I will admit that I love the holidays, and as a preschool teacher for many years, this time of the season provided its own curriculum. Families were encouraged to bring in their unique traditions to share with the class, whether that be a cooking project, a game, or sometimes a special book.
I developed traditions of my own in the classroom and at home, many of them having simply to do with winter and light. While this issue will come out when the holidays are upon us, hopefully it will arrive in time for you to be inspired to initiate some fun new traditions and overall winter fun.
When teaching, I read many classics to the preschoolers and would incorporate these stories into our activities. “The Gingerbread Man” was a particular favorite. There are many updated versions with fun illustrations. We would often play-act the story, taking turns being each character and learning how to run-in-place during the chase scenes. Sometimes I would encourage the children to make up new characters and change the ending. Fun would culminate with baking our own gingerbread person, with the help of an extra adult. When we went to take the big cookie out of the oven, we would discover that it was “missing!” After searching, we would find the gingerbread man in another room, which delighted the children. I would also purchase small gingerbread cookies and hide them in plain sight throughout the room, Easter Egg style, for the children to find – this often lasted all day as there would always be a few cookies that turned up later!
Another beloved classic is “The Mitten,” a Ukrainian folktale about a little boy who loses his mitten in the forest where several animals squeeze into it to keep warm. This was another fun one to play-act, using a blanket as the mitten that the children fit within. At home, they can use their stuffed animals as some of the characters. We would later create our own mittens out of fabric scraps.
“The Tomten” is a traditional Scandinavian story about a gnome-like fellow who wanders a farm at night, comforting the animals. The only sign of him is his footprints in the snow the next morning. As a class, we would create our own Tomten gnomes using popsicle sticks, felt, and cotton balls for his beard. We would walk around the neighborhood and set them on porches with a quote from the story as a seasonal greeting:
Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold,
The stars glitter and sparkle.
Snow gleams white on pine and fir,
Snow gleams white on the roofs.
Only Tomten is awake.
Although it can and should happen throughout the year, winter is a special time for service. A project that can involve the whole family, regardless of age, is creating “necessity bags.” These can be made out of a variety of items such as a toothbrush, travel sized toiletries like toothpaste and dental floss, hand sanitizer, and small, non-perishable food items like granola bars. Once all the items are gathered, the kids make an assembly line to put them in large Ziploc bags. Families keep them in their cars to give out to the homeless or may donate a whole box of the bags to churches or shelters.
When there is snow on the ground, I fill up reused squirt bottles with water and food coloring and we go out and “paint” the snow. This has resulted in some stunning “public art!”
As my kid has grown, we have kept many of our holiday traditions but altered them for his age. For example, we still do a full advent calendar because I was given one when he was small that has large drawers to hide substantial trinkets. These days, in addition to candies and gift cards, I might include tickets to the Zoo Lights or Botanic Gardens for the whole family. I love putting this tradition together each year and enjoying the small surprises all through the chilly month of December.
A fun part of our advent calendar is often a scavenger hunt which leads to a larger gift. Over the years, the hunt has become more and more complex. My son has created a few for me that were quite creative. A scavenger hunt can make receiving even the simplest of gifts an event.
Lastly, we savor the dark and cold by enjoying fireplaces, fire pits, and even just candles. We are lucky to have a fireplace where we enjoy a meal of Raclette, which is a Swiss tradition of melting cheese over the fire with roasted potatoes and bread.
We seem to have the potential for another long winter with the pandemic. I hope that some of these ideas help you get through it!
Jill Carstens is a proud Denver native, a passionate mom and a teacher her entire adult life! Jill Carstens taught for 30 years and now enjoys writing this column, connecting with merchants for ad sales for The Denver North Star, and organizing neighborhood events supporting the local arts, community.Email her with comments or story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org