep old family traditions alive, and start new traditions this holiday season:

1. If your family is really busy during the holidays, make an effort to include your kids in as many holiday activities as possible. This helps you incorporate family time as you complete your holiday to-do list and can also be the start of a new family tradition. Children will enjoy helping you bake delicious treats, decorate the house, and wrap gifts. Holiday activities also provide wonderful opportunities for your children to learn about a variety of educational concepts, such as measuring, colors, and numbers.

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2. Make helping others a part of your family traditions during the holidays. The holiday season is a great time to teach children about gratitude and charity. Volunteering and giving back as a family will help instill positive values in your children as they grow and learn. Two ways your family can help others is to donate groceries to a food bank or make cookies to give to the elderly. Also encourage children to make greeting cards and other arts and crafts to send to overseas troops or children’s hospitals. Toy drives are another popular way to give back for many families. Read our Five Ways to Encourage Charity and Help Kids Give Back and Importance of Raising a Grateful Child blog posts for more ideas and tips on how your family can help others.

3. Create special holiday activities for your family to enjoy. Reading holiday books, listening to holiday music, watching holiday movies, or sitting down with a warm cup of hot chocolate to talk or share holiday stories are some great holiday activities you can turn into family traditions. Schedule a holiday gift wrapping session to do as a family or go caroling throughout your neighborhood. Having a pajama morning and cooking a special breakfast together as a family is another tradition you can incorporate into your family’s holiday plans. Be sure to check out our Five Fun Holiday Traditions for Kids & the Kids at Heart blog post for some other great ideas.

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4. If your kids are older and a little more reluctant to participate in family activities during the holidays, include your kids’ friends in a few holiday traditions or activities. Including their friends will help encourage older children to participate more and will give them someone to talk to if a holiday tradition is intended for another age group. You could also throw a holiday party for your children and their friends if you have the time and space required.

5. Determine what’s important for your family. Sit down as a family at the beginning of the holiday season and plan out your calendar through the beginning of January. Figure out the amount of time you want to spend with immediate and extended family and decide which of the holiday parties or school events you really need or want to attend. Don’t be afraid to say no if something doesn’t benefit your family or creates a major problem in your family schedule. If your calendar still looks a little overwhelming, remember that organizing your schedule and prioritizing what your family really needs to do during the holiday season will help you spend more quality time together and give you the time needed to keep traditions alive and start new ones.

Check back tomorrow for Day 4 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Learning | Day 2: Christmas in Other Countries

2 Dec

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The holiday season is a great time to teach kids about diversity and how to appreciate differences. Research the ways people celebrate Christmas in other countries and then share what you find with your kids this holiday season. Children will love learning about how other people celebrate Christmas because it is something they can relate to and will find interesting. Here are a few facts from TLC’s Christmas Guide to help you get started:

Did You Know?

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– In China, Christmas trees are called “trees of light” and are decorated with lanterns, flowers, and red paper chains.

– In France, Christmas Day ends with the traditional bûche de Noël, which is a cake made to look like a Yule log.

– In Mexico, homes are decorated with lilies and evergreens during the Christmas season.

– In England, children send letters to Father Christmas by tossing their letters into the fire to help their wishes go up the chimney.

Keep in mind that Christmas is a good time to remind kids that people also celebrate different holidays and have different holiday traditions in the United States. Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, for example, are two holidays you can talk to children about at this time of the year. Here is some basic information about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa from the History Channel to help you get started with your research:

Fast Facts

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Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday celebrated by the Jewish community. Hanukkah usually falls in November or December and is often called the Festival of Lights. The lighting of the menorah, traditional Hanukkah foods (which are fried in oil), playing games, and exchanging gifts are just a few of the ways people celebrate Hanukkah.

Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa is a seven-day harvest celebration meant to help bring the African-American community together. Singing, dancing, storytelling, poetry reading, African drums, and traditional food are part of the celebrations that start on December 26. The Nguzo Saba, which are seven principles that embody values of African culture, are discussed and celebrated each of the seven nights.

The holidays are a great time to teach your kids about acceptance and diversity, but remember to reinforce what they learn throughout the year. Books, puzzles, and games about diversity will help teach kids about differences and will help them learn that it’s okay to be different.

Check back tomorrow for Day 3 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Learning | Day 1: Decorating Fun

29 Nov

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Many people, especially kids, love decorating for the holidays because the festive wreaths, Christmas trees, and other holiday decorations are symbols of the holiday season and heighten the anticipation of Christmas morning. Decorating for the holidays can provide plenty of educational opportunities for your kids and is also the perfect opportunity for your family to spend time together. We have some great tips to help make decorating fun and educational for your family:

1. Decide which decorations are best for your family.

The age of your children will help determine which decorations you should put up for the holidays. Young children, especially those becoming more mobile, will require extra safety measures to ensure that they don’t break something or injure themselves. One good safety measure to remember while you’re decorating is to make sure you put kid-friendly ornaments closer to the bottom of your Christmas tree if you have young children. You can still decorate the tree with delicate or glass ornaments, but you need to place them closer to the top of the tree to ensure that children can’t reach them.

If you’re worried your children might accidentally topple the tree over, try to place it in a room where you can shut the door to prevent kids from entering without an adult. You could even make that room a special holiday room in which your family spends time listening to Christmas music or reading holiday stories. If you use garland to decorate, make sure you secure it properly or place it where kids can’t reach because they may accidentally tear it down. You should be able to use a variety of decorations if your children are older. Just make sure that they understand any rules you may have, such as them not being able to light candles without an adult present.

2. Ask kids for their decorating ideas.

Kids can come up with some really creative ideas, so ask them for their input on where things should go or what decorations they would like to see. Being able to help decorate their home will add to kids’ excitement for the holidays and can help them start their own traditions. You can ask kids to pick out the Christmas tree topper or come up with a fun table centerpiece. It’s also a good idea to let children pick a few decorations they want to put in their own room. A small Christmas tree, Christmas rug, or a plush and cuddly snowman would be a great addition to a child’s bedroom during the holidays.

3. Create an ornament tradition.

Ornaments are a major part of holiday decorations, so come up with an ornament tradition that your whole family will love. One idea is to pick out or make an ornament for each of your children every year. When children are old enough, they can then pick out or make their own ornament. This would make a great family time activity and will give your children a collection of ornaments they can hang on their own Christmas tree when they are older. You could also purchase or make a family ornament each year and personalize it with pictures, names, or important dates and events.

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4. Incorporate science lessons while decorating.

There are a plethora of science lessons you can incorporate while decorating with your kids. As you decorate the Christmas tree, for example, talk about how it grew and ask children what they notice about its characteristics. Can they describe the texture, color, or smell? You could even take your children to a Christmas tree farm, so they can see where the trees come from while they pick one to take home. If you have an artificial tree, you can still talk to children about real Christmas trees or other Christmas plants, such as poinsettias and holly. Talking to kids about electricity and light bulbs in relation to Christmas lights is another science lesson you can incorporate while decorating with your kids. Ask them where they think electricity comes from or what they think makes Christmas lights so pretty.

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5. Come up with kid-friendly decorating tasks.

One great way to engage children and keep them occupied while you’re doing some of the more difficult holiday decorating tasks is to give them some of their own tasks to do. Have them complete a centerpiece bowl or basket by filling them with pine cones, beads, ornaments, candles, candy canes, or other small Christmas items. You can also have them stick bows onto presents or have them practice tying bows or making their own designs with ribbons. Another great idea is to have them make their own decorations or greeting cards to hang around the house. Consider purchasing a variety of art supplies to help your kids create their decorative masterpiece and to keep them engaged during the upcoming winter months.

6. Have a special holiday decoration for each of your kids.

Having their own decoration or holiday tradition will help children feel more involved in the holidays and increase their excitement for Christmas. Consider giving children a Christmas train set, holiday village, ornament set, or holiday stocking for them to put up every year. This helps children know what their decorating task will be and gives them something to look forward to each year. Regardless of which decorations your family chooses to put up, taking the time to include kids in the decorating fun will make the holiday season more enjoyable for the whole family.

Check back on Monday for Day 2 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

Popular Toys for Christmas 2013

27 Nov

We’ve compiled a list of our most popular toys for this holiday season to help make finding gift ideas and shopping for your kids a little easier. Whether you have young or older children, we have the perfect gift to help your children learn and play!

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Young Children:

1. Little People Airplane – For children ages 1 year and up, the Little People Airplane encourages children to use their imagination and helps children increase their gross motor skills. Little People Airplane has lights, sounds, talking, and a sing-along song to help engage children and teach them new sounds and words.

2. Busy Ball Drop – The Busy Ball Drop helps encourage repeated play and will engage children with its spinning activity balls. The tower can be built and taken down easily, which makes it a great toy for traveling or on-the-go activities.

3. Magna-Tiles® Clear Colors (32 pieces) – Kids will increase their gross motor skills and learn how to problem solve as they build fun 3-D objects with Magna-Tiles®. The 32-piece set includes squares and triangles in a variety of sizes, and the magnetic tiles will help make clean up fast and easy.

4. Rocking Puppy – Children will love this cute addition to your household. The Rocking Puppy is perfect for children who are learning to sit up and are gaining more mobility. Its high-back seat, easy-grip handles, and textured foot area also make this rocker safe for young children to use.

5. Lincoln Logs – Lincoln Logs is a classic favorite of both kids and adults. The Classic Edition includes 86 all-wood pieces, which allows kids to build their own log cabin and any other structures they can imagine.

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Busy Ball DropMagna-Tiles Clear Colors 32 piece setRocking PuppyLincoln Logs

Older Children:

1. Balloon Animal Kit – Older kids will love learning how to make balloon animals with this affordable kit. An instruction book, pump, and 20 balloons are included.

2. Transparent Marble Run – Children will enjoy tracking the course of their marbles as they make their way through the 48 transparent pieces. This is a great gift for children who like science or engineering.

3. LoopDeDoo Kit – Older children can let their creativity shine by making fun and unique friendship bracelets. Changing the thickness, thread quantity, looping style, and combination of colors will help them create a variety of different looks with the loopdedoo spinning tool.

4. Straws and Connectors – This 400 pack of straws and connectors enables children to build a variety of structures, such as a fort, tower, rocket, or bridge. Straws and Connectors can also be used to build scientific models or children’s own unique designs.

5. Rocket Race Car – Older children will enjoy learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion while they build their own race car. You supply the plastic bottle, but all other necessary parts and instructions are included in the kit.

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We’re Happy to Announce Our 2013 Holiday Blog Series: 12 Days of Learning!

Our 12 Days of Learning blog posts will feature tips on how to incorporate family time and educational opportunities into the holiday season. The first blog post will be available at noon on Friday, November 29. A new blog post will then be added each weekday through December 16. We hope you enjoy the 12 Days of Learning and can incorporate some of our tips into your family’s holiday plans.

Happy Holidays!

Five Ways to Encourage Charity and Help Kids Give Back

26 Nov

The commercialization of the holiday season can make it easy to forget that the holidays are supposed to be about giving instead of receiving.  Many children are so focused on the gifts they receive that parents often question whether their children are too self-absorbed to realize that they should be grateful for what they have in their lives. One way to help children be more grateful and understand the true meaning of the holiday season is to teach them about charity.KT_encourageChairity

Importance of Raising Charitable Kids

We discussed the importance of raising a grateful child in a previous blog post, but it is also important to teach children about charity because the two topics are deeply intertwined. People are more likely to be charitable if they are grateful, but being charitable can also cause people to develop an increased gratitude for what they have in life.

In a study recently published in PLoS ONE, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that giving to others makes children happier than when they receive something. The study also found that children who sacrificed something of their own gained more happiness than children who gave something that did not cost them anything. This suggests that children have a natural, genuine concern for others and can benefit from being charitable at a young age.

Learning to be charitable as a child will also help children experience the benefits of giving to others when they become adults. As reported by Maia Szalavitz in Time, volunteering regularly can decrease early mortality rates by 22%, reduce chances of depression, and increase a person’s life satisfaction and happiness. These scientific findings prove that encouraging children to volunteer and help others at an early age will help them live longer and happier lives.

Five Ways to Encourage Charity

Teaching kids to give back and help others isn’t always easy, especially if your family is pressed for time, but the benefits your family gains from helping others will be well worth any scheduling conflicts you have to conquer. The following five tips are great ways for you to encourage charity and help your kids and family give back to the community:

1. Be a good role model.

If you want your children to be charitable, it’s important for you to set a positive example for them to follow. This doesn’t mean you have to head a fundraising committee or spend a lot of hours volunteering; small and simple charitable acts can have just as much of an impact on children as the larger ones. Giving any spare change you have, donating gently used items, or buying extra food to take to your local food bank are all great ways to show your child that you think helping others is important.

2. Talk to your children about charity.

Have a greater impact with children by making an effort to talk to them about charity in conjunction with being a good role model. Women Give 2013, a study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, found that “talking to children about charity has a greater impact on children’s giving than role modeling alone.” The study also found that talking to children about charity and helping others is “equally effective” regardless of the parent’s income level or the child’s gender, race, and age. Encourage discussions about charity at the dinner table or after children do something charitable. It’s better to give them an explanation of why what they’re doing matters instead of just telling them that they need to do it. Reading books, such as The Lion and the Mouse and the books in our Learn to Get Along Book Set, can also help you and your kids discuss the importance of helping others.

3. Make giving to others a family tradition.

Making charity a family tradition will help your children feel more comfortable volunteering and will also provide additional opportunities for you to be a good role model for your kids. One popular tradition for many families this time of the year is to volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or food banks. These types of volunteer experiences are good for older children, but you may want to consider other ways to give back if you have young children. In a recent article, CNBC’s Kelley Holland reports that families with young children should skip volunteering at soup kitchens because kids do not learn as much from the experience since they cannot help serve hot food or be around stoves and knives. Volunteering at toy drives or delivering fruit baskets and gifts to hospitals and the elderly may be more appropriate charitable family traditions when your children are younger.

4. Come up with creative ways to give back.

You don’t have to volunteer in soup kitchens or serve the homeless a Thanksgiving meal in order to be charitable. Donating gifts for Toys for Tots or for the Salvation Army Angel Tree are great ways for your family to give back this time of the year. You can also make giving back a little more personal for your kids by having them create their own projects or make their own greeting cards to send to soldiers or the elderly. Many charities have a spike in volunteers during November and December, so try to think of places that may not be getting the volunteers they need this time of the year. If an organization has all the help they need right now, it’s best for you to find a charity truly in need of the help your family can give.

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5. Pick charity projects that your kids and family will enjoy.

Strive to pick charity projects that let your children see how their actions truly impact and help others because the concrete evidence they gain from those experiences will help reinforce the value of charity. Your family will enjoy and learn more from the projects they can connect with, so try to find projects that match your family’s interests, hobbies, and charitable causes. Another idea is for your family to come up with your own unique project to help meet an unmet need in the community. If your family is really busy during the holiday season, then come up with charity projects you can do together as a family at other times of the year. Try donating food items during the summer months, playing a baseball game for charity, or running a 5K race as a family to benefit an important cause. Remember that it’s always a good idea to encourage your children to be charitable and give back throughout the year.

References

Aknin, Lara B., J. Kiley Hamlin, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. “Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children.” PLoS ONE. PLoS ONE 7.6 (2012): 3. PDF file. 18 Nov. 2013.

Holland, Kelley. “Teaching kids charity? Skip the soup kitchen trip.” CNBC. CNBC LLC, 18 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

Szalavitz, Maia. “Helping Others Helps You to Live Longer.” Time. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

“Women Give 2013: New Research on Charitable Giving by Girls and Boys.” Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 2013. PDF file. 15 Nov. 2013.

The Importance of Raising a Grateful Child

20 Nov

Does your child say thank you when they receive a gift or someone does something nice for them? Or do they complain that it wasn’t what they wanted or say nothing at all? Thankfulness is a common topic in schools and at home this time of the year, but being grateful shouldn’t be something you discuss only during the holidays. A child will never learn the true value of being grateful if it is not reinforced throughout the year. Keep in mind that gratefulness isn’t a skill people have when they are born, so a child’s ability to count their blessings must be taught and nurtured.

Benefits of Being Grateful

In addition to having good manners, children and adults who frequently feel grateful experience numerous benefits. As reported by Melinda Beck in The Wall Street Journal, recent studies have shown that kids who are grateful “tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches and feel more satisfied with their friends, families, and schools” than kids who are not grateful. These findings are great indicators of how important it is to teach children to be grateful, especially since many of the benefits children gain from being grateful carry over into adulthood. In her Wall Street Journal article, Beck also shares how being grateful can positively influence an adult’s health, relationships, and overall success due to the following factors:

  • Grateful adults generally feel happier and have increased energy, optimism, and social connections.
  • They also have a lesser chance of becoming depressed, envious, greedy, or dependent on alcoholic beverages.
  • In addition to these benefits, grateful adults have higher incomes, sleep better, exercise more often, and have better immune systems.

These scientific findings prove that knowing how to say a sincere thank you and being grateful for what you have can positively impact every aspect of your life as a child and as an adult.

Raising a Grateful Child

Helping kids understand the concept of being grateful will be something you need to reinforce through constant practice and nurturing. Children who are young or very shy may be especially reluctant to share their gratitude, which may be frustrating for parents. If children don’t express their thanks when appropriate, say it for them. As you teach children about gratitude, be patient and remember that being grateful is something that both children and adults have difficulty in mastering. Here are five great tips you can use to encourage and teach gratitude in your family:

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1. Be a good role model for your kids. Children learn by example, so make sure you are making an effort to be grateful in your own life. Try to think and talk positively about difficult situations and people you may not like.
2. Practice being grateful as a family. Take time to discuss what each person in the family is grateful for daily or weekly. This is a great reminder of what individual family members and the family as a whole can be thankful for throughout the year.
3. Teach children the value of a sincere thank you. Knowing how to express a sincere thank you will help children make an impression now and in the future. People want to be appreciated for what they do, and acknowledging even the simplest things will help people think more positively of a person.
4. Find alternative ways for children to say thank you. Try to come up with creative and engaging ways to help encourage children to say thank you. Have them draw pictures or do a craft to give someone as a thank you, for example, or teach them to say thank you in sign language or another language.
5. Provide opportunities for children to practice and learn about being grateful. A few of the toys children play with and the books they read should promote thankfulness in some way. Greta the Grateful Goldfish is one example of a children’s book that helps kids learn about being grateful. Also encourage children to say thank you when they pretend play or ask if their favorite toys and stuffed animals know how to say thank you.

Gratitude helps foster charity, so encourage children to give back as you teach them about gratitude. Be on the lookout for our upcoming blog post about teaching children the importance of giving back. We hope you and your family have a happy Thanksgiving!

References

Beck, Melinda. “Thank You. No, Thank You.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 23 Nov. 2010. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.

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