Making winter break FUN!!!
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Holidays provide us with time to spend with our kids. We look forward to this time! But a few days into the break it can start to feel like too much time. How to keep the winter break fun while minimizing disputes, restlessness and misbehaviour isn’t at all what you would guess. In fact, it’s downright counter-intuitive. Two weeks can feel like a very long time to have the kids at home, especially when so much planning and money is required for the celebrations that occur during this time. What to do with the rest of the holiday? Many of the guides to entertaining kids over the holidays recommend the same ideas over and over and always seem to focus on special events for families that draw huge crowds or cost money. That is not my idea of a great time, particularly when everyone is already tired and financially tapped out from the hustle-bustle of the season. The best news is that it is not even necessary. Exhausted parents dragging cranky kids to the jam-packed local “free skate” isn’t likely to contribute to peace and happiness. Even if it does, there are still so many hours left in the day. What to do…. The answer to having happier kids over the holidays is more work, fewer toys and less entertainment. Shocking. I know. Hear me out. Kids, much like adults, value what they have to earn. If screen time is an unlimited free-for-all, it is a sure-fire recipe for grumpy, squabbling kids that will not be a joy to live with. If the day starts with an expectation, for example making their bed or feeding the cat, the cartoons in jammies have been earned. The key here is to make our kids earn access to what they view as pleasurable to help them value the reward and appreciate the time. Gratitude is joyful. And that which is earned is appreciated more. Earning their way to fun = calm, happy kids Long winter days at home need a loose framework to keep kids happy and thriving. Having a bowl of cereal in jammies while watching cartoons is a blissful experience on winter break! But leaving the kids in jammies and letting them watch half a day’s worth of TV is almost guaranteed to result in loud arguments, a wrestling match and possibly a broken lamp in the living room. Enter: the great outdoors! Outdoor play will get rid of the natural energy kids have so they’re not driving Mom and Dad bonkers inside. Whether it’s playing in the yard, a trip around the block on bikes or a family walk to the park, I liken kids to puppies in this regard. This energy exists quite naturally. They can be guided in healthy, productive ways to spend it, or you can have your favourite pair of shoes ruined by them instead. I’m joking about the shoes, but the analogy is sound. Energy out = calm, happy kids. We know that kids need to be bored sometimes for their brains to develop critical skills like imagination, creativity, tenacity, problem-solving, confidence, mental health and a sense of belonging. It’s a GOOD thing. It’s a NECESSARY thing. Switching up the activity framework is a great way to encourage creative use of that time. You could declare it is reading time. Everyone grab a book! Suddenly, your kids may ask you if they’re allowed to build a reading fort. Wait, did they just ask to play creatively and do something other than screen time? Win-win. Loose frameworks inspire creative implementation. Activity frameworks = calm, happy kids. If you want your kids to read more, play outside more, play inside more, do-anything-other-than-screen-time more... insert a mandatory task like a chore. Suddenly playing with toys after the chore has been earned and its value goes up. Kids may fuss and groan for a brief moment when asked to stop doing what is fun to help in the home, but it’s just noise. Ignore any whinging, don’t engage in a debate about it and don’t cave in! When we engage our kids in helping in the home, we're teaching them life skills, self-reliance, responsibility, teamwork, respect, work ethic and time management. Kids positively beam when praised for a job well done and once again, it earns them the next fun activity or perhaps a little treat. Completing household chores = calm, happy kids. The research is definitive where the structure of the play area at home is concerned. Less is more. Too many toys have been shown to create an inability for kids to play with everyday objects, it leads to more sibling fighting, shorter attention spans, less pride of ownership, it robs items of their “specialness” and contributes to sensory overload. The holidays may be a time of many new toys entering the home and only adding to the issue, but it doesn’t have to have that effect! Removing MOST of the toys from the play space will solve that issue. Creating a toy rotation will make your kids appreciate what they have more and allow them to fall in love with their own toys all over again. I liked to take this concept one step further and hide away many of the new toys that the kids unwrapped on Christmas Day so they could interact with one or two and have a perfect surprise for a rainy day or a difficult day or as a reward for acts of awesomeness. Having fewer toys in the play space makes kids more resourceful and develops a greater love for reading, writing and art. Having ‘enough’ is a feast. Fewer toys in the play space = calm, happy kids. As vitally important as active physical play is to children’s development, so are mentally challenging activities. Young brains LOVE to be challenged! Board games that involve strategy or counting money light up a young mind and gives an excellent mental workout. Card games, board games, made up games... any type of games all contribute to positive family time, memory formation and cognitive skills, stress reduction and has even been found to fortify the immune system. Most importantly, Big Brain Time is another part of the loose structure framework to crowd out unwanted behaviours and restlessness. Write a skit, make a rhyming poem, create a dance, build with lego... Busy brains = calm, happy kids. Some people may wonder how long to do each activity? If the exercise is initially considered unpleasant by the child, putting a time limit on it will probably be quite helpful. But for most structured exercises, I used the cues of restlessness, bickering or silliness as the indicator when it is time to switch it up and do something different. There is a reason kindergarten classrooms are structured with different activity stations that follow a predictable routine with new experiences peppered in. Kids respond extremely well to this model. It works at home, at daycare, at school… and even on vacation or a road trip. Older kids still benefit tremendously from this model for far longer than it is commonly implemented. If you feel skeptical, try it and see for yourself! Loose frameworks for structured activities make kids feel secure and… well… just optimal overall.
Paula Presswood is a former teacher turned entrepreneur. She can mostly be found blogging, doing yoga, drinking tea, chasing around after her three teenagers and sampling delicious appetizers with her crazy magician husband. She is Co-founder of Presswood Entertainment and The Thoughtfull Board. Follow Paula on instagram