Over the years, I can remember many of the Christmas gifts I received as a child. Whether it was the special doll I had been yearning for or even the more practical new coat I got as a teenager, I have fond memories of some presents. I don’t remember them all, but I do recall all the memories I have of those times.
One year an aunt gave my brother and me a popcorn popper. Doesn’t sound very exciting, but it morphed into a treasured memory as we strung popcorn for the tree each year using that popper. In addition, my father began the tradition of Sunday afternoon popcorn balls made with that popcorn, along with liberal amounts of butter and marshmallows.
It is the gift that keeps on giving — the memories mean the most, not the gift. They can’t be wrapped and put under the tree, but they are important to our lives. It boils down to the concept of quality time spent with family and friends. The Search institute, a nonprofit research organization, describes the concept of quality time as “constructive use of time.” Constructive use of time is one of the 40 developmental assets that the Search Institute lists as the building blocks of healthy development for children.
The upcoming holiday season is a perfect time to strengthen your family ties by teaching your children the value of constructive use of time. Children need to spend time interacting with parents and other adults and decrease the time they spend watching television or playing video games.
Think about things you can do together. Start by going places and doing things together. At my house, I remember driving to Austin and viewing the Christmas lights both at residences and driving down Congress Avenue toward the capitol. That is a treasured memory from my youth. I can still picture the decorations that festooned the road and what it looked like as it framed the state capitol.
Pile in the car and go see the lights that others have put up. There are great lights here in Fairbanks, so ask your friends where their favorite neighborhoods for viewing are.
Do the Christmas decorating as a family. Turn off the television, turn on the Christmas music and sing along. It doesn’t matter if it sounds good or not. It will instantly put you in a Christmas frame of mind.
Play a little. Go sledding, skiing, ice skating or even just walking together. I know it is cold outside, but bundle up and brave the weather. These short days and being cooped up in the house can wear on your spirits. Get outside in the sun, even if it is cold.
Play inside as well. This is the time to break out the board games and cards, or even put together a puzzle. Being in the moment and together is the important thing, not the actual activity you are doing.
Eat together. Family meals are important for kids’ development. In fact, research posted in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that eating meals together as a family frequently increases academic and behavioral outcomes. Take the time to eat together and to carry on a conversation. It’s a great time to convey family values and traditions.
Cook together. Cooking is a great learning activity to do with your kids. You’ll be teaching food chemistry and reinforcing math skills, plus you can eat the results. You can also pass on treasured family recipes, in addition to teaching valuable life skills to your kids.
Share traditions. Holidays are full of traditions, at the family, community and even area level. Take this time to tell the youngsters about them.
Plan some quality family time this holiday season. You’ll be giving your children the most important gift of all — your time.