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Making the Holidays More Meaningful: How You can Teach Values this December

on Wed, 11/30/2016 - 10:24

I’m a director at a Jewish preschool housed inside a synagogue, so I spend a lot of time considering how to teach young children the deeper meaning of holidays.   In my experience, starting with values is an easy way for adults to remind themselves what holidays are all about, and shape children’s identities as compassionate people of character.

Beyond just those holidays that involve presents and (usually) happen in December, Judaism and other religions have many holidays to enjoy and there are values that thread through each one as they appear on the calendar. Here are some ideas to help your kids (and yourself) enjoy the true meaning of the winter holiday season, no matter which holiday you celebrate at home.  

Think About Your Values

Make it a yearly habit to reflect on your values as a family. Have you ever asked yourself what you really stand for? What kinds of things make your family special? How do you come together?  Maybe you stand for fun and creativity, or making people happy and being outside. Every year take a few minutes to write down your values as a family and allow even the littlest kids to get in on the act. If their answer is dinosaurs then so be it. You’re laying the foundation for kids to connect what they care about with taking action to help support a cause. Put the values on a  wall, or in a jar to revisit throughout the year.

Use Your Values to Make a Positive Impact

Based on the values you’ve chosen as a family  think of ways you can give back. Does your  family love to be outside? Find a day to participate in cleaning up a neighborhood park, or volunteer for trail maintenance. If you’re a dog loving family find out what you can do to support your local animal shelter, which could be as simple such as donating blankets and towels. Do you stand for kindness? Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who could use help in their yard or a plate of cookies. And if you have the kid who values dinosaurs find out what you can do to give back to your local science museum. Any of the values you choose have real world experiences kids can engage to make the world a better place.

Model Giving and Gratitude 

Help children create simple gifts for others like drawings or paintings so they can practice the act of giving. These gifts don’t need to be fancy, let them be truly child created so that kids gain first hand experience of  “It’s the thought that counts.” Tinkerlab (one of my favorite blogs) has a lot of great, low or no-cost ideas!

Help your family members write thank you notes to people, taking dictation for children who haven’t learned to write yet. Write thank you notes to your child as well so they experience the feeling of being thanked.

It’s easy to get dragged into the hustle and bustle of December. The greatest joy of being with children is having the opportunity to re-experience the every day  and make things magical, and meaningful anew, one small act of kindness at a time.


Heather Posner is Director of Early Childhood Education at Temple Emanu-El Preschoool in San Francisco, California.