by Bev Robertson/ November 24, 2016
The holidays are a special time for families to celebrate traditions, to share the reason for the season, and to create new memories. Christmastime can be simply magical, but have you ever wondered what Christmas means to a preschool child? Young preschoolers may not completely grasp the meaning of the symbols, the beliefs, and the activities that surround the holiday season.
Have your ever been to a shopping mall and observed small children taking photos with Santa during the holidays? Often young children cry and fret. Santa may be completely out of a little one’s comfort zone because there is lack of knowledge about him. Just a day or two before, preschoolers were getting used to the idea of seeing pilgrims and Indians. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there is a big guy in a red suit with a big bushy beard, and he wants an unsuspecting child to sit on his lap! Think for a moment how overwhelming and scary this entire scenario could be for a little one who does not yet know about Santa Claus.
We as adults assume that our kids will love Santa as much as we did and still do. However, often the opposite happens. Children cry and reach out to mom or dad to be rescued from this strange man that cries out “Ho-Ho-Ho” repeatedly. What was meant to be a fun family time turns into a frightening ordeal for a preschooler, and it was simply for a lack of knowledge.
There are three keys to helping a preschooler learn, understand, and enjoy Christmas and the holidays:
First, never assume that your preschooler will accept the unfamiliar. If you want your child to love Santa as much as you do, that concept will need to be taught and instilled. If you want your child to understand the birth of Jesus and all things holy and sacred about this Christian holiday, your child must be taught.
Second, expect your preschooler to be curious and to ask questions during the holidays. All things are new to a young preschool child. If your child is three years old at Christmas time, everything from Christmas trees, to presents, to baby Jesus, to candy canes are all being viewed for the first time with the possibilities of understanding. When your kids were two years old, they were still only interested in being fed, being diapered, given naps, and being nurtured. Nothing, absolutely nothing, about the holidays was retained by a three-year-old from the year before. Be prayed up and ready to take the time to answers dozens and dozens of questions each day about everything that is seen, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled during the holiday season. Count on it—there will be questions!
Third, create an atmosphere of learning. For adults, Christmas and the responsibilities of Christmas are often the time of year when we feel the most overwhelmed, overscheduled, overspent, and preoccupied with all that needs to be done, cooked, shopped for, wrapped, and so on. Schedule time, valuable time, when you can simply teach your child about Christmas.
Let’s talk about teaching methods and concepts. We as parents and grandparents, older siblings, or even caregivers, often assume that little ones will embrace the wonder of Christmas. However, just as we teach young children how to count, recognize shapes, tie their shoes, sing preschool songs, or handle a spoon or fork, we should also teach our children about the traditions and activities of the holidays. Learning for preschoolers is simply hands-on.
Recently I spent a little time on the Internet simply searching for preschool learning activities that teach holiday concepts through tactile involvement. There are hundreds of fun activities, crafts, lessons, songs, and stories that can make the holidays come to life for preschoolers.
Fourth, teach repetitively! Preschoolers need to be exposed to a concept 8-10 times before they will fully grasp or understand a concept or true meaning. Let me give you an example:
When I was a new mom, I opened a faith-based daycare and preschool, which provided me the opportunity to be with my own children and still help provide an income for our family. Teaching young children about the holidays was top priority. Each day during December—from December 1 through December 31—I taught preschool children a new concept daily. Let’s start with the Christmas star. For one full day, every activity, song, meal, snack, lesson, and story had something to do with the Christmas star. The following day we would add a new concept, such as the Christmas tree, and would repeat our understanding of the star and how it might pertain to the Christmas tree. Each day we added new concepts to help the preschooler understand the big picture of Christmas, while reviewing the previous days.
Christmas and holiday teaching should not end on December 25. For many days or weeks after Christmas, repetitious learning should continue in order to solidify what has previously been taught. We should also consider teaching good characteristics during the holidays—such as believing, loving, giving, sharing, caring, faith, and pleasing God.
Fifth, preschool kids can soak up both spiritual and traditional concepts and meanings of any holiday. Let’s go back to the mall and Santa Claus at the photo booth. If children are introduced to the concept of Santa as a symbol of Christmas with previous photos, stories, experiences, and reasons, a preschool child might be less anxious when it comes to sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo session.
Let’s turn our focus to the Nativity and the true meaning of Christmas. Shepherds and wise men are not common people in our preschooler’s world. To a young child, it might seem very strange that all of the people surrounding sweet baby Jesus have on long gowns and their heads covered with cloth. It also may seem very strange that a mommy and daddy would put their baby in a wooden box with hay. Where is the nice soft bed and the blanket? And where is the pacifier? And didn’t anyone think to bring Jesus a teddy bear? How confusing the real story of Christmas must be to a preschooler if their only exposure is to see a Nativity!
Ask the Holy Spirit to guide. In preparation of the holidays, take time to prayerfully ask for wisdom of the Holy Spirit to correctly and appropriately teach your preschool children about Christmas. We must be willing and able to convey to our children why the holidays are so important outside of the gifts that they might receive.
This year, give your child the gift of learning, time, and the enjoyment of all of the simple wonders of the Christmas season.