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A Beautiful Break

Holiday Tradition Ideas

Holidays are all about traditions. And traditions have power.  They have power in the ways they connect us.  And they have power in helping our children to learn, grow, and become better people.

Traditions come from repetition and routine.  They bring predictability and provide comfort, especially to children.  The holiday season is a great time to establish or reestablish traditions that will help your child discover meaning, both in the holidays you celebrate and in the family you have built.  Traditions create shared experiences and common culture.  That, in turn, builds connections to each other and the world.  Here are some areas where you can continue or create traditions.


Reading has a very positive educational impact on your child no matter the time of year.  But during the holiday school break it can take on even more meaning.

Many holiday traditions come from reading.  And that’s quite fitting because the very purpose of holidays is to ensure that important events will be remembered over time. Storytelling has always been the most effective way to pass information from generation to generation.  The topic may be that Jesus is God’s gift to the world and the route to salvation (Christmas), that faith in God will help us prevail (Hanukkah), that love often involves sacrifice above selfishness (O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi), or simply that we belong to each other (too many stories to name)

It could be the annual read-aloud of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas or the verses in Luke 2 that describe the joy of Jesus’ birth. “There were shepherds living out in the fields…and the angel of the Lord came upon them.” The specifics are up to you and your family. And if you repeat these traditions year after year, your children will come to love them, look forward to them and find great meaning in them.  They may even object loudly if you try to mix things up a bit! The traditions themselves will become part of the family.


Cooking or baking together is a great way to both follow traditions and get in some valuable practice in math and science.  Recipes are all about measuring and doubling, tripling or halving a recipe offers plenty of opportunity to exercise mental math.  If done right, your children may not even be aware of all they are learning while you are making holiday treats together.

You can create memories and develop creative and presentation skills by documenting your activities.  Take photos, make recipe books, and illustrate and decorate freely.  The keepsakes you create will doubtless have great value to you and your family.


Playing games together — board games, not computer games — can be a very educational social experience.  Games involve learning how to take turns, adding, counting and subtracting, probability and telling or keeping time.  Games also involve problem-solving skills and critical thinking.  They provide excellent opportunities to teach fair play and how to win and lose with grace.

Puzzles have the added benefit of providing plenty of space to just talk while you are occupied in a joint effort to put the pieces together.  Often, the limited eye contact that arises in the course of solving a puzzle actually frees the child from the pressures that direct eye contact can bring.  This activity can help the reticent child feel a bit more freedom to express himself.  Like time in the car, puzzle time can be very illuminating.


Especially for those of us who have the good fortune to be able to provide our children lives of plenty, the opportunity to give to others can create great meaning during the holiday season.  Children truly gain a wider sense of the world and a measure of self-esteem when they bring their old toys to the migrant workers’ mission in Balm/Wimauma, volunteer at Metropolitan Ministries or go caroling at a senior citizens’ home. Every house of worship will help you find venues and opportunities to enrich your child’s life and the lives of others through service during this special time of year.

It’s the season of giving more than the season of getting and we humans learn best by doing.  Making service a priority will have a lasting impact on your child.  Stories of uncommon generosity abound in the holiday season, and they have great power to inspire adults and children alike.  With the right touch, you can make the uncommon commonplace in your family, and that’s a gift that could last for many lifetimes.

Mark Heller is head of school at Academy at the Lakes, a PreK3 – 12th grade independent school in the north Tampa area.  For more information, visit Academy at the Lakes

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