Momservation: Idle hands are the calm before the storm.
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I still remember it like it was yesterday.
The Friday before Thanksgiving break 36 years ago, first grade at Monte Vista Elementary, Mrs. Blanchard’s class. (Okay, I had to look up the name of the school and my teacher from an old class photo—but everything else I really remember!)
That was the day our class was introduced to “stations” in the name of educating while celebrating a holiday at school (or it was just meant to keep a bunch of squirrelly six year-olds busy) back when schools still let teachers have fun with the curriculum and sugar kids up.
Listening to Mrs. Blanchard explain the instructions for each Thanksgiving themed station, we were like a pack of hounds vibrating to be let loose to chase the fox. We would be broken into groups and get a half hour at each of these stations:
– Candle making
– Construction paper pilgrim hats or Indian headdresses (and yellow, red, brown and orange paper chains if there was still time left)
– Decorating a pine cone with beads and glitter
– Decorating and eating a turkey shaped sugar cookie
I had never been so in love with school until that day (and I REALLY loved school). Not just one project, but four! Glitter! Cookies! Hot wax! A treasured gift of creativity for my mother—another paper chain to go with the orange and black one I just made her!
When we were assigned to our stations I was momentarily disappointed that I didn’t get to start with the cookie decorating or dipping the foot-long wick into the parent-supervised hot wax. I almost took offense to having to start at the construction paper station while my arch-nemesis, Kelly Seal, the girl who dared to have the same first name as me and seemed to be pulling it off much better, of course, got to start at the cookie station. But give a six year-old scissors, glue, and colorful strips of construction paper and all problems melt away.
Years later, when I went into teaching, I recreated this magical part of elementary education for my 5th grade students—fun activity stations to celebrate the holidays—under the philosophy of rewarding kids for working hard throughout the year. (But we had to do things like weigh the cookies before and after we decorated them to appease my bench-mark strict vice-principal—now you can’t even bring in homemade cookies.)
Though I’m not teaching anymore, I still espouse the work hard/play hard philosophy at home. So when the Thanksgiving holiday break comes and we have a week off from school, I like to play with the kids after a first quarter of working hard for good grades. But like Mrs. Blanchard and I learned, there’s a built in underlying benefit—it keeps the squirrely kids busy and out of trouble.
Listed below are some “stations” for each day of the Thanksgiving holiday break (with an extra thrown in for desperation) to have fun playing hard with your kids while celebrating the holidays:
- Go ice skating. A lot of temporary holiday rinks are open this time of year (Sacramento’s is the Downtown Ice Rink) and it’s a fun way to celebrate the change in seasons and feel festive. Even if there’s no holiday rink in your town, hit up the local ice rink.
- Scavenger Hunt grocery style. Turn the shopping for Thanksgiving dinner with the kids into fun instead of a nightmare. Give everyone a copy of the list and see who can find the correct brand or type of food first. Points lost for running, bad manners, or things not put back where they were found. Winner gets to pick a favorite dessert with dinner that night.
- Get cooking. Teach the kids how to make something for the Thanksgiving feast and be a part of the cooking tradition. Start with something easy like making a Jell-O salad, homemade applesauce, or apple or pumpkin pie (with pre-made crust). Depending on patience and attention spans you can increase the level of difficulty. Great pride and sense of accomplishment for kids.
- Get crafty. Hit up the local Michael’s or forage from your own yard and closets to make Thanksgiving table centerpieces and decorations. Pinterest is a great resource for fun projects.
- Play a game. When the weather turns chilly and wet and darkness cuts off outdoor playtime, throw a Duraflame log on the fire, heat up some hot cocoa and pull out some games. If you’re tired of your same board games, go buy a new one everyone’s been wanting to try. A deck of cards has endless possibilities with Pagat being a great resource for fun card games.
- Make a chain. I prefer food related chains with popcorn and cranberries, or Fruit Loops cereal, marshmallows and raisins, but if you’ve got younger kids you can never go wrong with strips of colorful construction paper. You can go with Thanksgiving theme or get started with Christmas decorations.
- Go shopping. Christmas shopping starts the day after Christmas—have the kids learn the value of money while finding gifts for ones they love. Take them to the dollar store, Walmart, or other discount store. Have them create a list of people they’d like to buy for, give them a budget, their own basket, and enjoy watching their delight when they find that perfect gift at the right price for Grandma and their brother or sisters.
- Start wrapping. If you hit up Black Friday or took the kids shopping, get a jump on wrapping gifts. Set up a wrapping station, put on festive music, put out yummy snacks and drinks, and encourage creative bows and original packaging.
- Go get your Christmas tree. There are a shorter amount of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, so don’t delay on getting that tree! If your tradition is a lot around the corner, make it special by having lunch or dinner at a favorite restaurant after. Maybe this is the year you go cut down a tree like you’ve always talked about. Or if you’ve got your trusty artificial tree, do #8 but swap out wrapping for decorating.
- Movie night. Grab the whole family and take in one of the new release movies for the holidays—for a little extra excitement change it up and go to a late movie that will end past bedtime. Or snuggle in at home with a movie with extra pillows and blankets pulled out, or the hide-a-bed, and a freebie on junk food and soda to go with it.
Enjoy your stations and Happy Thanksgiving break!