The holiday season is fast approaching and, as an early childhood educator and educational therapist, I am always interested in new and interesting ways to include children in holiday activities. I am especially interested in shifting the focus from receiving to giving during the holiday season—now that I am a mom of a 2-year old and expecting my second in the New Year, this is even more important to me. I want to foster and develop a spirit of gratitude and generosity in my children, and the more I talk with other parents the more I find they wish to do the same. To that end, here is my list of favorite family-friendly holiday activities that focus on giving rather than receiving:
1. Advent Calendar: Random Acts of Kindness
Instead of getting a tiny gift in each calendar date pocket, write a random act of kindness activity that you can do together as a family. Some examples are: volunteer in your local food pantry or soup kitchen, make cookies for your neighbors, visit a local senior center, draw a picture for an elderly neighbor, and write letters to deployed soldiers.
2. Holiday Gifting Box
This is another project that even the smallest members of your family can participate in. Make and decorate large gifting boxes (in other words, boxes where you'll collect gifts for others) to keep under your tree. The decorations on the box should personally reflect your family and can include baby/toddler painted footprints and drawings by your children as wrapping paper. Every day during the holiday season the family adds one item to the box. Examples include non-perishable food items for your local soup kitchen/food pantry, a gift box of hygiene products and non-perishable snacks to send to deployed soldiers, and/or a gift box of kids' toys and books for a children's hospital.
3. Kindness Elves
This is a fun activity that can be used in conjunction with Elf on the Shelf or as an alternative. It was created by a British mom-of-four and former teacher. Each day, parents can place the elves in various locations around their home. The elves leave a little note telling the family what act of kindness they should do that day; for example, an activity could be donating gently used clothes or donating a brand-new toy to a holiday toy drive. Families can order the entire Kindness Elves Kit (which includes a little elf house, elves, kindness notes, and many other goodies) from The Kindness Elves website. The Kindness Elves themselves are available in a variety of skin tones. Alternatively, if you're a particularly crafty family, you could DIY your own elves.
Here are some great activities that can help older children focus on the giving and gratitude part of the holiday season.
4. Give Before You Receive
For every gift you are planning to give your child, have him select a gently used toy to donate to a children's organization or homeless shelter.
5. Charitable Donations
Older children can brainstorm and think of creative ways to raise money to donate to charities (such as raking leaves or shoveling snow in the neighborhood, or holding a community bake sale).
6. Gratitude Journal
Have your child write down and/or draw at least one thing she is thankful for every night during the holiday season.
Heather N. Mackin, MSPED, MSc., MA (Econ.), is a New York City mom, special educator, early intervention therapist, and special needs advocate. She is the founder of The Learning Advocate, which is dedicated to advocating for the special instructional, behavioral, and emotional needs of students and those with food allergies. She can be reached at thelearningadvocate [at] gmail.com.