So far as I know, none of us owns a fully-functioning crystal with which to look into our future. Even so, the grocery store tabloids are screaming with front-page predictions about almost everyone and nearly everything that could possibly happen in 2012. While I don't encourage children to read the tabloids, it is sometimes fun to use a New Year's Eve to both teach about the untrustworthiness of tabloid journalism [for older kids] and create some family entertainment for this new year AND the next new year's eve. Here is how it works...........
--Explain about predictions if your children are young. If they are older maybe grab a typical tabloid to show the range and sometimes silliness of predictions.
--Ask each member of the family to make some predictions for the New Year 2012 and then sign their name to their list. [Help younger kids by acting as their secretary.]
+++ include possible accomplishments, activities, and some silly things for fun too!
-- Explain that you will save these lists until next New Year's Eve when you will reopen them and see if anyone got some predictions right! [Maybe stick in a $10 bill for the person who has the most predictions correct??]
--Make a family ceremony of sealing the predictions in an envelope and marking it "Do NOT open until December 31, 2011" before placing it in a location for safe-keeping. Mark your calendar [paper or digital] to remind you a few days before next New Year's Eve to dig out the envelope and place it in full view, ready for the grand reveal!
Note: Maybe even save those tabloid predictions to see who does better?
Lots of morning television shows have spent the last week airing compilations of the previous year's highlights. The funniest moments.... the most significant stories... the ups ups and downs... you name it.
For some family New Year's Eve fun... create your family's ownYear In Review!
1. Take out some paper as you all sit around the table and have each person write down the most important things that happened during the last year.... If some are too small to write, or don't like to do the writing, then make one master list with you as secretary.
--List accomplishments [ex: first steps, first bike, first job, first A, making it to the top of the jungle gym]
--List challenges [ex: broken arm, new school, friend moving away, lost job, new job]
--List favorite activities [ex: bedtime stories, picking apples, going to the beach or pool, a family vacation, a favorite tv show or game]
--List favorite people [ex: friends, idols, favorite singers or actors]
2. Put the lists into a large manila envelope labeled "New Year's Eve 2011." Maybe even include a calendar.
3. Take a photo of all of you holding the envelope [with the year showing!]. Or make it one of just the kids holding a banner with the year 2011 in large colorful numbers.
4. Put the photo in the envelope and keep the envelope in a safe place.
5. Next New Year's Eve after you have made your 2012 Year in Review lists.... open the envelope and see how much the other lists have changed from the ones you made New Year's Eve 2011. Who knows, it might become a family tradition. In any case... save the envelopes you make as mini-time capsules of your family history!
PS: I am posting this BEFORE New Year's Eve to give you time to get the envelope etc, or to break it over two days with the kids to fill the time or improve vacation dispositions!
All too often we rush into the holidays and when they are over, are even faster to erase them. Instead take a few moments to savor the bright spots of the holiday...
1. If you live in the right spot... drink in the beauty of fresh snow before diving into the drudgery of shoveling.
2. Go online and view some of the great holiday flash mobs. [My favorite this year is the one from Carlson School of Management. It starts quietly and simply and builds to a joyful exhuberance that is energizing.]
3. If you are a faith based Christian family [with a sense of humor] check out the contest winners of the annual Nativity Factor's contest to retell the Nativity Story. lst place [a cleric's beatbox version] 2nd place [a "movie trailor" for The Greatest Story Ever Told] set in modern times. 3rd place was a three way tie: My favorite was the irascible innkeeper's viewpoint and transformation, but you can access the other two [modern wise men's expedition and a King's Cross Nativity] from the other sites easily.
4. Last, but FAR from least is to take a couple of half hour chunks out of your schedule to actually sit and play the gifted game with your child, or reading a chapter from the gifted book to your child, or even just drive them around at night to see the lighted decorations before they all come down. [Try doing this up with a thermos of hot chocolate and pjs under their coats.]
Things to do before you start packing up the holiday decorations and going back to normal life:
1. Take a photo of the traditional decorations.
Is there a wall where you usually hang wreaths of childhood banners?
2. How about a pic of the finished tree?
Whether the tallest ever, the scrawniest ever, it matters not. For best effect put a card with the year in large letters in front of the tree for the picture.
3. Gather the family for a group shot.
Maybe all in pj's? Maybe a shot of just the kids, then just the grownups? Who knows? It might become a collectible if they become famous!
[Again, holding a sign with the year makes dating it later much easier.]
4. Take a pic of each child with their favorite gift/s.
Make a tradition of any of these and you can later assemble a wonderful photo book for each child tracing the history of their holidays!
For a quick, fun vacation activity with kids try these:
[Maybe you can make them and save them for a pint-sized New Year's Eve home party!]
Lollypop sticks [or in a pinch popsicle sticks]
Bag of large [or giant] marshmallows
Milk chocolate to melt [ex: milk chocolate chips]
Piece of styrofoam
Graham crackers [crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin]
Snowflake sprinkles [or multi-colored sprinkles]
Peppermint candies [break up in a baggie w/wrench or hammer]
Other [get creative.... oreo cookie crumbs, toffee chips, etc.]
Directions: 1. Put each marshmallow on a stick. [Get several ready at a time.]
2. Melt the milk chocolate [with a little oil added for consistency] in microwave.**
3. Dip/roll the marshmallow in the melted chocolate.
4. While still wet, roll the chocolate covered marshmallow in a topping of your choice.
5. Stick the Pops into the styrofoam or clay to cool and "dry"
6. Eat or put in baggies to save for later. [For gifts, bag two or three and tie with ribbon.]
ENJOY ! !
** When melting chocolate in a microwave it helps to add a bit of Crisco. I usually microwave it for about 20 seconds, then stir, then repeat for 15 seconds, then 10 seconds etc. till the chocolate stirs easily.
Teaching kids to express thanks for their gifts is a teaching them a life skill. It's not on any resume, but it surely is noticed in the workplace. I've posted previously about easy ways to do actual thank you notes [Nov, 17, 2011 post] and even recommended a marvelous book about one man's experiment with thank you notes [Nov 26, 2011].
Holiday thank yous are especially easy if you plan a bit.
Here are a couple of options and ideas not covered in the Nov 17th post.
Write a list of the gifts the children receive from people outside the home. Plan a time the day after Christmas to make a phone call to each person. Have the kids primed and reminded of who gave what. Do only one or two calls then take a break or the kids will lose spirit and you will lose the gratitude effect!
If you have a cell phone with photo and email capability, take a quick photo of the smiling child with the gift. Help them send a quick thank you text with the photo attached to each giver. Again, do one or two at a time to keep the spirits cheerful.
1- Make it a rule that after Christmas Day no child is allowed to play with, wear, or use a gift UNTIL they have completed the thank you for the gift!
2- No television, screen [computer, tablet, or phone] each day until at least two thank yous are done.
3- My favorite [because it is rewards based not punishment based]......Plan a special thank you celebration treat that is earned when all the thank yous are completed. [Maybe consider a family movie, game day, chore-free day, or other unusual treat.]
I still believe that nothing is as special to receive as a hand done thank you note such as those I discussed on Nov 17th, but hopefully the ideas above will make thank yous [written or otherwise] more prompt and less painful. No matter what the language, or what the method.... everyone appreciates a Thank You. ......Good luck!
In the midst of all the chaos and confusion and stress of a holiday season, it is too easy to lose track of what is truly important. For those of you with children old enough ... Take a few minutes today. Make space in your day. Share this quote with them and talk about what it means, why it is so important, and how you can find that calm.
May you always have and give the gift of finding and holding calm in your hearts!
Have you ever been half-way ready for a holiday and then suddenly gotten the flu and lost precious days? I have. If so, you know what it is like to desperately need gifts that do not require you leaving the house to purchase, or the time to battle the last-minute crowds. Here are a few ideas in each category that I hope will help.
--Lego gift cards online.... [Did you know they can even order piece by piece online?]
--gift card to fast food of choice
--pass for an activity [indoor funpark, kids museum, whatever]
--gift card for donut or bagel or breakfast spot
--membership for a summer funpark
--museum membership [science, art, history, aquarium whatever their interest]
--certificate for lessons [karate, tennis, dance, whatever]
--certificate for the electronics [iTunes card, minutes for phone, for gamestore, whatever
Away from home kids...
--gift cards/certificates for pizza and sub delivery
--postage, envelopes, and address labels
--movie gift certificates [theaters or rentals]
--certificates to laundry services or mending services
--trial audio membership [audible.com is my favorite]
--local gym month membership or sport center membership
--movie gift certificates [theaters or rentals]
--certificate for pampering [spa, massage, nails, hair, whatever]
--calendar with birthdays and anniversaries labeled
--gift card for dinner or movie out
--gift card for pool or family activity membership/event
Someone struggling...--grocery store gift card
--gift card for gas
--gift credit to their utility company
--gift card to a drug store/pharmacy/convenience store
--gift card for family activity membership/event
To get away from tangible gifts or traditions for a day, I want to share a less expected tradition. Make a schedule. I don't mean a plan for getting all the food cooked and on the table at the right time. I don't mean a schedule for getting ready for the big day or days. I mean a schedule for that you share with the kids so they know what to expect.
Especially in today's world of media hype and greeting card images, people's expectations for a holiday vary greatly. This can create something as simple as a misunderstanding to as challenging as a poorly timed tantrum. Much can be avoided if everyone knows roughly what is going to happen. Even if it isn't what they WANT to happen, most can adjust IFthey KNOW AHEAD.
Make a rough plan for the day. Talk about it with your kids... not just once, often. Listen to their reactions and tweak the plan if needed and possible. Talk about it with your spouse, your relatives, with anyone who is involved on that day. Settle differences ahead...before they become disputes.
For example in my house some of the decisions to be made each year include:
What time can the kids get up?
Do they have to wait for the grownups?
Will the kids get their stocking before or after breakfast?
Will they have to get breakfast cleaned up before opening presents?
Do we open gifts one at a time or as they come?
Do all gifts get opened at one spell or scattered through the day?
Will the main meal be at noon? mid-afternoon? evening?
Will we be visiting anyone that day? Will anyone be visiting us that day?
Is anyone staying at the house and if so, who is giving up a room?
When relatives call, do we all stop until the call is over?
What is the plan for cleanup.... of gifts? of dinner?
What time is bedtime...the night before? that night? naptimes?
Once you have made the decisions, you may even want to post the rough schedule [with pictures or icons for any little ones] someplace kids can see it, to remind them and so they can predict what happens when and what is coming next during the big day.
Doing the planning and deciding and discussion ahead is KEY to a smoother, more enjoyable holiday. Making and posting the rough calendar is an added bonus advantage that increases your chances of avoiding meltdowns, frustrations, etc.
No clever pictures today. This is about deciding your own picture of a holiday.
No toy recommendations. This is about a different kind of gift.
Just the hope that this idea may provide the gift of a bit more calm, a bit more joy, a bit more pleasure.
Hoping you all have great and truly
Lately there has been a lot of buzz on blogs about the gift-giving "Rule of Four." I have seen it so many places I have NO idea who to credit, and I find it a good start but missing two key pieces. The pattern rhymes and is easy to remember. It is--
Something they want.
Something they need.
Something to wear.
Something to read.
Not bad, is it? There is some overlap possible, and it covers a good balance. BUT it leaves out a few things I consider key to great and balanced gift giving.....
As I have said in my last few posts, I think you also need to have something to do, something that people can do/share together, and something that is handmade or created or done for someone, not just things that are bought. Sooooooo ... here is my revision of the Rule of Four. You can still give just four gifts if you choose, but whatever number of gifts you choose, cover the following ideas.
As an organist I am frequently called to play for funerals. So, I have been to literally hundreds of funerals. I have seen flower bouquets, photo montages, displays of all kinds. I recently played for another Christmas season funeral... always tougher near ANY holiday. For this woman they displayed literally hundreds of homemade ornaments which this woman had given her children, friends, grandchildren etc.
It got me thinking about how often there is a display of things the person made during their life. Whether handcrafts, wood carvings, paintings, or what, people prize the gifts that have been made by the hands of someone they love.
NEVER have I seen a display of cherished things the person bought for them.
So, it may be too late for this holiday season, but it certainly isn't too late to start shifting our mindset. Let's go back to the days of homemade gifts, of gifts crafted by our own loving hands for those we love. There is something very special, very magical, about holding something in your hand that was held in and created by their hands.
Let's teach our children not only by GIVING them handmade gifts, but by helping THEM give handmade gifts. Maybe you sew a pillowcase, or knit a hat, or build a play table, or paint a mirror, or create a game, or turn a can into a pencil holder. It doesn't really matter WHAT it is. What matters is WHO made it, and the love they show.
PS: Less tangible homemade gifts are those of service rather than objects. Gifts of DOing something for someone cost only time. [One of the most loved gifts I have seen was when one brother promised to do the other brother's chores for two weeks!]
Has this ever happened to you?...
Everyone has opened their gifts, wrapping paper is strewn everywhere. You are about ready to start dinner as everyone seems happy and content. You go into the kitchen and suddenly one of your children appears at your side with two words that you thought surely that day you wouldn't hear...
"I'm bored." or it's companion.... "There's nothing to do"
One thing that I consider essential for gift giving occasion is something to DO. In my experience if there is no gift that engages the child in play or activity you are asking for trouble. If they love to read, a book might work, but not unless they truly love curling up with a book.
As the giver of the gifts, this "What's next" attitude can be very annoying! Recognize that children may become bored... even on a holiday! If the house is full of relatives and chaos, boredom and "antsy-ness" are not avoided. Children may need something to safely occupy themselves even more than in an empty house. [Maybe even quietly???] Plus, let us not forget that the excitement and bustle of holidays and gifts are super-hyped in both the media and children's minds. What could possibly live up to that?
Also helpful is something to engage people together. Many activities today are solitary, marked by isolating headphones etc. This makes a gift that is used or done WITH someone is especially nice. Whether a game, or a project, or a puzzle, or what doesn't matter. What matters is that it lets you give two gifts in one. The gift itself, and the time spent with another person... especially if that person is you.
So, save yourself a headache and irritation this holiday. Give something to do, and something that you can do WITH them if you possible can. Try to find a way to schedule the day so that for a part of it you can play with them, giving them that precious gift of attention. That is far more important to them than a fancy dinner.
Some foster parents continue to foster long after their biological children have grown and left the nest. This sometimes created unexpected concerns and ripples.
Christmas with the Family?
Oh merciful God, Christmas is almost here. I am struggling so hard to find the spirit of Christmas and to keep it in my heart. I know the holidays are sometimes full of pain for them for the Christmases that never were that should have been, and for so much more. But what about MY Christmases Lord? My first family is coming home to their home and deserve a family Christmas, too. I know they understand my reasons for taking this child into my home. I know that they even support the choice, and welcome this child. But... they are still pained that by my choosing to.. they are also forced into changes they had not expected. When they come home, they are robbed of anticipating the calm comfort of home. They know too well that they must prepare for walking into chaos, trauma, rampaging emotions and more that are far more likely than a calm return to the home of their childhood. Help me to remember that long ago family who brought a child into the world with no room other than a stable. Help them each to remember the more important traditions of lover over habit, of caring over comfort, of giving over receiving . Help us all adjust to the changes and celebrate the important things. Help us to manage priorities and emotions, to recognize that what we may have lost is so very much less than what this child has lost. Help us to remember and honor what is truly important this Christmas.
Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.
I have some family who live within hours, some who live on the other side of the country and even some on the other side of the world. Here are some ideas that have brightened the holidays across the miles for me. [And they all fit inside a priority mail envelope!]
1. Photo ornaments:
I still cherish a set of photo ornaments I received ages ago. No they aren't photos on porcelain, tho I have seen lovely ones. These were a set of free form shapes cut from card stock. On each was a photo of a family member who could not come for the holidays. Gold glitter edged each photo and a ribbon tie let each photo be placed on my tree and then later hung around my room. These two photos show similar efforts, although a bit fancier.
2. For Grandparents especially:
As grandchildren get more numerous and memory less dependable, making a family calendar is not only easy, but helpful too! Pictures are a nice addition if you choose, but the key part is to put everyone's birthday and year they were born. [If they are especially forgetful, put a birthday alert on the calendar a few days ahead of each birthday so they can send a card in time!] Someone did this for me several years ago and it was a great help in remembering how old each grandchild was and whose birthday was when.
These are great for all kinds of occasions as Hallmark finally figured out! Years and years ago my father make a [reel to reel!] tape recording of him reading my brother's favorite bedtime stories to comfort my brother when he was stuck in bed sick. Many years later we put a [cassette] tape recorder in the middle of the room to capture the chaos and excitement of the holiday by having all the kids sing some holiday songs and send holiday greetings. We then sent the recording to my parents, who I later discovered played the recording over and over each Christmas for years. Now with digital recordings and CDs the variety of options is even wider. The magic of hearing your loved ones voice never gets out-dated and a recording that you can hear repeatedly and over time is even more special. And of course now there is video too!.....Skype and phone calls are wonderful but making a lasting recording is an even bigger blessing.
4. Celebrate Memories:
Consider something like what I blogged about in last Saturday's Holidays 101 #11 [Give a High Five]. Find a way to capture and celebrate memories of the distant person, or of times shared together. Whether a mini-book, or a scrapbook, or even just a list, documenting the importance of memories and events that you value lets the person who receives your gift know how special they are to you. These are perfect long distance gifts whether for seasonal holidays or birthdays etc.
Here is a grab bag of ideas for teachers, helpers, coworkers and others... most able to bepicked up or ordered last minute...
For those with a family:
1- How about making a filling a holiday bag with an assortment of holiday paper plates, napkins, plasticware, etc. to reduce the stress at home for the people who are working for you and still facing holiday stuff and responsibilities at home?
2- How about a gift certificate to a photo store for a family portrait?
For those with a known indulgence:
3- If you have kept your eyes and ears open you may know that your teacher [like me] cannot resist orange skittles, or maybe loves to go to the movies. One of my favorite gifts from a student was a gift certificate good for three evenings of relaxation at the movies and a ziplock bag filled with ALL orange skittles! It showed me that they had paid attention to me as a person, not just as a teacher and that they wanted me to be able to indulge myself. [I have no idea how long it took to sort out just the orange skittles!]
4- Listen for clues an find a gift to match their personal interests... Would they love a chance to shop at a garden store? A sports store? Have a membership, pass or gift card for a local museum, fun park, golf course, bowling alley, or other attraction?
For computer/tech lovers:
5- Give them the fun of shopping for something special... whether an apple gift card for those who may have loved Apples since the Macintosh days, or one for a computer and game store to buy that longed for Wii or Playstation or Xbox accessory or game.
6- How about a gift of participation such as credits for entertainment sites such as audible.com [audio books] or netflix, or bargain sites like groupon or living social??
When in doubt:
7- Almost always safe gift certificates for teachers are those to a book store for readers or an office store...places that often eat up large portions of a teacher's discretionary spending.
8- In this day and struggling economy gift certificates for food stores, bakeries, even for electricity can be truly helpful and no longer are considered inappropriate.
No more excuses... get going. Make a connection and go for it! There's still time...
Today I recommend cool options for building for kids who already have the traditional wooden building blocks and are ready for a different kind of building... each product with a key warning.
1- Magnetix. They come in all different size assortments. [17 pcs to 140 pcs!] The strong magnets allow kids to create shapes that can spin and twirl as well as stand or tower. Start with a small set and if your child goes crazy for them, as one of my did, you may be adding to their collection literally for years!
Warning: Magnetix pieces are too small for toddlers so, if you have toddlers substitue Jumbo Magneatos which are a similar product but supersized so that swallowing is not a hazard.
2. A non-magnetic alternative is Zoobs. These are snap together parts that work on a ball-joint principle. Each kit comes with directions for assembling the zoobs into a variety of creatures [from turtles to chickens to raptors] and objects [chairs to wheelbarrows to helicopters].
Kids will create figures similar to animals and objects [ex cars] rather than buildings or geometric shapes. The creations arms, legs, tails, etc. can be moved and shaped. If you buy a more complex set, they can move on wheels or even be operated by remote control! [Sets for motorized cars, robots, etc.]
Warning! If you want to avoid frustration open the package before giving and when the kids are in bed or at school, spend some time putting the parts together and taking them apart. When they are brand new they can be very stiff and difficult for kids.
The time you spend breaking them in will pay off huge dividends when your kids open the gift and start to play. Once you have broken them in the kids will be less frustrated, will instantly adore them and will spend hours and hours making new creations and playing with them.
Note: The company also makes Zoob Jr. for younger kids with softer pieces. I have not tried the Zoob Jr set myself but the idea makes sense.
Try on a new holiday tradition. Think of someone in your neighborhood, or faith group, or circle of friends who is likely to be alone for the holidays. While it may not be practical or best to have them come to you for the actual holiday/s, there is no reason not to show them your love anyway during the season.Work as a family to bring them a holiday meal and some holiday cheer! Give up one of your holiday meals to bring holiday meals to those otherwise alone.
1. Choose two or three people to visit.
2. Kids can make cards wishing a good holiday and saying other nice things specific to the person. Parents can add a mention that you will be stopping by on [date] around [time] to drop off some holiday food if it is convenient for them. Be sure to include your phone number in case they need to let you know they won't be home at that time.
3. Go to a local dollar store and pick up a tray [or a cookie sheet you can convert to a tray].
4. Buy some cute seasonal paper plates and plastic-ware. Fix the tray to look cheery and add a "thinking of you" place card with the person's name and more holiday wishes and compliments inside.
5. Working as a family put together a dessert or snack bag of goodies ahead and fix a special meal for the night stated. Fix an extra supper plate for each person you will visit. Take the food, tray, dishes, utensils, cards.. and of course desserts with you.
6. Drive to each house chosen and make your delivery of greetings and tray of food. Set it up for them on their table or next to their chair. Maybe play or sing some holiday music or just shower them with holiday greetings and cheerful smiles. Spend a few minutes with each person before heading on your way to the next stop.
7. On your way home, pick up a simple pizza for you to share for your meal. Talk about the power of a simple hand in hand, a bit of holiday cheer, and a little effort can give an incredible message of caring.
Trust me, the joy of giving your evening meal to those who wouldn't have had one and bringing the holiday spirit to them will make that pizza taste better than almost any meal you could have had at home!
To encourage a budding scientist I recommend Elenco's Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100. This kit [which I found for about $20] lets kids from 7 or 8 on up to make dozens of simple electronic projects using the direction book and the 30+ snap together parts.
The parts snap together simply [almost a bit lego like] often with only a little help from grownups depending on the child's age. The young scientists learn some basic principles of electronics as they figure out how to make a flying saucer fly, a doorbell ring, a motion detector go off, and more.
Elenco makes three different size multi-project kits [ranging all the way up to $80] and individual project kits for between $10-$30. [The largest has over 80 parts and can complete over 750 projects!]
NOTE: If you plan to give this as a gift be sure to purchase 2 "AA" batteries so that the science can begin right away! No other tools, or soldering is required.
Also:Make the exploring even more fun by including a spiral notebook for taking notes and a disposable camera for documenting the projects as each is concluded.
And Don't Forget that girls can be budding scientists too!!
I am a lifelong educator, writer and author, a foster, bio, and adoptive parent, happy mom of five daughters, Grandma to six, Nana to four, and church and theater musician. Oh yes, and all-round optimistic, crazy lady.