With Thanksgiving just now appearing in our rearview mirrors, it’s time to start planning for Christmas! Most everyone needs a Christmas party idea. Whether you call it a “Christmas Party” or “Winter Celebration” or what have you, most preschools have some kind of celebration at the end of the year. Now whether you teach at a public or private school may have a lot to do with how you celebrate this time of year. Regardless of those classifications, I’ve found that a service party fits the bill. And surprisingly, I don’t think the children have ever been disappointed by the fact that this party is more about others than about them. Quite honestly, I think they take great pride in being able to help others. In addition to fostering pro-social skills, it makes them feel important, bigger, and more powerful. Those are things all preschoolers crave (though I think I know a few adults who crave them too)!
Here’s how it’s worked for me in the past. Read through it and make adjustments for your group based on their ages and ability levels, your center’s policies and procedures, and the needs of people in your local area. It has worked particularly well to have parents attend and help their little kiddos through this series of simple service activities. I start out with a story for everyone, then I explain the tables with projects, and from there, we basically have a “free-choice” time, where the parents and children just choose which project they would like to work on next.
Scarf Making- I start out by reading the book, The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen. It’s the story of a boy with no mittens who is surprised one day to find mittens hanging from a tree near the school bus stop. Sarah, the old woman responsible for the surprise, finds that her act of service brought both her and the boy so much happiness that she knits and knits, using all her yarn, until she has produced mittens for each child at the bus stop. She hangs them on the big spruce tree at the bus stop and upon returning home, finds that there is a surprise waiting for her as well.
From this story, I talk with the children about what it would be like to be out in the cold without mittens, or without hats, or without coats to keep them warm. (Fortunately, the children I teach don’t have this concern for themselves.) We talk a bit about this idea, and I let them know I have a friend who knows lots of people who don’t have enough warm clothes (she works at a local homeless shelter) and that we can make some warm clothes for her to share with some of those people. I tell them that I don’t know how to knit mittens, but I do know how to make scarves – and they can help! I pull out a basket of fleece for no-sew fleece scarves.
I usually just have the scarf strips pre-cut and the children and their parents cut the fringe and tie the fringe in knots if desired. You may want to prepare cutting guides out of cardboard, or just use masking tape to mark how high up the cuts should go.
(Update 12-18-09) – I recently did this activity with a group of young children and had an epiphany. If you precut the scarves (at 6 inches wide) and the fringe (at about 1 – 1 1/2 inch widths), then make a small button-hole snip at the top of each fringe, the children can simply feed the fringe through the button-hole for a cool -and easy- finish. A picture’s worth a thousand words on this one, so here’s a link. This link is for fleece blankets, so skip to steps 4 and 5. (They suggest using a seam-ripper to make the small hole, but I usually just fold the fabric and make a small snip with the tip of my scissors.) Some children can help cut or tie knots, but almost any child can help feed the fringe through the holes!
Cookie Decorating – I have one table set up for cookie decorating, so the children can make an assortment of cookies to take home and share with their family, or someone else of their choosing. Along with hand-sanitizer, wash cloths and paper plates, I provide the cookies and frosting, and each child brings something (sprinkles, candies, etc.) to share with everyone for the decorating! If you don’t use store-bought sugar cookies (can be ordered from a bakery), and you don’t already have a favorite recipe, you might want to try this one. You can also buy pre-made frosting, of course, but I’ve had really good luck with this icing found here. Make sure parents keep an eye on children as they work at this table. There tends to be a strong desire to lick frosting off of knives, or shake sprinkles directly into mouths. Just be aware and have lots of extra utensils handy for a quick trade!
Meal Making- Let the children know ahead of time that they should be thinking of someone who may need a dinner that can be served up or frozen for later. Maybe someone who is older or sick, or maybe even someone who is just plain busy! Some children may even choose someone who really just needs a visitor and the knowledge that someone cares. Have the children bring disposable baking pans, or provide them for them. Have them each bring a portion of the recipe and then, with their parents, they can assemble a meal from the ingredients provided. I’ve used this recipe for Chicken Dressing Casserole, as the ingredients are all pre-cooked and can be put together easily into individual dishes then reheated or frozen for later. You may also want to consider using another recipe that can be used similarly. Whatever you do, prepare tags for the meals that include the recipe (so that recipients know what it contains and can make it later if they love it) and freezing/cooking instructions.
Letters, Cards, and Pictures- Last, but not least, have one table with paper, markers, scissors, etc. and encourage the children to make cards, letters, and pictures that they can mail or hand-deliver to anyone that may enjoy them!
This list may just be an idea starter for you. However it works for you, take advantage of the opportunity to teach young children about service! Let us know here how these ideas have worked for you, as well as how you plan to change things up to meet the needs of your fabulously unique little ones!
(Please note, that food handling policies may differ between centers or types of formal or informal organizations and gatherings. Please consult and consider your specific conditions.)
Top girl photo by formay2006.
Cookie photo by N_O_A_H.
Red pot photo by vierdrie.
Crayon photo by dhester.