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10 important things to tell children this holiday season

10 important things to tell children this holiday season

It’s so easy to get swept up in the indulgent excesses of the holiday season. We work hard and experience highs and lows all year. We have the chance to reconcile and put things into perspective at its completion.

We find ourselves immersed in our own traditions, while at the same time making new ones with our families and friends and although continuing the customs we are used to is valuable, minor adjustments can be made to not only make them more meaningful, but also to guide children in understanding how we can use the holiday season to become better people.

Here are 10 important things to tell children this holiday season.

1. Let’s understand the different ways people celebrate

The festive season is an exciting time for children. Their understanding of it is simple. They know they will be on holidays from school, they will get presents and they will spend time celebrating with family and friends. Anything beyond that is unimportant to them. They are only aware of their limited experiences. The festive season is an opportunity for us to introduce them to knowledge outside of our own cultural saturation. We can bring to their attention the many ways that people all over the world celebrate the festive season, including multicultural holidays and those from different faiths.

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2. Let’s acknowledge that some don’t or can’t celebrate

As children grow up their scope of awareness is only as wide as what we expose them to. Young children only consider what happens in their own family and friendship circles. Older children will start to understand that there is diversity of experience and opportunity within their own communities, their nation and worldwide. We should use this time to help them think about people that don’t celebrate at the end of the year for whatever reason. They may not want to, it may not be their tradition. Some people can’t afford to or are living in a part of the world that makes it impossible to.

With sensitivity and age appropriate language and ideas, we can start to show children that they are not the center of the universe and although their happiness is our primary concern, for some people, it is not a festive season at all and our children should develop this awareness. There are excellent ways to start a conversation with children about both war and poverty and we shouldn’t shy away from these topics when the opportunity presents itself.

3. Let’s make things

With the necessary sensitive stuff addressed, we can indulge in encouraging children to be creative and productive. The festive season provides endless inspiration to make things. From decorations, presents, cards, table settings, food and desserts, costumes and performances; children can be shown ways to avoid participating in the merchandise overload that floods our world at this time. Not only are there millions of ideas and step by step guides on the internet to try during the holidays, materials are abundant and available.

Children can make things from craft supplies, household items or re-purposed and recycled things they already own. They love being shown how to deconstruct something and make a new thing from it. Children love to dress up and perform and it does wonders for their confidence and self esteem. When children are encouraged to create they not only learn to be thrifty and artistic, they also make memories and that is priceless.

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4. Let’s give stuff away

One of the central aspects of the holiday season is the giving of gifts. Aside from the obligatory presents that we show children to buy for family and friends, this time is a chance to explain to children the true meaning of giving. It is a good time to declutter. This is not only a necessary and useful habit to get children into, it exposes them to the notion of recycling and being generous. We can get them to give away toys and clothes they have outgrown to those less fortunate.

Throughout the year it is a good way to show children how to care for things so that they can be passed on and to educate them about valuing things instead of treating things as disposable. We can also introduce them to charity and making donations. Perhaps they can put aside a little bit of their pocket money or cash gifts to contribute something to a cause they care about like animal welfare or underprivileged or sick children. Something they can relate to.

5. Let’s ask for the right things

Traditionally children are compelled to make lists and think about what they want to receive as gifts. We are certainly bombarded by the promotion of goods marketed directly at children. Children talk about what they wish for among themselves and we perpetuate those desires further to make shopping easier and to give them what they want.

Instead of filling our homes with more objects that provide instant gratification and are soon tossed aside to be replaced by the next fad, why not show children how to appreciate gifts of a less material nature. We can urge them to ask for experiences. How about tickets to a show, membership to a museum or zoo, a gift purchased in their name to an overseas charity, an outing or holiday, an adventure.

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6. Let’s eat well

Let’s face it, we all over indulge a little during the holidays. It’s time to simplify how we partake in feasting to celebrate this time. It’s a great opportunity to be examples to our children about how to make healthy and enjoyable choices. We can all afford to reduce the amount of sugar and salt we consume. We can think about how to access humanely sourced food and we can be aware of how we consume alcohol in front of children. We can also include them in the preparation of food and the cleaning up afterwards, regardless of their age or gender. It should be a time when everyone feels included and contributes.

7. Let’s spend time with loved ones

Family is one of the most important things in life whether they are blood relations or people we have chosen as our circle of kin. For children, feeling as though they belong to a group is paramount. The festive season is a time to put differences aside and promote getting together with the important people in our lives. We can include our children when we visit relatives and reconnect with people we have not seen throughout the year. This time of year is a good time to slow down. We get so busy during the year that we barely spend any quality time with our loved ones. The festive season is an opportunity to regroup; with parents, siblings, cousins, aunties and uncles, grandparents and close friends.

It’s nice to get everyone under one roof for one day, but getting everyone to be in the same place at the same time for a few days can truly center us and is worth a try. These days we can rent holiday houses, organize camping trips and even connect across continents online. Once we have touched base with our foundation and reunited with loved ones, then we can return to our busy lives. We can show our children who the important people in their lives are and why they matter.

8. Let’s be grateful

Being surrounded by loved ones and abundance this holiday season makes us the luckiest people in the world and we should point out to our children that we ought to be grateful. Making them aware of what they have and that it isn’t the situation for everyone helps us to build gratitude and empathy in children. It’s a chance to help them put things into perspective and really understand what matters. It isn’t about the objects we get as presents or all the gratification we get, but rather the love and security we experience.

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9. Let’s reflect on the year that has passed

The end of year festivities allow us to reflect on all that has happened throughout the year, whether it was positive or not. We should talk to children about their achievements and triumphs; the things that made them happy, things they learned or did for the first time. New places they visited and new friends they made. We should reminisce with them about the milestones they have reached and how they have grown and changed from the previous year.

We should also give them the courage and confidence to ponder the moments that made them sad, frightened, unhappy or confused. They need to feel safe to confront the negative experiences in their lives and together talk about what they have learned and gained from them. Reflection teaches children to contemplate their place in the world and their rights, obligations and privileges. It gives them perspective and builds trust and resilience.

10. Let’s look forward to the year ahead

The end of the year is a way for children to comprehend that as things come to an end, we make room for new beginnings. The festive season, above all else is about hope. It forces us to consider what has been and look forward to what is ahead. By learning to set goals and make plans, children discover how to put their minds to a task and determine what they will accomplish. It teaches them self determination, agency, independence and perseverance. It gives them permission and aptitude to take their lives in their own hands and own their destiny.

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Diane Koopman

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Published on May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.

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Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.

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7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.

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14. Meditation

Meditation

is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.

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Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] BrainFacts.org: Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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