Promoting Children’s Development During the Holiday Season

Clinical Psychology Photini Panayiotou

The holiday season is upon us, offering countless opportunities for quality family time. With toddlers and children home from school for the holiday break, and with families gathering around to celebrate, the New Year’s holidays presents with many enjoyable opportunities for children to reinforce their learning and expand on their developmental skills.

Undeniably, the family unit plays a critical role in a child’s development across a large number of areas, including fine motor skills, cognitive, emotional, and social development. During this busy festive season, fostering your child’s developmental needs can seem like a demanding and time-consuming task. However, the holiday break is filled with several enjoyable family activities that can bring you together whilst also nurturing your child’s development and skills. Here are some fun ways to encourage your child’s cognitive, social and fine-motor skills development this holiday season:

  1. Read a Festive Book Together: Reading to your children can have several benefits, from bringing you together to helping them develop a love for books and advancing their vocabulary and comprehension level. Find a book that will be of interest to your child, perhaps one that tells a festive story, and that is more advanced than the child’s current reading level. You can choose a number of short books, or a longer book, and read one book, or one chapter every day. If you are not sure which book to select, your child’s teacher, the local librarian or a bookstore staff member can recommend some good festive books. Alternatively, if your child can read, you can select a book according to their reading level and take turns reading the story to each other. You can also assist your child shape their critical and analytical thinking by asking them questions about what you have read, e.g. ‘What did you think of …… (character’s name) decision? Or ‘Why do you think the Mama Bear chose to …… (action)?
  2. Bake biscuits together: Baking and cooking is a great way of encouraging a child’s social, language and math skills. Make a list of ingredients needed for your child’s favourite biscuits, and take the child to the supermarket to pick them up together. You can discuss, and perhaps write down the steps needed to make and bake the biscuits e.g. ‘First, we need to put the flour in a bowl’. Whilst you prepare, use the baking as an opportunity to use addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions (e.g. ‘cut the dough in half’, ‘use the dough to make 10 biscuits’ ‘double the sugar’). When the biscuits are done, encourage the child to give some out to their friends and relatives, and ask your child to share with them how they were made. A good idea would be to make gift baskets for friends or other family members, and ask the child to add equal numbers of biscuits into each box. Baking with your child presents with many developmental opportunities: making the list and naming the ingredients can foster the child’s language abilities, the visit to the grocery store and sharing the cookies can promote their social skills, and using the 4 basic operations while baking can aid their comprehension of mathematical concepts.
  3. Make holiday decorations together: Making holiday crafts together is another fun way to spend some quality time with your child, whilst also aiding them in developing their fine motor and language skills. Make a list of materials and visit the local DYI store to collect them together. Ask your child to offer their opinions and ideas on what to make and how to make it. Whether you decide to make paper angels, sparkly snowflakes or spay-paint ornaments, talk about what you are doing in a sequence e. g. ‘First we will cut the paper, and then we will use the glue to attach the sides’. As you are working together, encourage your child to use this “first/then” vocabulary to describe what they are doing as they are doing it. Allow the child to experiment using pencils, papers, safety-scissors, glue, or any other material you chose to work with. Making holiday decorations together can also help the child build ‘do-it- yourself’ skills and foster a sense of pride in their achievements.
  4. Decorate your house for the holidays together: Decorating your home with your child can also present with opportunities to develop several language and visual-spatial abilities, while enjoying a fun activity together. Ask your child to help you decorate the house, and encourage the use of descriptive words as you arrange the ornaments, e.g. ‘gold’ ‘sparkly’ ‘shimmering’. Include the child in decisions on how to decorate the house, e.g. ‘Where do you want to put this ornament’? ‘What else should go there?’ The questions (i.e., who, what, where, when, why) will stir up a discussions about your common activities. To foster the child’s math and visual-spatial abilities, you can use instructions such as ‘Place the larger ornament on the lower branch of the tree’ or ‘Place 4 candles at the centre of the table’.

To conclude, use this holiday period to provide your children with opportunities to improve and expand their developmental skills, whilst creating lifelong memories with your family. Happy Holidays!