Creating Pause During the Holidays

Kate Sargent, Director of Education

During this chapter in our lives as parents and caregivers of young children and teens, it can feel like the “break” from school is actually an acceleration into chaos. One look at my Google Calendar and my heart starts beating faster. Relatives come into town (or maybe you’re the ones always doing the traveling), bedtime routines go out the window, and then we sprinkle in lots of treats and stimulation for good measure.

In these precious moments during the fall and winter holidays, we want to both celebrate with the larger community and our relatives, and try to take a moment to soak in the love and adoration at home. There is magic in simple dinners around your own table, crafts made with love and sticky fingers, and quiet nights reading bedtime stories. Memories are also made around big dining room tables, with loud uncles and aunties, and family traditions that take you away from your typical routine. How can you balance it all without feeling even more exhausted and strapped for time?

Dr. Montessori said in her 1946 London Lectures, “It is interesting to notice that where life is simple and natural and where the children participate in the adult’s life, they are calm and happy.” With that quote, I have a few ideas for you.

One day “on,” a few days “off”

Sometimes, we feel like “being on the go” is the best way to create memories with and for our children, but we can celebrate the simple things, too. If there is a way to have a few days of calm for each day of travel, disruptive schedules, or late nights during the days off school, your family will likely feel more regulated and comfortable with some downtime at home. During those days, try to keep activities to a minimum. Lounge around in your pajamas, read stacks of books on the couch, and take a walk around the block at night to look at the lights in your neighborhood. What joy for a child! To a little one, this is magical and memorable.

Some other examples of very low-stakes activities to do at home:

  • Blanket forts

  • Breakfast for dinner, or a candlelight dinner (my son’s favorite when he was younger!)

  • Walk to the playground in your neighborhood

  • Kick around a soccer ball

  • Popsicle stick crafts (make them into people with markers; make them into jewelry boxes, frames, or trays with a little glue)

  • Sing along to Spotify

  • “QRT” or “quiet reading/resting time” for all family members; no one talks for one hour and everyone does quiet activities, like reading, napping, or drawing

  • Make snowflakes out of scrap paper or paper bags

Get the children invested in the preparations

Once upon a time, while preparing a big meal at my in-law’s house, one of the youngest members of our family would not stop crying in the kitchen. I don’t do well with crying toddlers, so my anxiety was rising. We tried everything to get her to stop crying, but even toys and books and attention were not helping. Then, my Montessori brain kicked in. She wanted to do what we were doing. Once I figured out the problem, I gave her a demonstration on picking cilantro leaves from the stem. She stopped crying immediately. I gave her two bowls, one for stems, and one for leaves, and her sniffles turned to laughter in no time.

Though it requires patience, it is worthwhile to have your children helping out with family traditions and rituals. Ask for help making decorations and then give a few supplies on a newspaper-covered table to your children. Ask a child to help you gather all the ingredients for a dish. If you’re really feeling patient, you can also pre-measure the liquids and solids into individual bowls for little ones and let them dump or pour the correct amount of ingredients into a bowl for a dish. When it’s time to set the table, you can either give directions that follow your vision, or let the children pick out the napkins, glasses, and placemats. They do so every day for lunch starting in the Toddler Community.

Teach your children the songs you sing, the meaning behind your traditions, the reason you chose this or that decoration for the table, and the purpose of the clothing you’re wearing. Children love stories, especially ones about their families and friends, so including children in your holiday preparations will make them feel included and special.

A few notes on gift giving…

This time of year can feel incredibly overwhelming and costly. Remember that you do not need to buy your children the newest or latest things in order for them to be happy. It’s good to want things! It’s good to have wishes and dreams…and it’s not our responsibility to go into debt trying to buy the “latest and greatest” stuff for our children.

Children love to help other people. The beauty of the mixed age classrooms in a Montessori environment allow for (and require!) constant support from children to one another and the environment. Remember that clearing out a few toys, supporting a food pantry, bringing your neighbor a dish or dessert, or donating your time or talent in another way is a great way to incorporate giving into a time of year when the messages in the media are telling us to “receive.”

If you are looking to purchase things for your family, consider the following, which is how we look at buying things in our Montessori classrooms:

  • Is this an item of quality? Will it last longer than a season? Is it well-made?

  • Does this item serve a purpose or multiple purposes?

  • Will this item be useful for knowledge, creative expression, or open-ended use?

A few ideas for toddlers:

  • Books

  • Gross motor toys, like a scooter, trike, or balance bike

  • Small tools for cooking, gardening, or sewing (“For Small Hands” is a great resource!)

  • Quality building supplies: magna-tiles, Duplo, wooden train tracks

  • Wooden puzzles with chunky wooden pieces or knobs (“Melissa & Doug” makes these.)

  • A membership to the zoo or a children’s museum; a trip to see a “real” train or airplane

Ideas for Children’s House:

  • Books

  • 12-100 piece puzzles with smaller knobs or jigsaw pieces, as they’re able to use them

  • Duplo or Lego, magna-tiles, Kid K’nex, bristle blocks

  • Washable paints and paintbrushes

  • Small tools for cooking, gardening, or sewing (“For Small Hands” is a great resource!)

  • Cooperative board games

  • Tea set

  • Binoculars and a book about birds or trees of Wisconsin

  • Marble mazes or open-ended car tracks

Ideas for Elementary and Adolescent Children:

  • Books

  • Chess set

  • Atlases/maps or a globe

  • Sewing machine or more advanced handiwork supplies: crochet, knitting, embroidery

  • Calligraphy set

  • Microscope and blank slides

  • Watercolor painting set

  • Cooking supplies and a cookbook

  • Air-dry clay and tools

  • “Learn To…” Craft Sets: origami, comic book writing, paper airplanes, scrapbooks, soap

  • Outdoor toys and sports equipment; a bicycle

For more ideas, check out this list from our friends at Forest Bluff School.