There is nothing more joyful than sharing in the innocent delight that children have during the festive season - whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah (Chanukah) or one of the many other winter festivals, there are similarities that unite communities.
Families and friends come together to exchange gifts, homes are decorated with colour and sparkle and shops and streets are festooned with garlands and lights. There is certainly something magical in the air that spreads cheer and goodwill.
Making cards, gifts and decorations with your kids can seem like a great way to have some festive fun, until, with glitter in your hair (glitter everywhere!), PVA glue on your clothes, and one or more over-excited youngster on your hands, it all starts to get a little bit frantic. Somewhere among the good intentions and glitter, opportunities for quality family time, fun, learning and development can be missed and the whole thing becomes quite stressful.
Of course this is a bit of a cynical view, and festive preparations can be great fun, but it is a good reminder that the season is about much more than presents, glitter and glitz. Natural materials are in abundance at this time of year, and cost nothing. By all means, trim your creations with festive sparkle, but let your natural materials be the focus.
This time of year also reminds us to share and begin to recognise and value the differences and similarities of our diverse communities. It’s also a time to create new traditions – such as decorating an outdoor festive tree or reaching out to give something back to the community.
Decorate a tree outdoors
Nature is the best and most reliable art supplier you could ask for, even during the winter months. If you are lucky enough to have a wood nearby, or a tree in your outdoor area, let your little one select a tree they would like to decorate for the birds and wild animals. Low branches can be hung with homemade fat-balls – look online for recipes. Make garlands from monkey nuts and biodegradable string such as gardener’s jute (strong, fibrous thread) or twine for squirrels and birds.
Encourage children to find small twigs that can be bound together to make a star – it’s a great problem-solving activity for children to enjoy together or with your help, as they select appropriate materials, discuss measurements and decide how to join the pieces together (twine or jute again). Not everything has to be prepared indoors first. As with all outdoor activities, children will relish the opportunity to find interesting items such as acorn shells, crispy leaves or pinecones that will make unique ornaments to add to their chosen tree.
Fir cone ornaments
Find the cones together on a winter walk - a fir cone can be turned into a quirky robin, an owl or a hedgehog with the addition of some felt pieces and wobbly eyes.
Dip the fir cones in green paint and create a stand with plasticine or playdough to make your own Christmas tree. Let your child decorate each one in their own unique way with buttons or beads. Provide what they’ll need – glue, paint and felt shapes – but let them decide for themselves what their fir cone should end up as. Not only is this activity good for your little one to practice hand movement skills, but you’ll also end up with decorations unique to your child which can be treasured into future years.
Combine your natural materials with some junk modelling resources to make reindeers. A cardboard tube painted brown or covered with paper and twigs or pipe cleaners attached for antlers is all you need. The addition of a shaped piece of felt for a face, eyes and red nose will finish it off nicely. Again, do not worry about the end product being technically correct. Let your child experiment and interpret it any way they want to – that’s where the characteristics of playing, exploring and having fun are encouraged.
Pine tree ornaments
Any outlet selling real Christmas trees will have branch or trunk off-cuts. Ask if you can collect a bag for making lovely pine tree ornaments. Making them with cinnamon sticks is a nice idea, but any twigs will do. If you use cinnamon and real pine they will smell divine and if you do not include man-made materials they can also be hung on your outdoor tree.
It is becoming much more widely appreciated that glitter is a microplastic that is damaging to our environment. But if the thought of a winter without glitter and sparkle is too dark a thought to bear - fear not. There are plenty of eco-friendly biodegradable glitters coming onto the market and available on line.
Give something back…
There is as much pleasure in giving as there is in receiving gifts, and traditionally this time of year is associated with giving and the season of goodwill to all.
Children can enjoy the satisfaction of giving back by taking part in local community fundraisers – find out if your child’s nursery or pre-school are organising any fundraising events for local charities, or taking part in national initiatives such as Christmas Jumper Day that you can get involved in too.
Or, local children’s homes or women’s shelters, for example, are often grateful for small gifts and/or decorations to help make the period feel a bit more festive. These don’t need to be expensive items – they can be home-made tokens to brighten up another child’s day, and will give you and your little one a chance to get more involved in the local community whilst enjoying the unique satisfaction that giving back to your community can bring.
With so many naturally free resources available, you can also give a gift that the children have made – which will no doubt delight the recipients and brings us back nicely to the importance of sharing and caring at this time of year.
Written for the Pre-school Learning Alliance by Melanie Pilcher.
This post first appeared as Festive Fun — Keeping it Real, in December 2016.