The following strategies will help you navigate and enjoy the holiday season while selecting meaningful gifts for your loved ones.
Holidays provide an opportunity to spend time with our elders and hear their stories. Ask your kids to pretend they’re reporters or film makers and interview their grandparents’ about their favorite toys. What did they eat before microwave ovens? Use a camera to create a documentary; or, draw your family tree; collect heirloom recipes, and capture humorous tales and adventures in a family scrapbook.
Diane Levin, professor of education at Boston’s Wheelock College says she’s concerned children aren’t learning how to problem solve because they’re plopped in front of a screen that does all the work for them. She recommends the Toy Action Guide developed by Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment. (4)
Brand-name candy or cookie counting books and fast-food play sets reinforce junk food. Instead, choose toys, games and books that support health-promoting behaviors. For example, a kitchen set that includes toy fruits, vegetables, and milk will help model healthy eating habits through play.
It guarantees that children will spend more time with advertisers and less time with parents and siblings, not to mention books, physical activities or creative play. It also ensures that they'll be repeatedly exposed to cultural messages that may lie outside your family's values. Mike Rich, filmmaker-turned-physician at the Center on Media and Child Health (5), says media is the single biggest environmental risk factor for children in this century. In addition to TV’s direct link to childhood obesity, Rich says violent media scares kids, desensitizes them to violence, and makes them more prone to act violently. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of quality screen time per day, and no TV or videos for children under two years of age. (6)
Skates, sleds, pogo sticks, Frisbees, hoola-hoops, bikes, balls, hoops and nets promote outdoor physical play. But you don’t need special equipment to enjoy a family nature hike. Include a scavenger hunt to ignite children’s interest. Collect rocks and seed pods and see how many animal tracks or trees you can identify.
Choose gifts that help children express and develop their unique talents -- musical instruments, paints, embroidery thread or bead kits. Even better, select a craft you can work on with your kids.
Purchase locally made crafts and goods made in the U.S., rather than imported trinkets from faceless workers in overseas factories with loose manufacturing standards. Find earth-friendly gifts, responsible companies, and organic farmers in Co-op America’s National Green Pages. (7)
Make a book filled with “coupons” your children can turn in for special activities, or sharing a skill – a cooking lesson, a trip to the library, reading a favorite story, a picnic supper in a park of their choice, a visit to an art museum, or an afternoon hiking through a creek.
Or, give away gently used items from your own home.
You’ll teach them that the best gift is often the feeling we get from helping others.