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Preparing For The Holidays And Learning To Be Helpful

Here’s a wonderfully simple way to focus on helping others as the holidays approach.  All you need is a large jar and some sort of item to use as a “counter”.  In our house, we used dried pinto beans.  Pennies would also be a good counter, or even pebbles.

One of my husband’s and my main goals as the holidays approach is to teach our children about the gift of giving of ourselves.  We do this by focusing on ways to be helpful without being asked and without fanfare or reward.  The focus is on the act of kindness.  To reinforce this lesson, we set a large jar on the kitchen counter along with a shallow dish with a supply of dried beans in it.

Each time one of us (children and adults alike) was helpful to another family member, a friend, a neighbor or even a stranger, we moved a bean from the dish into the jar.  Over the next several weeks, we watch the number of beans in the jar grow.  We also talk about being helpful on Sundays when we are all dining together.  We share ideas of how to be helpful and come up with new ways to help and try out during the upcoming week. 

These small acts can be something simple, such as helping a schoolmate at the water fountain or aiding in a search for a lost toy or item.  Or, it can be something larger, such as helping with the dishes when it isn’t even your turn, or cleaning up your room without being told.  Regardless, everyone is on his or her honor to help “fill the jar”. 

On Christmas Eve, after the kids go to sleep, “Santa” comes to our house and replaces the beans with something a bit more festive, such as chocolate candies or jellybeans.  There are usually “a few more” than there were beans.  After all, Santa’s a very giving person as well!  It helps tie in this wonderful lesson we want our children to learn with the fun of Christmas.

This is a great idea to try year-round.  Once the jar is filled, the family can trade it in for something special, such as a trip to the movies or an ice-cream night.  If using pennies, trade in the pennies for folding change and use that for the special reward!

The First Days Of School – Setting The Tone For The Rest Of The Year

Going back to school, no matter what the age, can be an emotional time for children, parents and teachers.  It marks the beginning of another year of learning.  The rules and standards you set the first week of school can help your child be more successful for the rest of the year.  Here are some ideas on how to make the transition back to school easier for everyone!


  • COUNTDOWN!  If you still have several days to go until the first day of school, make a countdown calendar.  Cross off each day before the first day, or make a tear-off style calendar, tearing off a number as you count down to the day school begins.
  • Early to bed, early to rise.  Unless your child is a living alarm clock like mine, it is best to start the early wake-up time before the actual first day.  Children need at least a week to readjust their sleep habits so they can be alert and ready to learn when they walk into school that first day.
  • Take an early tour.  If your child’s school offers a “back to school” night prior to the first day, take advantage and go walk the halls with your child.  If not, call the school and see if there is some time you can go up to the school and have a look around, even if it is just to see the cafeteria and gym.

And, during that first week, here are some habits to establish early to aid in a successful year:

  • SCHEDULES:  Create a time during the day for homework.  Even if your child doesn’t have “homework”, this can be a great time to work on independent reading.  Our routine in our house is to have a 15 minute break after school (for snacks and talking about our day) and then homework time before dinner.  Dinnertime and beyond is our family time, so we try to knock homework out early!
  • Communicate with the teacher:  As a former public school teacher, I cannot emphasize enough how much of an impact it made on my relationship with a child when I developed a relationship with the parent.  Remember that the teacher has 17-24 other parents as well.  Be respectful of his/her time, but make an effort to introduce yourself early and make yourself available if he/she needs to talk with you.  And, let the teacher know how much you appreciate them.  Teachers rarely hear that!
  • Set up a few chores.  If your child is not already helping out around the house, adding this to the routine during the school year is a perfect time to do so.  It instills a feeling of family and community; the child is helping contribute to the well-being of the family.  Just make sure that the chore or chores aren’t too overwhelming; taking the recycling out to the bin or setting the table for dinner are great, easy chores for children of any age.
  • The debriefing.  From Day One, make sure you spend some time with your child, reviewing their day.  “How was your day” is not good enough.  With my older son, we have a game we play as we walk home from school.  I challenge him each day to tell me three good things that happened to him at school that day before we get home.  More often than not, this also opens the door to things that bothered him, scared him, or confused him.  And, by the time we make it home, he’s really talking.  His response is always far better than the typical “Fine” response.  When his days aren’t so great, he feels very comfortable telling me about it.
  • Preparation.  If possible, have everything ready the night before – clothes laid out, lunch made/lunch money packed in backpack, homework done and ready to go back to school.  This will make the morning routine much easier on everyone.  Don’t forget to stick a note in your child’s belongings – a pants pocket, in the backpack, on the lunch napkin.  That little note will go a long way in helping your child feel comfortable throughout the day.
  • Reward yourselves.  When the first week draws to a close, try to plan something a bit more personal for your children: a special dinner, a short outing, a family night, a movie.  And let them know that they’ve had a great week and you are looking forward to many more!
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