Monday, November 28, 2005

A Magical Christmas Chain

Are your children getting anxious about Christmas now that Thanksgiving has come and gone? The media is certainly doing its part, with blaring advertisements everywhere you look. The stores are helping get your child hyped up, too, with the huge Christmas displays that would attract the attention of nearly any child. The question is, can your child stand to keep this level of fever pitch excitement up for the next four weeks? Sometimes, you need something to help your young one put it all into perspective.

But that can be very difficult to do, since most toddlers and preschoolers have no concept of the measurement of time or how calendars work. Any event that is outside of immediate is very difficult for them to understand, and waiting seems interminable. The longer they need to wait, the more likely they are to become cranky and irritable. That's the last thing you need during this stressful season. Here's a way you can help your child better understand how long this wait will be.

Make a simple Christmas chain! You remember these from your own childhood, I'm sure. Cut strips of construction paper (actually, any paper will do) into half to one inch wide pieces. The pieces should be at least six inches long, too. Longer strips will work just fine, but will make bigger links in your chain. Form the first link by making a circle from a strip and gluing, taping or stapling it closed. Add a link to the chain by threading a strip through the last circle you made and closing it up. Keep going, and you will have a Christmas chain.

And here's where this changes from a classic Christmas project into a new idea. Make a link in your chain for each day between now and Christmas. Help your child to count the links and count the days on the calendar to make sure they match. You'll have a LONG chain to begin with, but that's OK. You can even measure it if you want to add another dimension of learning to this game.

Hang your chain up somewhere out in sight. Now, make a daily ritual out of removing a link from the loose end! Each day, at the same time and in the same way, you can take off a link to show that Christmas is coming one day closer. Count the links each and every day together, and your child will get some really valuable practice with numbers, too.

But the best advantage to playing this game is that your child will have a very concrete way of ticking off the days before Christmas comes. Even the youngest toddler can watch the chain get shorter and will delight in "helping" you count down to the Big Day. And each day that you perpetuate the ritual, you provide a teensy outlet for all of that pent up excitement. Think of it as a sort of safety valve that will help your child's overall behavior over the next few weeks.

A magical Christmas chain will help older children, too. You may well find yourself with an on-going ritual that ensconces itself deep in your family traditions and one that gets passed down to future generations. Countdown with a Christmas chain this year! Your children will learn patience, number skills, and a sense of community. It'll be fun for everyone to watch and anticipate the upcoming holiday.

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