Tag Archives: christmas

12 Days of Learning | Day 8: Special Holiday Events

10 Dec

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There’s a reason the holiday season is called the most wonderful time of the year, so make sure your family goes out and enjoys the special holiday events for kids and families that occur near your neighborhood. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

1. Go caroling as a family. Many church groups and other community organizations plan special nights to go caroling in the community. Sign your family up to go with one of these groups or create your own caroling group if no one is planning one in your community.

2. Take a family sleigh ride. Sleigh rides are often offered at winter festivals and other events. This is a great family activity and an excellent opportunity to teach your children about holiday traditions. Your family can even sing “Jingle Bells” and other fun Christmas carols as you ride in the sleigh.

3. Drive or walk through a light festival with your family. Children and adults both love to look at Christmas lights, which makes going to a light festival the perfect family activity for the holidays. Ask children what they think about the light displays and go for hot chocolate afterwards to spend more time together as a family.

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4. Take your kids to special events at your local bookstore, library, art store, or children’s museum. Many bookstores and libraries have special holiday storytimes and activities for both kids and adults. Also check with your local art store and children’s museum to see if they are going to have any special holiday crafts or exhibits for kids.

5. Attend your community’s Christmas parade, Christmas tree lighting, or other holiday events. This is a great opportunity for your children to learn about the people in their community. Involving your children in community events also helps build a good foundation for teaching them about charity and volunteering.

6. Take your kids to see holiday concerts and plays, such as The Nutcracker. Holiday concerts and plays provide wonderful opportunities to teach your children about culture. If you attend a concert, ask children to point out the different instruments that they have at home. Music toys that are similar to the instruments they see also make excellent holiday gifts for kids.

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7. Come up with your own holiday event at home. If you have young children or are watching your budget this year, create your own special holiday concert or play at home. You can perform a family play with puppets and puppet theaters, for example, or you can have your own holiday parade by everyone dressing up as different characters.

8. Take your kids to see Santa and encourage them to write him a letter. If your family takes part in Christmas, find a mall or other location that has times where children can come see Santa. This will create fun memories for children each Christmas. Writing letters to Santa is also a wonderful family time activity and will help put everyone in the Christmas spirit.

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9. Help your kids track Santa on Christmas Eve. Children will enjoy keeping track of Santa’s whereabouts on Christmas Eve with the improved Santa Tracker website from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The new website counts down the time until Christmas and lets children digitally visit the North Pole to learn about NORAD’s mission and how they track Santa. Children can also play a variety of fun holiday games on the website with a new game released daily. Keep in mind that tracking Santa on Christmas Eve is also an excellent opportunity for children to learn about geography in a fun way.

Check back tomorrow for Day 9 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Learning | Day 7: It’s the Thought That Counts

9 Dec

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Are you working with a budget this holiday season? Or are you searching for gifts that your kids and family will find meaningful? Handmade and homemade items are the perfect way for you to provide meaningful and budget-friendly gifts for all of the people on your holiday list. Making items at home and purchasing handmade items will also help teach your children that it’s the thought that counts.

You don’t have to give expensive presents for people to know that you care about and value them. Small, inexpensive gifts that show you put some thought into what to buy or make someone can have just as much or more value than extravagant gifts. This is a great lesson for kids to learn because it gives them experiences and ideas they can compare to the materialistic world they encounter every day.

If you decide to make your own homemade gifts or purchase affordable handmade gifts this year, make an effort to include your kids as much as possible because experiences like these will help children understand the value of budgeting and being thoughtful. Children will enjoy the opportunity to be creative as they practice and develop new skills while helping you get ready for the holidays. Be sure to browse our art section for any art and craft supplies you may need. Here are a few budget-and-kid-friendly tips to keep in mind as you plan your holiday gift list:

1. Have your kids make holiday cards instead of buying them this year. This is a great creative project for kids because it will keep them engaged and make them feel like they are contributing something to your family’s holiday planning. It will also save you money because greeting cards can be expensive.

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2. Come up with DIY presents you or your kids can make for the people on your holiday gift list. The popular book 101 Great Gifts Kids Can Make provides unique gift ideas that children ages three to eight can make for family members, teachers, and other special people in their lives. The book is available in paperback and eBook formats. You can also browse Pinterest to find other ideas for gifts your kids can make and homemade gifts you can make for your kids.

3. Visit holiday festivals and fairs to find affordable handmade items. Some handmade items can be expensive, but you should be able to find a number of local artists and companies that sell their work for reasonable prices. Holiday festivals are also a great place to take the kids!

4. Make cookies, cakes, and other treats to give as gifts. This is a fairly inexpensive and enjoyable way to give gifts. People who are extremely busy at this time of the year or can no longer bake their own cookies will enjoy receiving homemade treats. Baking is also a great way to teach your kids about nutrition, measuring, and counting as you spend time as a family.

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5. If you don’t have time to make something homemade, look for budget-friendly items in stores and online. Kaplan Toys offers a variety of fun and educational items that can fit in any budget. Browse our Great Gifts for Under $10 and Great Gifts for Under $20 to find affordable gifts that your kids will love.

Check back tomorrow for Day 8 of our 12 Days of Learning!

Happy Holidays!

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.

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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!