This year has thrown all routines out the window. With the global pandemic lingering for longer than any of us thought possible, it appears that the upcoming holidays will most certainly be affected. Many families have decided to enjoy their holidays within their pod rather than include extended family members, which may seem like a loss for many–especially those with new babies or young children who may not have met any of their relatives in person yet. However, during these chaotic times, it is more important than ever to preserve holiday traditions and provide your little ones with a sense of normalcy. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the human connection stays strong, even when socially distanced. As a speech-language pathologist, I strive to build these connections with the families I work with, but also within the families I work, because I know that early child development is a unique time when the love and affection of our relatives can impact our long term development, including our mental health and learning abilities.
With the current limitations for in-person meet-ups, I have come up with five new renditions of holiday traditions that can be enjoyed within a nuclear family, outside and socially distanced, or via a virtual meeting platform. So whether you are staying home this year or trying something a little bit different, there is an activity to help your little one thrive during what may be a very stressful time.
5 Ways to Keep Holiday Traditions in 2020
1. Family Sing-a-long, Zoom Edition
Every family has their own favorite songs to sing around the holidays. Turn this into a fun activity to engage your little one on Zoom, with your family members beginning the song and your little one filling in the blanks. Not only does singing together provide a sense of closeness, this is also a great opportunity for your child to build vocabulary and language skills by putting sounds and words together.
Have younger babies who aren’t quite up to the task of singing along? Help them to clap to the beat—young babies need a rhythm to help them to build intonation (the ups and downs of speech) into their communication.
Have an older child? You can try this as a two-part harmony to build listening skills. (Just make sure you practice the song a few times beforehand.)
2. Craft Night: Family Photo Album
Spending the past 7+ months away from family and friends has been tricky. Make the most of this time with your nuclear family by building in fun craft activities, such as making a family photo album. This is a great way to use the holiday cards that are sent to you, but you can also ask grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to send pictures to you to print out. For this activity, I like to use a circle punch so that the little one can help with the activity as much as possible by PUSHing on the circle (notice how I built in extra vocabulary?)
Help your child to stick each picture onto the page and then give a name to everyone. Younger children can stick the picture onto the page, while older children can use the circle punch, stick the picture on, and name the family member. You might also help older children remember a fun fact by adding a picture of your family member’s favorite thing.
Keep this book within eyesight of your child to ensure that they request to read the book (they will—they made it themselves!) and continue practicing facial identification, naming, and early literacy skills.
3. Baking Cookies
It probably won’t be possible to do cookie swaps this year (#germs), but that doesn’t mean baking has to end. Baking is a great way for children to learn language (mix, pour, wet, dry), and it is great for them to see their efforts turn into something delicious. Have your younger child help choose the cookie recipe by giving 2-3 options, such as “Do you want to make gingerbread or thumbprint cookies?” (giving choices is a great way to build language) and let them pour ingredients into the bowl and help you stir.
For older children, they can help to crack eggs and pour ingredients into measuring cups to practice number identification.
Instead of bringing a large plate of cookies for a swap party, have your older child help you count out groups of 4-5 to wrap in cellophane or in a cute jar to bring to neighbors or family members that live close by. Your children can even help to decorate the jar using holiday-themed stickers!
4. Bring the festivities outside
For those of us fortunate enough to have our family members close enough for a car ride, we can bring the fun and festivities outside. Your family can start a new, healthy holiday walking tradition while the kids go on a scavenger hunt to look for certain holiday decorations.
For young children (under 1), you can simply point to decorations while naming them.
For older children, provide them with a sheet of paper with 4-6 objects on the paper for them to find (make sure these objects exist in the neighborhood where you are walking!). Think “lights,” “snowman,” or “icicles.” Name each picture for your child before leaving for the walk, and then as they come in to view, do an exaggerated “Oooh, do you see the snowman?” This is sure to be a great game that engages all members of your family, builds language, and can carry you through the next few months.
5. Show and tell with family members to show new toys
Let’s not be coy—the best part of the holidays for little children is all the new toys. After your family unwraps toys, set up a time to Zoom with your relatives for a show and tell. This is a great way to practice turn-taking skills and describing skills. (If you are doing this with multiple sets of kids, assign each child a number before starting so kids know when their turn is). Depending on the size of the crowd, have everyone show 2-3 toys. For little ones, help them to hold it up for the screen, or even name the toy. For kids who are a little bit older, aim for talking about what it is and what it does. If needed, help your child rehearse what they will say beforehand or ask them those two simple questions to guide them.
By making small shifts to the way that we enjoy this holiday season, we can make sure that we keep important holiday traditions alive while continuing to nourish our relationships with family members near and far, whether socially distanced or visiting via Zoom.