Have a Christmas Advent(ure)
One year my mother bought my kids an advent string of stockings. These little stockings were numbered from 1 to 24 and held a little treat. It was a way to show the kids how many more days until Christmas. Unfortunately, a treat a day (usually she put in candy) just made the excitement too much. The focus became on what do you get each day which was not the holiday sentiment I was trying to teach them. And so, after two years my mother decided it was my turn to fill the advent stockings. Instead of treats, I filled it with ideas. Something special we could do each day to build on the spirit of the season. This lens has the same idea, providing ideas for lessons to work into each day of December and to help strengthen the special meaning of the holiday season.
This lens is meant to provide you with ideas for fun and festivities with your children over the holiday season. You can do some, or do them all. Follow along each day or pick and choose what and when to do it. Most importantly is to enjoy the time together and capture the true spirit of the season!
Day 1 - Write a letter
A letter to Santa can make a good lesson in penmanship, proper letter writing etiquette and understanding the mail system.
Limit how many things are asked for because this is not a season that is just about the getting. Have them include a wish for someone else in the letter too!
Younger children can cut out pictures for their letter (practice scissor skills too) and even older children could get involved by writing a letter to a soldier that will not be home for the holidays.
This is also a good time to write out your Christmas Cards - personally signing and including a little note makes the card a simple and thoughtful gift.
Fun with the mail!
Follow up your letter writing with a little geography lesson about where the mail is going. If you send greetings to other countries it is important to know the cut-off dates to get the mail there on time. Show children on a map where the various letters are going. have them count out how much money a stamp going to various places would cost. Take a trip to the post office to send the letters/cards off!
This is also a great time to make a personal mailbox. You can use a shoe box or other small box, even an oatmeal tube would work. Decorate the box and include a flag to show when there is mail. Then use the box to put in the Christmas cards and letters that your family receives. Plan a time when the whole family is home to open the mailbox and read the cards. This is a great way to share some special family time, and encourage reading with your children.
Holidays Around the World
There are many different celebrations at this time of year. People celebrate all around the world.
Take this time to learn about some of the celebrations, to see how children around the world prepare for the holidays.
Find out if there are any celebrations in your area that reflect a different culture or nationality that you could watch. Our town has a strong German background and one of our living museums will often feature food and crafts from the German celebrations.
Talk to people in your community to find out what kind of celebrations they have, what traditions they keep in their family. You could use this opportunity to create interview questions and then data charts that track the different cultures or traditions.
Some Christmas Carols have their routes in different cultures so you could study them, sing them, and understand where they came from.
Play a holiday game!
Games are great fun and can be a learning experience too! Playing games strengthens co-operation skills, reading or counting skills, allows practice of taking turns and is a lot of fun.
You can bring a holiday theme to common games just by changing one aspect to reflect the holiday (like pin the tail on the reindeer). You could build a snowman in a game like Cootie where each dice roll would be one part to be built.
Some of the holidays around the world you learned about would have some fun and interesting games to play - like the dreidl.
The idea is to have fun, spend some time together and strengthen the spirit of the season!
Wrap it up!
Extend the focus of giving by making wrapping paper!
Sponges and paint can be used in a stamping activity to make designs on paper that once dry can be used to wrap presents.
Finger paints and hand prints offer a unique wrapping paper that family members could cherish for years to come!
Large sheets of paper to colour on also make nice wrapping paper. Let the children be creative and maybe even make matching tags.
Older children could volunteer at the wrapping centres most malls have. These centres are charity driven so gifts get wrapped and donations are given to a charity.
Plenty of skills can be learned in the kitchen. Helping with making cookies can be as simple as mixing ingredients in the bowl, cutting out cookie shapes or decorating the cookies after they have cooled. There are plenty of jobs for all ages to try.
Enjoy some science by mixing colours to see what colour of cookie or icing you can make. Try some math by dividing the recipe in half or doubling it. You could even see what things float while washing up the dishes afterwards!
Maybe you want to try a lesson in engineering and build yourselves a gingerbread house. Follow up the building with the story of the Gingerbread Boy or Hansel and Gretel!
Once the cookies are finished you can gift them to someone or have a tea party and enjoy them yourselves.
Day 7: Sleigh Ride
Going on a sleigh ride is a great way to combine history into your day. There are tree farms and parks that offer sleigh rides or wagon rides (depending on whether there is any snow). Or, you can have fun with a wagon or sleigh of your own.
Talk about the time before cars (horseless carriages). Study the carols Sleigh Ride or Jingle Bells and try to imagine travelling in that manner.
We have a pioneer village that gets all decked up at Christmas time - as it would be in 1912 - it is fun to learn how things were done back then!
While your on your sleigh ride you may want to pick out your tree (if you get a real tree that is).
Feed the birds
Since my son is allergic we don't have a real tree inside the house. However, we have one outside that we like to decorate for the birds and animals.
String cranberries in a chain to drape around the tree. You could also string raisins and peanuts in their shells.
Stuff pinecones with peanut butter (or other type of non-peanut spread) and roll it around in bird seed. Then hang them on the tree like ornaments.
You can make your own suet by melting bacon fat and adding nuts, seeds and raisins then let it harden into 'cakes'. String these to hang or place them as presents underneath the tree. If your in an area where there are deer, hanging small apples would also give them a treat.
If you don't have somewhere around your home to do this consider taking the items into a wooded area and leaving them as a gift for the wildlife there.
Plan to go shopping for a gift for the Angel tree, or Salvation Army or other place collecting gifts for the less fortunate. Don't forget places like the food bank and the humane society too!
Have a lesson about humanitarianism. Teach about how giving to a charity is a gift that gives back.
Children can clean out their rooms and find gently used books and toys that could be donated to Children's Aid Society or other similar organizations.
Making a card or gift and presenting it to someone at a nursing home, veteran's hospital or sending to a soldier is also a thoughtful gift giving idea.
Make tree ornaments
We have one tree in our house that is decorated all with home-made ornaments. Some, people have made for us in stitchery or other craftiness and others my kids have made over the years in Scouting, or at home. Now that my kids are older, I get to add on wonderful crafts from my nieces and nephews and other little ones in my life. It is a wonderful memory tree and something special each year.
When making decorations for your tree, or someone elses you can include a lesson on recycling and reusing. Many ornament crafts can be made out of things you have in your home, things you may usually toss out. The holidays is a great time to talk about helping our planet by using less (or re-using) and throwing out less.
My tree has gingerbread men made from brown paper sewn together with a little bit of filler and then decorated with buttons and ribbons. There is a Grinch stuck upside down in the chimney (made from a film canister, pom poms and chenille stems). We have a reindeer made from a candy cane and one from a burnt out Christmas light. There is also an angel made from a coffee filter and a star made out of popsicle sticks.
Put a variety of craft and recyclable items on the table and see what creative ornaments your children can make!
Home-made ornamentsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Day 11 - Light up your night!
At this time of year there are many homes and parks that are lit up with a beautiful display of lights. Pick a night to go and see these displays. If your town has a park that features a light display you are lucky to get a chance to see such an amazing thing. If not, you can still walk around the neighbourhood to see how people decorate. To add a bit of fun, create a bingo board with various symbols of the season on it and let the kids fill it with what they see. Reindeer, snowmen, wreaths, Santa, holly and more.
Getting ready to visit with Santa
Of course whenever my kids visited with Santa there was a photo taken. So to get ready for this photographic event, make frames to put that all important Santa photo in!
We made frames with fun foam, cutting out the middle for the picture then decorating the outside. We then stuck a magnet on the back so the framed photos could hang on the fridge!
You can also make frames using popsicle sticks or twigs, old Christmas cards, buttons, bottle caps, puzzle pieces - so many ideas!
Enjoy the Snow!
Whether you are in an area where there is snow or not this season is a great time to learn about snow, and the changing of the seasons.
Physical properties of water - from liguid to solid to gas is a fun science experiment and goes along with the study of snow and ice.
Snowflakes are unique and beautiful. You can try to catch them to study under a magnifying glass or make paper snowflakes and see how many different designs you can create!
The story of Jack Frost identifies ice on the window a form of art. If you have ice on the window see if you can see a picture in it - or make a snowflake stamp and then create a Jack Frost painting of your own!
Get outside and play in the snow (if you have some). The best way to learn about it is to see it, touch it even taste it. Snow angels, snow forts, snow painting - all great fun!
If you don't have snow - make some! There are various kits available to make snow
Read some holiday stories
This activity would be great to do every night leading up to Christmas but if you can't do that then one special night of stories is a great treat!
There are the usual stories, Night Before Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas but there are also many new, or not as popular ones that would also be great. You could incorporate some from other holidays or pick a bigger story to read from each night until Christmas.
Different stories reflect different aspects of the spirit of Christmas as well as usually carry a moral or two. These are things that can be discussed after the story, or the next day, to help bring an understanding to the concepts.
The Grinch learns that Christmas doesn't come in boxes, Rudolph learns that everyone as unique and has the ability to shine strong, even Ebenezer Scrooge finds a new meaning in Christmas and sharing!
Older children could help read aloud to little ones, or pick a book themselves that is inspiring.
Visit with Santa
Only ten days left until Christmas, this is a great time to visit with Santa!
The children can check that he received their letter and get their picture taken with the jolly old man.
Sing Christmas Carols
Christmas Carols really bring out the spirit of the season, in those that sing them, and those that hear them.
Teach your children a few carols that they can sing for neighbours, family or at a retirement home.
Try teaching them a song on a musical instrument! Many of the carols are simple to play and could be done on a piano, guitar or recorder.
Some of the carols originated in a different language, perhaps older children could try to learn them in German, French or whatever language the song was originally written.
Have them really understand the words of the song, research why that song is particularly sung at this time of year.
Watch some holiday movies
One of my favourite things to do at the holidays is watch the old holiday movies that I remember watching as a child. It brings back great memories of sitting around the TV with my brother and my parents, laughing and singing along.
So pick some holiday specials that you want to watch - either on TV or DVD. Make some popcorn, put on some cozy pajamas and enjoy some old classics.
What is your favourite classic Christmas movie?
Tell your own holiday stories
Now that you have watched some holiday movies, it is time to tell your own stories.
Make some puppets using popsicle sticks, straws, paper or brown lunch bags. These can be family members so you can recreate some of your favourite family traditions. Or they can be characters that illustrate a Christmas carol or maybe tell a story that shows the true Christmas spirit.
Older children may enjoy creating the stories in book form, or comic book form; drawing characters, writing dialogue and more.
Gather the family to watch the puppet play, or to have a reading of the stories created by the children.
Have a food drive
There are a variety of ways to help the food bank during the holiday season. You can pull a wagon around the neighbourhood to collect food to donate to the food bank. You might want to deliver notes in their mailboxes a few days before and maybe have them leave food on their porch for pick up. You can plan a trip to the grocery store to fill a bag for the food bank. Give them a budget, talk about good foods to include and let them learn about shopping and budgeting while collecting food to give.
Older children can volunteer their time at the food bank or a kitchen that will be serving holiday meals to the homeless. Meals on Wheels, or another organization that delivers meals to elderly people and people with disabilities may also have volunteer positions available.
Plan a holiday dinner
Get the children involved in planning the holiday meal. What are some of their favourite foods that they would like to include. Discuss food groups and how important it is to have a variety of foods from different groups. Maybe there is something the children can help prepare - wash or mash potatoes, stir the gravy. When children are involved in the preparing of food, they are often more likely to eat it too!
If younger children can't help with food preparation, have them help with setting the table, folding napkins or making place cards. This is a great time to teach about where each utensil goes and what they would be used for at the meal. Children could also draw pictures that you can cover with mack-tack, or laminate and then use them as placemats.
Box of wishes
The holiday season sometimes becomes very commercial, and focuses on wish lists of toys, and presents. In order to help children understand that the holiday season is about a feeling of goodwill you can help them create a wish box.
Start by decorating a box - no bigger than a shoebox - preferably something small enough to sit on the desk or table.
Then, on small pieces of paper, write a wish for the future. This is not a wish of something they want to get but a feeling of what they want to give, or what they want to do.
Once the rush of the holidays are over, take time each day to pull out a wish and make a plan as to how you can make that wish come true!
Understanding the spirit of Christmas
Throughout this advent(ure) you have tried to stress to your children about the spirit of Christmas. They can understand this further with some special quotes. You can study the quotes, find out more about the authors and make cards for family members using your favourite quote.
Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~Calvin Coolidge, 1927
What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace. ~Agnes M. Pahro
He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. ~Roy L. Smith
May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is love.
~Ada V. Hendricks
Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles. ~Author Unknown
Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts. ~Janice Maeditere
I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month. ~Harlan Miller
It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air. ~W.T. Ellis
The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. ~Burton Hillis
Have a Holiday party
Even if it is just your immediate family at home, a holiday party can be great fun and keep the kids busy while they wait for Christmas morning. This is a good time to enjoy some of the things you have created in your advent (ure). Exchange cards that you made, share cookies that you baked, and talk about your favourite family traditions. Children are excited about gifts so play a game of pass the parcel or guess what is in the box. Enjoy some family time together celebrating the season.
Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.
Dale Evans Rogers
May you enjoy Christmas, everyday!