Writing thank-you cards

Writing thank-you cards has become somewhat of a lost art these days.  I remember when I was growing up, my Mom insisted that we write them to each of the people who had given us a gift at Christmas.  I’m sure my siblings and I grumbled about it, but I know that it really meant a lot to the recipients (when my Grandma died and we were going through her stuff, we found a box with all of the cards and letters we had written to her over the years).

I have carried on this tradition, because I think it is important that my daughter learns the importance of saying thank-you and being appreciative of what she is given (it is too easy to take things for granted).  I remind her of the time the giver took to purchase the gift for her, and how a note of appreciation will only take a few minutes of her time.

My daughter doesn’t exactly look forward to this task (i.e. there are many things she would prefer to be doing), but the right thing to do is not always the most ‘fun’.  Having said that, there are things that can be done to make it a little less onerous.  Given that this doesn’t require a huge amount of concentration (you are asking them to write a simple thank-you card, not a Nobel prize-winning speech), my daughter enjoys listening to some music while she works.  In addition, I don’t require that all cards be completed in one sitting, although there is definitely something to be said for getting it done as soon as possible.  I give her a ‘deadline’ to work towards (if it’s left too long, it loses its meaning) and then give her the freedom to do it when she pleases, without nagging (that’s my plan, anyway).

If you’re going to have your children write thank-you cards, then you’re going to want to keep track of who gave what (once they get a bit older, your children should be responsible for this).  This list can be handed to your child who can then cross each name off when their card has been completed (it gives them a feeling of accomplishment and helps them keep track of where they’re at).  Seeing a list of the gifts they received also acts as a bit of a ‘reminder’ of what they got and of how lucky they were.

When my daughter was younger, she sometimes made her cards, but that can get a bit overwhelming (she usually has around 12 – 14), so I have no problem with purchasing a package or two of Thank-You cards at the dollar store (I take her with me and let her choose the ones she wants).

I leave the message to her, but it should include a reference to the actual item that the person gave her, not just a generic “Thank-you for your gift.”  People like to know that you remember what they gave you and that you appreciate it.  If the individual gave money, it’s always nice to indicate what you spent it on or, if you haven’t spent it yet, what you plan to possibly spend it on in the future.  If you have multiple children, they can all write a little note of thanks on the same card (especially if you are planning to send it in the mail, where multiple stamps could get a bit costly).

I realize that this is but another task at an already busy time of year, but teaching your children to express their gratitude is well worth the time!

If you’re interested in teaching your children gratitude, you may also enjoy my posts Saying thank-you and Be thankful.

Gift wrapping

Some people really enjoy the challenges of gift wrapping and take great pride in their ‘creations’ (for example, there is a mandatory two minutes of ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ before opening a gift wrapped by my sister).  My daughter loves to wrap presents, so I involve her in this activity whenever I can (she’s learning a useful life skill and it’s one less thing for me to do, although she often likes some ‘company’ when she’s doing it).

Having said that, gift wrapping can be a little tricky (especially the ends), so I decided we could both use a little ‘professional advice’ (truthfully, my gift-wrapping skills could use a little ‘polish’).  Luckily, YouTube was only too happy to oblige.

This video does a good job of outlining the steps required to wrap a simple present (i.e. a square or rectangular box).  Truthfully, some of the more oddly-shaped gifts are a perfect excuse to use a Christmas bag (there are some lovely ones at the dollar store).  I especially like how Sophie ‘measures’ the paper using the gift itself, to make sure she is cutting the right size piece (I think we’ve all experienced the “darn it all, this piece isn’t big enough” wrapping scenario).   It pays to think ahead!

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

So, put on some festive tunes and get your kids involved in gift wrapping this holiday season!  Remember, it takes some practice, so be patient and applaud their efforts, even if the result is less than ‘perfect’ (after all, that just gives the gift ‘character’).

To discover more life skills you can teach your children over the holidays, check out my posts on Baking Basics and The spirit of Christmas.

The Spirit of Christmas

For kids, Christmas is very much a time for getting gifts.  They can get caught up in the bells and whistles of Christmas and the excitement of getting what they want under the tree on Christmas morning.   But, what about those who aren’t so lucky?

As adults, we often get caught up in the stress of the season, going to crowded stores, trying to get what everyone wants at the best price possible.  It’s hard to feel like helping others when we feel so overwhelmed ourselves.

I’m no exception, and often find myself grumbling about crowds and forgetting to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.  However, the spirit of helping others is what make the season so special and is the most important thing that I can teach my daughter.  So, I’ve had to be deliberate about exposing her to the more selfless side of Christmas.

Ever since she’s been 4 or 5, we’ve established our own Christmas-giving traditions…things we look forward to doing and that force us to stop thinking about gift-getting and instead focus on what we can do to help others during this holiday season.  Here are some of the things we make a point of doing each year, to truly get us into the Christmas spirit!

Operation Christmas Child (http://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/) – This is a wonderful way to get kids involved, by having them fill a shoebox with items for a child in need (e.g. hygiene items, school supplies, hair accessories, toys, etc.).  Select a gender and age for your shoebox and then pack it accordingly (my daughter always chooses a girl that is her age, since she’s an ‘expert’ on what they would like).  The Dollar Store is perfect for this task…we generally fill the box for around $20 (make sure you refer to the list of do’s and don’ts provided on the website).   It’s also a good idea to bring along the box you’re going to use (our local Salvation Army stocks the Operation Christmas Child boxes, but you could also just use a standard shoe box), so that you can test things to see how they will fit.

Salvation Army kettle drive – This one has been around for many years and I gladly give to them over the holiday season.  Kids love it when they can actually put the money in the kettle, so get them involved.  For many years, I sat with the kettle at a local mall after work one day during Christmas (call your local Salvation Army and see if they can use your help).  When my daughter got old enough (she was around 7), I had her join me.  Admittedly, it can be a little boring for children, but if you choose a location with quite a bit of activity, it helps make the time go by faster.

A Book for Every Child – This is a program that is offered through our local library.  Certain book retailers (e.g. Chapters) provide a discount for books bought to be donated, then they give the books to the library who distributes them to local children.  My daughter loves this one because she absolutely loves books and can’t imagine what it would be like not to have some of her own.  I set a price limit and then have her choose a cross-section of books for different age levels and genders.

Food Bank – Almost all of our local grocery stores have a big bin for donations to the local Food Bank.  My daughter and I take a little trip to the grocery store and then place our items in the box.  Check out your local grocery stores for a similar program!

School food drive – Every year, my daughter’s school organizes a food drive for the local Food Bank, so we send in some canned goods and other non-perishable food items (I tend to send one or so a day, over a few days, since her backpack gets too heavy otherwise).

Check out this great article for even more ways that you can involve your children in helping others this holiday season.  Click here for some additional ways you can help others this holiday season, and all year round!

There are so many other things you and your children can do, too…some that cost nothing at all.  Just taking the time to hold the door for people or to smile and wish people a Merry Christmas, can really brighten up someone’s day!  Let your child be someone’s “Santa” this year!

What do you do with your children so that they experience the spirit of Christmas (share your ideas in the Comments)?

If you’re really interested in teaching your children the importance of helping others, you may also wish to read my posts on “The Real Meaning of Christmas” and “Giving to charity“.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

The real meaning of Christmas

This quote by ‘The Grinch’ is a great reminder for all of us during the holiday season.  It’s so easy to get caught up in all the hoopla and  forget about the real meaning of Christmas.  Make sure your children spend some time spreading the Christmas spirit this festive season, and watch their hearts grow in size, just like The Grinch’s.

Free Christmas Printables: Grinch Quote + 15 more! - Happiness is Homemade

Click here to get this poster as a free printable.

“Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  (The Grinch).  May you and your family feel the true joy of the season!

Baking basics

It’s Christmas baking time again!  My daughter is really interested in baking at the moment, so this year I’m going to have some help in the kitchen.  I’ll admit that I am probably not the most qualified person to teach her the many tips and trick of baking, but that is where the internet comes in.  I have been able to find a variety of videos and websites by people who actually know what they’re doing and can give my daughter (and me) the guidance we need in the kitchen.

I would be lying to say that I love cooking and baking, but the reality is that they are necessary life skills.  When you think about it in more practical terms, cooking can actually teach children many skills such as organization, mathematics, following instructions and hygiene.  Even more importantly, teach them now and, one day, your children can take over the cooking (hurray!).  Your children don’t need to become the next Martha Stewart, but they should at least be well-versed in baking basics (this applies to both girls and boys).

Let’s start with something that you’re likely to run across this holiday season.  When making cookies and cakes, you are often instructed to “cream the butter and sugar”.  To the experienced baker, this is immediately understood, but to the novice, further instruction is required.   The first thing to know about this task is that the butter must be ‘softened’ before it can be creamed with the sugar.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t always remember to leave the butter out overnight so that it’s at room temperature, so I generally have to count on a few ‘tricks’ to soften the butter quickly.  This video does a great job of demonstrating four quick and easy ways to soften butter.

See this video on YouTube.

Once the butter is softened, it’s time to add the sugar and cream them together.  It is possible to perform this step with an electric mixer, but I typically just do it by hand (why create more dishes to wash?).  Also, when my daughter goes out on her own one day, she may not have all of the ‘modern conveniences’ right away, so it’s a good idea that she knows how to do as much as possible by hand (I’m pretty confident that she will at least own a spoon).

Check out this quick video demonstrating how to cream butter and sugar (Tanya also does a good job of briefly explaining when and why one would cream these two items together).

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

Like most areas of life, cooking and baking have their own vocabulary to be deciphered.  However, if we want to raise children who can live independently (and who can help us in the kitchen!), then we would be wise to teach them the basics.

If you’re interested in teaching your child how to be more self-reliant, you may wish to read my posts on Stop a nosebleed and Dealing with nightmares.

Christmas Wish List

Every year when the Christmas catalogues and flyers come out, my daughter starts working on her ‘Christmas Wish List’.  Truthfully, although it seems a little early, it’s a good time for her to get started on her list, as the whole process can take 2-3 weeks and I like it in my hands no later than the last week of November, so that I can take advantage of any pre-Christmas sales (note: if you wanted to implement this process for this Christmas, I’m sure it could be completed in less time, if given more focused attention).  We actually set a deadline when the list must be finalized, after which, no changes can be made (there’s nothing worse than thinking you’re done your Christmas shopping, only to have to head back to the stores at the busiest time of year).

It’s best to set the expectation right up front, so I remind her that she shouldn’t count on getting everything on her list (the warning is always the same, so she’s fully aware that the list is only a guideline).   She has been doing this for a few years now, so it has evolved into a process that seems to work well for both her and me.  In addition, it’s also a pretty good life skills exercise, since it requires her to be organized, set priorities, do research, apply critical thinking and work to a deadline.

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  • Initially, she writes down everything that grabs her attention, without applying a whole lot of judgment.  She also indicates where she saw the item (e.g. which store flyer) and the cost, which is helpful information for her if she wishes to look at the item again later, and me when I am trying to get a feel for what is on her list and where I can find it.  Identifying the price is also a good way to help her see how much things actually cost and start to factor this into her thought process.  At this point, she will often share what is on her list with me, but it would be premature for me to do anything with this information.  This is just the first step of the process and in the next 2-3 weeks, her Wish List will undergo a metamorphosis, so I refrain from succumbing to the temptation of starting my shopping early.
  • Next, she goes through the list with a more critical eye, crossing off things that, upon further investigation, she’s really not that interested in (this year, she even took the initiative to remove a couple of items that she felt were too expensive and another that she knew I would not approve of).  This step of the process is a little more time-consuming because she needs to research the items (e.g. read the description, check out reviews and talk to friends) and determine whether they are worthy of being on the list.  Researching potential purchases is a good habit to get into, as impulse buying can cause serious financial hardship down the road.   Allowing a little bit of time to pass can also be beneficial, as often the initial enthusiasm for a toy wanes over time.   Typically, her list is a bit cluttered and difficult to read after this step, so she redoes it, only copying over those items that made the final cut.
  • Lastly, she prioritizes the remaining items on her list.  In the past, she has numbered them in order of priority, but this year she tried something different and color-coded them into low, medium and high levels of priority, and even provided a legend (what can I say, she took mapping in school).  Knowing the priority she has assigned to each item is very helpful for me when I’m trying to figure out which things to focus on.

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I am not the only one who benefits from this list.  Often, I am called upon to provide ideas to grandparents and other family members and this list is a great reference.  It also helps me make sure that I provide at least one higher-priority item to each family member, so that everyone gets to experience the joy of giving her something that she really wants.

It is important to note that I am very conscious of making sure she focuses on other aspects of Christmas, not just gift-getting.  She participates in quite a bit of gift-giving, too.  She helps me purchase and wrap gifts for Daddy, makes special gifts and cards for her family and contributes to various Christmas outreach programs.  Although she loves getting gifts (who doesn’t?!), she swears that her favorite thing about Christmas is all the time spent with family (we are very lucky to be able to enjoy many activities with extended family over the holidays)!

Before Christmas is also a great time to have kids go through their stuff and give away anything that they are no longer playing with (it’s a little less distressing when they know they will be getting new things to take their place).  Read all about this process in my post entitled, “Pre-Christmas Purge: Tips to help kids declutter“.