By Jennifer Hoegg
In December, the kids are bouncy and the grown ups are busy and the bustle of the holidays can make it difficult to slow down and spend time as a family.
Laura Churchill Duke, who runs the local Valley Family Fun website, has a number of ideas to keep children active and happy through the holiday season.
The Kentville mother of two boys has been introducing new family traditions during the holiday season. On the first day of December, she hosted an Advent party for four families with nine children, ages one to seven.
“Years ago, my mum and her friends had set up this Advent Christmas party for us as kids and we had such amazing memories that I couldn’t wait to do it with my kids,” Churchill Duke said.
The whole thing was so easy to do, she said.
“We divided the kids into three groups. Each room in the house was a different station,” she said.
As the children moved from room to room, parents hosted activities: cookie decorating, snow globe making and Christmas stories by the fire.
“Each station was only 10 to 15 minutes, and then we had a potluck supper,” Churchill Duke said. For the grand finale, Santa Claus showed up at the door.
“That’s an extra that most people wouldn’t do,” she pointed out. For older children, she suggested having board game stations in different rooms.
Closer to Christmas, she and husband David Duke surprised her kids with another activity that the boys - Daniel, seven, and Thomas, four - hope will become an annual tradition. Duke made up bingo cards of Christmassy sights to spot, including reindeer, candy canes and wreaths.
“We put the kids in their jammies and told them to go to bed, but when they got in there, on the bed they each found tickets to ride the Polar Express to go see Christmas lights,” Churchill Duke said. With glow sticks and bingo daubers in hand, they went on their way.
Celebrating family traditions can be a good time to discuss how families in other cultures and religions celebrate the season, local early childhood educator Lila Hope-Simpson points out.
“For example, in Holland, children put out wooden shoes instead of hanging stockings. You can promote tolerance by teaching children about other holidays at this time of year such as Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, so they understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas, but that all customs and traditions are acceptable and respected.”
She agrees activities don’t have to be expensive or complicated.
“Decorating gingerbread houses or people, or good old-fashioned baking is always fun for the whole family,” the Heart and Home Family Daycare owner offered.
“Spending quality family time together is what the holidays are all about, so bundle up and go for a walk, a skate, a ski or a romp in the snow!”
Churchill Duke says she loves going to the Acadia natural trail at this time of year or the Kentville ravine or the rail trail.
“It’s a nice chance to get outside and encourage people to get moving and do stuff together.”
Hikes may be a good opportunity to not only channel children’s energy, but also an opportunity to gather material for some winter nature crafts Hope-Simpson suggests.
“Kids enjoy gathering acorns, pinecones and fir tree branches for wreaths and collages,” she said.
If the weather is bad, there are plenty of no-cost indoor activities in the area through the month.
“Most of the rinks have free skates,” Churchill Duke said. “Libraries have Christmas story times and crafts.
“People sometimes think that to do something fun with their kids it has to cost a lot of money or big and elaborate and it doesn’t,” she said.