Giving Thanks and Making Gifts
"...for it is in giving that we receive..." —Francis of Assisi (13th century)
'Tis the season when the true spirit of giving is often overtaken by a frantic schedule. Before that happens, let's find ways you and your child can create a more meaningful holiday. Your child's innate sense of generosity can be expanded as you focus on the activities of giving thanks and making gifts.
Begin with Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a time when we give thanks for both tangible and intangible gifts. It incorporates our desires to share our gifts with others and to give thanks for the abundant world in which we live. We can talk to even our youngest children about what we and they are thankful for. In my family, the tradition is to have each person at the Thanksgiving table say what they are grateful for just before we carve the turkey.
Another theme of the holiday season is generosity. Of course, the excitement of getting gifts often becomes the primary focus for children. However, we can help them learn the pleasure of giving to others. The gifts we give are another way to show our gratitude to someone.
Talk with your children about the many ways to be generous, whether gifting time, favors, presents, or words of appreciation. Your gift list may include family, friends, neighbors, and service workers. Children are amazingly insightful and will come up with original ideas, as together you discover the perfect "thank you" for that special someone.
Include the Children
Although sometimes it is easier just to purchase a gift for your child to give another, it is rewarding to involve children in the process of gift-making and giving. This allows your child to be a part of the surprise whether or not they are able to keep the secret. If possible, include your child in the process of wrapping and delivering the gift, too.
Montessori observed that children become acquainted with the world through movement and experience. The process of making something instills an inner satisfaction in the child which he wants to share. By "doing it myself," the gift becomes a gift of the child's self.
Made by Small Hands
Some of my favorite keepsakes are the handprints my children made as toddlers. In fact, I liked them so much I continued the project annually until the children's hands became too big for the 5"X7" frames I displayed them in.
- To make a handprint, paint the palm of your child's hand with tempera paint. Holding the child's wrist steady, press firmly onto construction paper or cardstock.
- When dry, these prints make lovely tree ornaments, framed with felt in holiday colors with a ribbon hanger. Placed in simple Lucite frames, they are perfect for a desk or dresser. They can be used to make greeting cards or place cards, too.
- For Thanksgiving, a handprint can be made into a turkey by painting each finger a different color to represent the tail feathers, and painting the palm and thumb brown for the body and head of the turkey. With fingers spread away from the thumb, press down on the paper to print. After the paint dries, draw on the feet, an eye and the red neck waddle.
- Variations of the handprint project could include all the children of the family to make a "tree" using handprints for the branches and fingerprints for the leaves. In this landscape you can make birds or bugs flying around the tree by using thumbprints and a pen to make the wings or legs. The family tree is a lovely gift for grandparents and could include all the grandchildren.
- Using textile paint, you can design handprint napkins, placemats, t-shirts, or lampshades, or even make a wall hanging of the family tree.
Other Handmade Gifts
There are many gifts the children can make with you: cookies or muffins, painted rocks for paperweights, books of your child's artwork, etc. Children not only enjoy and learn from these activities, but also delight in the anticipation of sharing their creations.
Though the process of making something from scratch is more creative and fun, it's not always possible.
When time is limited, your child can make gifts from kits, such as the rolling beeswax into candles, creating paper flowers, or painting a box. Make cookies together from refrigerated dough or have your child decorate gift containers for nuts and dried fruits. Stickers and decorative rubber stamps provide great beginnings for homemade wrapping paper, holiday cards, or decorations.
As parents and adults, it's helpful to remember that children also derive pleasure from giving as well as receiving. There is no gift more precious that seeing a child's eyes light up when his handmade gift is received by a loved one.
— by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.