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Family Central: Holiday Prep For Kids

Getting ready for the holidays can feel like running a marathon, except without the months of training – all the cleaning, cooking, shopping and, my favorite, list-making.

So why not enlist the help of your kids? More than free labor (although that in itself is a plus), you’ll have a chance to help your family define what’s important about the holiday season, and develop your own traditions.

Focus as a family: Do you ever feel like no one appreciates all the work you do at the holidays? Maybe that’s because you do too much. This year, simplify. Early in the season, have a family meeting and create a list of priorities for the season. Let everyone choose one favorite can’t-miss activity, and consider skipping everything else. Suggest at least one new activity that can be a new family tradition, and make sure you choose at least one that truly signifies the meaning of the holidays for you – whether it’s donating to a local charity, going caroling at a senior citizen center, or attending a special worship service.  You may be surprised that kids will pick an evening of board games and hot chocolate over going to the mall or yet another holiday party.

Make some gifts: Small kids love making greeting cards and presents. Set aside a weekend afternoon for making cards or crafts for their preschool and Sunday school teacher, soccer coach, dance instructor and the like. (Add a gift card to a popular restaurant or local store as your contribution.)

Bake it up:  Nearly everybody loves sweets, and almost every kid enjoys getting their hands dirty in the kitchen if cookies or candy are involved. Choose a couple simple recipes – maybe a trail mix or a slice-and-bake decorated cookie – that kids can finish mostly or completely by themselves. Let them wrap up their creations – those paper boxes that look like decorated Chinese-food takeout boxes are an inexpensive, easy option – and present to neighbors and friends as an inexpensive, personalized holiday gift.

Clean as a family: The least fun of the holiday prep activities, but the easiest to share. (Many hands make light work, as the saying goes!) For older kids, you can assign each a room or few tasks that they need to prioritize through the holidays – making sure the guest bath is always presentable, or keeping the dining and kitchen tables free of clutter. For younger kids, have nightly 10- or 15-minute “cleaning bursts,” where you work together to pick up toys, wipe down counters, or any other tasks that

Designing centerpieces: You probably already have a full set of holiday decorations, but let children make their mark on the holiday decor by letting them pick a favorite flower, plant or candle for the dinner table, and build your design around their favorites.  Encourage simple, like a line of mini-pumpkins and votive candles, marching down the center of the table, or a collection of three miniature poinsettias grouped together. Your children pick something gaudier than you would prefer? As long as it fits in your budget, let them have it; it’s their holiday, too. And who knows? That goofy papier-mâché snowman they pick out may end up being a treasured family heirloom.