Tag Archives: christmas

12 Days of Learning | Day 6: Holiday Stories

6 Dec

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Holiday stories, such as A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas, spark children’s imaginations and add excitement to the holiday season for both children and adults. Fun stories about reindeer, Santa, special train rides, and a variety of other holiday symbols help us celebrate hope and giving. If you don’t already have a tradition of reading holiday books and stories to your children, make sure you add it to your family’s holiday plans this year.

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Reading holiday stories is one of the most educational activities of the holiday season because it helps children build their literacy skills, but it’s important to remember that the purpose of reading holiday stories is to have fun and enjoy what you’re reading. Don’t pressure kids to read a story aloud or sound out words if they don’t want to because they can learn new skills just from hearing you read. If your kids mispronounce something they choose to read, then the best way to help them is to read the sentence or word correctly without criticizing their mistake.

In addition to helping improve your children’s literacy skills, reading holiday stories also gives you opportunities to spend time together as a family:

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1. Set special times to read holiday stories. Younger children will enjoy reading a holiday story before bedtime each night. If your children are older and busier, however, it’s best to pick a few special times during the holiday season that you can sit together as a family to read your favorite holiday stories.

2. Create your own holiday story. Write and illustrate a fun holiday story as a family or have each family member come up with their own holiday story to share. You can even have the story spiral bound or placed in a binder to make it look like a published book. The holiday stories your kids come up with will make wonderful family keepsakes and childhood mementos.

3. Act out holiday stories as a family. Encourage your children to be creative and use their imaginations to act out their favorite holiday stories. Choose at least one or two stories that will let the whole family dress up and be a part of the performance. This is a great way to engage children during the holiday season and will help bring their favorite holiday stories to life.

Our Favorite Holiday Books for Kids

If you want to add to your holiday book collection, we recommend Stick Man, The Mitten, The Elf on the Shelf, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Polar Express, and Snow.

Stick Man The MittenElf on the Shelf

Twelve Days of ChristmasThe Polar ExpressSnowCheck back Monday for Day 7 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Learning | Day 5: Give Back & Help Others

5 Dec

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The holiday season is a great time for your family to give back and help others. Family activities focused on helping others provide a positive example for your children and will help teach them about gratitude and charity. As we shared in our recent charity blog post, giving to others benefits people’s health and overall life satisfaction.

If you have young children, it’s important to first teach them the basic concepts of sharing, giving, and helping others. Once children understand these concepts, you can start explaining why some people and organizations need help. As your children age, encourage them to become more involved in family charity projects or to come up with their own charity project. You should also encourage older children to volunteer or find a way to include charity in their schoolwork. A 2010 survey found that parents are the biggest influence on a teenager’s charitable giving, so it is important to include charitable activities in your family’s holiday plans.

The holiday season provides numerous opportunities for your family to help others. The iconic Salvation Army bell ringers and red donation buckets, for example, are in front of most of the stores you will purchase groceries and gifts from this holiday season. Set a good example for your kids by donating any spare change or dollar bills you have and then encourage your children to do the same with their spare change. A number of families specifically give their young children a dollar bill or some spare change to place in the red buckets because it gives them an opportunity to practice charity. Here are some other ways your family can give back and help others this holiday season:

1. Donate new or gently-used items. Go through your family’s closets and donate any gently-used items you don’t wear anymore to homeless shelters, the Salvation Army, or Goodwill. Food banks also run low on food at this time of the year, so donate any extra items you have in your pantry or purchase canned food items at the grocery store to donate. Many schools have canned food drives this time of the year, which is a good way for your family to give back and get involved with your child’s school. Donating blood to the American Red Cross is another great way for parents and teens (17+ in most states) to give back. Keep in mind that many charities also accept monetary donations if your family wants to have a fundraiser for a specific charity or the charity your family wants to help is in another city or state.

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2. Volunteer your time. Volunteering is a simple and inexpensive way for your family to give back to the community. Find a charity to volunteer at as a family or encourage your older children to volunteer at a charity related to their interests throughout the year. Children who like animals, for example, may want to volunteer at an animal shelter, veterinarian’s office, or pet adoption fair. If your children like sports, encourage them to play a game for charity or volunteer to help coach a recreation sports team. Other places your family or children can volunteer include libraries, soup kitchens, nursing homes, hospitals, and senior centers.

3. Host a holiday charity party. Parties are a great way to include charity in your family’s holiday plans, and both children and adults can have a fun time at charity parties.  Ask guests to make a donation for your family’s favorite charity in lieu of a host or hostess gift, for example, or give the party a charity theme by asking guests to help you make packages to send to soldiers overseas. Making treat bags for the elderly, filling shoeboxes to send to children overseas, or purchasing and wrapping gifts for local families in need are other possible themes and activities for your family’s holiday charity party. This could even become an annual party your family hosts with a different theme and supported charity each year.

4. Make a special delivery. Allowing your children to see what their help means to people in need is a great way to reinforce the value of charity. Have your children deliver cookies and other holiday treats to the elderly or ask if your family can deliver the gifts you bought for a family in need. Asking children to read a holiday story to someone who is not able to read anymore is another way your children can experience the effect of charity. Other ideas include taking your children with you when you drop off any donations and letting them put any cards or packages intended for soldiers or people in need in the mail. Being a part of the delivery will make the experience more memorable for children and will help them increase their understanding of how charity works.

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Many families put a special focus on charity during the holidays, but remember that it’s important for your family to reinforce the value of charity throughout the year. Read our Five Ways to Encourage Charity blog post for even more ideas on how your family can give back and help others.

Check back tomorrow for Day 6 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

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!

Five Fun Holiday Traditions for Kids & the Kids at Heart

31 Oct

There’s a chill in the air and the daylight hours are getting shorter, which means the holidays are fast approaching. Pretty soon you’ll drive by a house lit up with Christmas lights and see Christmas trees for sale in store parking lots. You’ll start planning holiday dinners, putting up Christmas decorations, and scouring advertisements for the best deals (pssst, don’t forget to check our website). You’ll even make lists of what activities and traditions you want to do as a family because, after all, the best holidays are filled with anticipation and fun. Whether you’re looking to create new holiday traditions or are looking forward to your favorites, we have some great ideas for ways to build excitement and anticipation for the holiday season!

5 Fun Holiday Traditions

1. Adopt an Elf on the Shelf

“You better watch out / you better not cry / you better not pout / I’m telling you why…”

–“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (Fred Coots & Haven Gillespie)

Ever wondered how Santa knows if children are naughty or nice? He has his own little helpers, of course! Santa lets families adopt special elves every year to help him know which children need to go on the naughty and nice lists. When an elf is adopted by a family and given a name, the elf gains special Christmas magic that helps it fly to the North Pole every night to give Santa a daily report on the kids’ behavior. The elf then returns to its family and moves to a different observation spot each morning.

There are a couple rules every family must know when they adopt an elf:

  1. They may only touch the elf when absolutely necessary because the elf may lose its magic if it is touched.
  2. The elf will not speak, leave, or move until everyone in the house is asleep.

Adopted elves usually appear in homes at the beginning of the holiday season and then return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve until the start of next year’s holiday season. A timeless holiday classic, the Elf on the Shelf and its crazy antics will help fill your household with delight and laughter this holiday season.

Since we’re also one of Santa’s helpers, you can adopt an elf from us! Visit elfontheshelf.com for more information about the Elf on the Shelf tradition or to register your elf.

2. Count Down to the Holidays!

Build excitement for the holidays and help your children learn and develop skills with LEGO® Advent Calendars. Each 2013 holiday advent calendar comes with 24 gifts and objects in individual compartments, which allows children to open and build a new item each day until Christmas. LEGO® Advent Calendars help children learn about the holidays and increase their manual dexterity, creativity, and problem solving skills. These calendars are also fun ways to spend time as a family during the holidays.

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LEGO® City Advent Calendar

Perfect for children ages 5 years & up, LEGO® City Advent Calendar features opening windows that include 24 buildable gifts, such as a Christmas tree, sled, fireplace, snowman, and 8 minifigures.

LEGO® Star Wars™ Advent Calendar

Find your inner Jedi with the LEGO® Star Wars™ Advent Calendar. Perfect for Star Wars fans, it features 24 Star Wars™ themed gifts, such as Dooku’s Solar Sailer, Cloud car, Attack cruiser, 6 minifigures, 3 droids, and much more!

LEGO® Friends Advent Calendar

Build decorations and prepare for the holidays in Heartlake City with the LEGO® Friends Advent Calendar. This set includes Stephanie and Lily minifigures and a calendar with 24 buildable gifts, such as Stephanie’s snow scooter, a Christmas tree, snowman, ice skates, and sled.

Our popular LEGO® Building Plates can also help bring your advent calendar to life by allowing you to create, organize, and store your advent calendar gifts as you build them.

3. Have a Holiday Reading Tradition

Get your family in the holiday spirit by reading holiday books, which is also a great way to build children’s literacy skills and interest in reading. This is an activity that the whole family can enjoy due to the fond memories holiday stories invoke. If you have young children, try to read them a holiday story at bedtime each night. If the children in your family are older, however, have everyone pick out their favorite holiday stories and either take turns reading them or have a designated holiday story reader. We recommend The Polar Express and The Twelve Days of Christmas as two great books to include in your holiday reading.

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The Family Reading Partnership also has some fun ideas for holiday reading traditions:

  • Plan a family trip to the library to check out books to read at Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas.
  • If you don’t have a collection of holiday and winter books, start a collection of them for all ages. Enjoy them during the holiday season, but then put them away in a special container until next year.
  • Listen to a holiday audio book while you are baking cookies or decorating the tree.

For more holiday reading traditions and book suggestions, check out the Family Reading Partnership’s e-brochure on holiday reading.  Another great resource is readkiddoread.com, which is author James Patterson’s non-profit website that promotes literacy and helps parents find ways to encourage their children to read.

4. Make Creative, Delicious Treats

Many holiday traditions are tied to food or the preparation of food. Perhaps your family serves a particular meal or side dish every year at Thanksgiving or Christmas, for example, or your whole family congregates at one person’s house to fix Christmas Eve dinner. Whatever your holiday food traditions are, be sure that your traditions include foods and recipes that children can appreciate and help prepare. You can even incorporate a math lesson into the festivities by having kids count candies or measure ingredients!

Children love making gingerbread houses and baking and decorating cookies at this time of the year, so try to schedule a weekend for the family to make some holiday treats. If you like the idea of making a gingerbread house but don’t want to go to the trouble of actually making the gingerbread, try our Candy Cottage Party Pack. It includes a 4-pack of re-usable plastic gingerbread houses that your family can decorate for Christmas, Halloween, or any another occasion. All you need is some icing, candy, and cereal to start decorating them with after you snap the pieces together.

Baking and decorating cookies is also a fun holiday tradition that you and your kids can do together. Your family could even participate in a cookie swap with other families in your neighborhood as another fun holiday activity. Remember that cookies don’t necessarily have to be homemade for kids to enjoy decorating them, especially if you have time constraints on the activities you can do as a family. Just be sure to make some cookies you can leave out for Santa!

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If someone in your family is diabetic or allergic to an ingredient used to make cookies or gingerbread, you can still enjoy the favorite sweet treats of the holiday season. Our Counting Cookies™ Jar and Gingerbread Sort and Snap Cookies can help you spend time as a family and help kids learn to count, recognize colors and patterns, and develop fine motor skills.

5. Decorate Your Space for the Holidays

Decorating for the holidays is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the holiday season. Most people love decorating their Christmas tree or setting up a holiday display in their front yard, but many of those decorations aren’t very kid friendly. Be sure your kids are included in the decorating stage of the holidays by having them either pick out decorations or make their own homemade decorations.

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One decorating idea is to buy or make a holiday ornament for each child to put on your Christmas tree every year. You can also have them trace their hand to create the outline of a turkey, which they can then color and decorate. Another easy craft for children is to draw or cut out a snowflake design and then color and decorate it with glitter. Crafts like these are great for children to do while on break from school or when they have to stay indoors due to bad weather. Be sure to check out our Art section for all of your art and craft needs!

The Top Toys for Boys (And Girls!) Who Love Building

9 Dec

Have a child that’s fascinated by do-dads, gizmos, and whozawhatzits? The experts at Kaplan Toys are counting down their favorite toys for boys (and girls!) who love building! Sound like a little rascal you know? Trim down your shopping list in just a few clicks!

#5: Brick Block Set

Develop coordination and motor skills with these cardboard blocks! This brick block set is comprised of 44 pieces: 28 small bricks (6″ x 3″ x 3″), 8 medium bricks (6″ x 6″ x 3″), and 8 large bricks (12″ x 6″ x 3″).  2 years & up.

Item Number: 33316

Price: $46.95

#4: Magic Briks

These unique unbreakable blocks are so easy that even the youngest children can build! Soft bristles interlock when pushed together and stay attached until they are pulled apart. Set contains blocks in lots of shapes and sizes, plus wheels that really turn. 70 pieces. 3 years & up.

Item Number: 46263

Price: $26.95

#3: Totter Tower

A fantastic building activity that helps children develop a sense of geometry and spatial awareness, as well as hand-eye coordination. The distinct angle of the bamboo pieces create endless possibilities for making exciting shapes and structures. Play with it as a game or construction activity. Includes 24 angular bamboo rings and an activity guide. 3 years & up.

Item Number: 89253

Price: $39.95

#2: LEGO® My First Fire Station

The brave firefighters are on their way to put out a fire in their little firefighting cars. They have a lot of tools, like a ladder, fire axe, and fire hose, to help put out the blaze. DUPLO® bricks, figures and elements are colorful, safe and sturdy for little hands and big imaginations. 60 pieces. 2 – 5 years.

Item Number: 00762

Price: $29.95

#1: LEGO® Creator Street Speedster

Cruise the city in this sporty green speed machine with doors that open. Rebuilds into a hot rod or a speedy race car. All vehicles have opening doors, tons of details, and a green and white striping pattern. A cool 3-in-1 building experience. 165 pieces. 6 – 12 years.

Item Number: 00691

Price: $12.95

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