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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Top 5 holiday activities

Happy Holidays... it is the season for a whole array of traditions and celebrations around the world. So I thought I would do a top five activities... since I see this sort of thing being done by many others... But this one will be with a slight difference. It is not about doing specific arts and crafts... but about experiences that help you and the children understand, enjoy and explore the holiday/s you are celebrating. 1. Dialogue Taking the time to find out what the children already know about the celebrations. How do they celebrate at home? Do they all celebrate in the same way? What are the similarities and what are the differences? With the youngest, non verbal children you can use story books to talk about the traditions, or go for walks to see if there are any signs of the celebration outside (this can be done with older children too, of course). What colours and what symbols do the children connect to the celebration? Why do they make these connections? When I asked these questions to a group of preschoolers over three years - their answers about the colour of Christmas changed and became less connected to their favourite colour and more connected to observations they had made about the celebration over the years. these dialogues can be the fuel for other activities 2. Play such as play... By knowing what colours and symbols the children connect to the holiday, these can be introduced into their play environment to enrich their play. For example... for some children it is about the presents... so by introducing the opportunity for the children to make their own wrapping paper, make small presents, or small boxes, that they then can wrap themselves is a fabulous way for children to explore this art of making and giving presents in their own way. It is also a great way to think about maths (cutting the paper to the right size to wrap) about fine motor skills (it is so fiddly to use tape and fold the paper) - social skills, the idea of giving and receiving, thinking about what others might like, and not just giving what you like to someone else. Another play is sensory play... and understanding what the children like to eat at these celebrations can influence the sensory play... making play-dough or slime etc that is scented with holiday aromas... like this cinnamon goo . Smell is such an important part of memory... it is one of the senses that can really remind us of things - so I feel it is a sense that should be used more. BUT it is also a sense that can easily overwhelm some children, so it should always be used with consideration... does it overwhelm a whole room, can it be used in a way that allows a small group to experience the smell and not impact everyone... a small room maybe, or not too much aroma added. Scents that can be added to playdough etc... (pick a celebration/country) orange, cinnamon, saffron, chocolate, ginger, pine tree, sesame, cardamum etc etc

Another sensory experience that is connected to several holidays is light. Allowing children to play with light is another great way to experience the holiday. This can be done by adding strings of battery powered light to the construction area, or projecting holiday inspired images onto a wall... that the children can use large loose parts to create holiday inspired constructions/play areas, or drape semi transparent fabric from ceiling to floor to catch the the images on their way to the wall. This is a great way for the children to climb inside the magic and experience the light in a new way.Survival blankets (the silvery foil sheets) are also great for this kind of light play - as is bringing in natural loose parts.

There are lots of play opportunities to explore traditions and celebrations. It is about listening to the children and then introducing the materials into the environment for the children to explore in their play. I also think that it is important to include some of your traditions too, things that the children have not thought about... allow them to be a part of the resources and see if the children connect with them too... often they have sen them at home too, but have not recollected.The children's play will encourage you to think about what more materials and what other activities could be provided to support the children understand their own traditions.

3. Baking

Baking is another sensory experience... touch, smell, taste, sight and sounds will all be activated as they bake/cook things that are connected to the holiday/s.Every year I have baked pepparkakor (spiced biscuits) with children, as do most settings in Sweden. In part to prepare for the parents coming on the Lucia celebration and in part because it is just such a great activity.What I do on at least ONE of the sessions of baking pepparkakor is not to provide cookie cutters, but just rolling pins and knives. To encourage the children to think creatively about what shape they want to create, and how to make it. Some children will just make lots and lots of cut marks in the dough, and then realise that this does not work, so they re-roll and start thinking about how to cut out a shape. Others create elaborate shapes of goats, tomte and hearts (all traditional Swedish Christmas symbols) while others are happy making squares and triangles.In their second session they get the cookie cutter and a knife - so they can choose. There is something very satisfying about using a cookie cutter - but at the same time I like to question it, and challenge the children to think about there is not just one way of creating cookies.

Many years ago I worked at a setting where I collaborated with the kitchen staff to create a daily menu that was connected to Christmas foods around the world (I am sure if I was to do this again I would ensure foods from other holidays as well) - but at the time it was enough to show that even within the same holiday there is a massive difference in how it is celebrated depending on whether you live in Russia, Poland, Greece, Germany, Sweden, UK, Australia, Italy, South Africa etc etc etc - different foods are eaten - even different days are celebrated, and different people deliver the presents... Santa Claus apparently does not deliver around the whole world as I was lead to believe as a child...I did the research into the food, found the recipes, and the kitchen prepared them. I also prepared short information sheets with each lunch so that the educators could share with their children where in the world the food tradition came from and a few other Christmas traditions from that area. All with the intention that the same thing can be celebrated in many ways. There is not a single story of Christmas, or any holiday, there are many stories.

4. Painting

Using paint and other art materials is a great way to explore traditions. As I mentioned already above, one of my favourite ways to paint Christmas has started with a dialogue to find out what the children think is the colour of Christmas. And then we have used those colours to create art with... and in different ways, and nearly always collaboratively.

As you can see in the film above, using the christmas colours on the light table I combine playing with light and the symbolism of colour. I was also intrigued how I could influence the children's work by starting to sing... as when I did it influenced what the children started to draw in the paint. We, as adults, have so much power... what we say, what music we put on etc will impact how the children play and what they do.The colours have been explored on the light table, using magnets and also with a brush danglinf down from a pole... there are SO many ways that the holiday can be explored through colour, and knowing your children's needs will help you make that decision... is it individual work, or team work, sensory exploration or more formal paiting with a brush... will you paint with holiday resources... like cookie cutters, tinsel/decorations etc - there is really so many possibilities.working together to dip the brush into the paint and create patternsI did this during summer... but for some, this season of holidays is a warm period... so using the holiday colours to create a collective artwork like this could be an option. It does not use more paint than the light table option... and then the artwork can be used as a background for continued exploration of the I added scent to the paints... this was part of a Hansel and Gretel exploration... but could easily be used as a holiday art exploration... using the scents of the holiday you want to explore. I have previously done rangoli designs with preschoolers using glue and spices...In the above image I used food extracts in liquid water colours that I diluted.magnets to pull the metal ball through the holiday colours... science and artI have done this many times, and in different ways... individually, pairs, large groups. They have all worked. For children with special needs I have done this FIRST individually, so that they had time to experience the sensory process at their own pace... so it did not become overwhelming of dealing with the sensory and the social at the same time. Those that were comfortable got to do it again in a group if they wanted. By doing it individually with these children I could adapt it - like wearing gloves, or putting plastic over so that they did not get messy, but could still participate.

Another art/creative approach is to put out a smörgåsbord of materials for the children to choose from to create their own arts and crafts. These can be loose-parts inspired by what the children have described as belonging to the holiday, or symbols, colours, paper, decorations etc in the atelier that the children can choose from to create collages, or loose-part art that can be created and recreated and saved by taking a photo.A buffet of holiday resources that the children can play and create with. Not set activities so all the children make the same kind of christmas tree, or menorah, or rangoli design they fill in... (even if the children inspire each other, and some things do end up being almost the same, this is the choice the children make themselves). If you have been talking about the celebration the children will have plenty of ideas... or they may simply be inspired to create something unrelated to the holiday with new kinds of materials... its is all learning.. for the children and for you.

5. Music

Song, music making and dancing - these are things that are often connected to celebrations and traditions. Learning songs together, dancing to traditional music, making Instruments that create sounds that connect to the holiday. Making music that sounds like the celebration.Often at this time of the year children perform for parents.This can be stressful for some children.. and a moment of joy to shine for other children.My last four Lucia celebrations with preschoolers has been done in a communal way with the parents... instead of performing for the parents the 1-5 year olds get to sit with their parents and sing together with them. The song lyrics are projected onto the wall so that all can sing along... and there is space in the middle for those children who feel the need to dance, sing and perform. It is a relaxed and joyful event of togetherness.Afterwards time to eat those pepparkakor!! semi transparent fabric from ceiling to floor to catch the the images on their way to the wall. Survival blankets (the silvery foil sheets) are also great for this kind of light play - as is bringing in natural loose parts.

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