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7 Cultural Winter Festivities to Explore

December 17, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

7 Cultural Winter Festivities to Explore | A dreidel, star piñata, a moon and snowflake, three crowns and a wrapped gift, a red lantern, and a Christmas tree

Stretch the holidays over those long winter days by engaging your son or daughter in activities that honor multicultural traditions. Although your family’s customs are part of his or her identity, teaching your child to recognize different cultures instills a sense of community that he or she will carry on for years to come. It is also an excellent opportunity to touch on some fundamental principles such as being thankful, cherishing family time, and giving to others.

Although it is not possible to honor all traditions, it is possible to learn about the different customs and teach children to respect how others may celebrate certain holidays. Following is a brief list and a short, although not thorough, explanation of the basic ideas and aspects of each holiday.

Hanukkah
Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew is also known as the Festival of Lights. The holiday lasts for eight days on the Hebrew calendar. In 2014, Hanukkah will begin on the evening of December 16, ending before the evening of December 24. This Jewish holiday is in remembrance of the rededication of the Temple according to religious tradition. The celebration includes singing carols around the menorah, which is a special candleholder for eight candles. One candle is lit each day of Hanukkah. Children play with a dreidel, a spinning top, and are given gelt, which are chocolate coins covered in shiny gold paper. Traditional Hanukkah menu items are latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), and as a main course, brisket.

Las Posadas
Las Posadas is a traditional Latin American celebration. Many Hispanic communities in the United States celebrate Las Posadas. The festivities last nine days, from December 16 to December 24. The nine days represent the nine months the Virgin Mary carried Jesus in her womb. Each evening, a home hosts a celebration where families get together to sing songs and eat together. Children receive bags of treats such as peanuts, cookies, and candies. The nightly procession is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in the days leading up to Christ’s birth. On the final night, children break star-shaped piñatas, and everyone enjoys traditional foods such as tamales, warm punch, or hot chocolate.

Christmas
Christmas is the Christian tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Families who celebrate this holiday will usually set up a Nativity scene in their home. This consists of figurines depicting Christ’s birth in a manger, with Mary, Joseph, the angels, and the three kings. A Christmas tree is also part of the celebration, with ornaments and lights. Each family has a different tradition for Christmas breakfast or dinner, but most children will make a list for Santa Claus and open gifts on Christmas morning. Reconnecting with family and giving to others are central themes throughout the Christmas season.

Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, is celebrated on the first day of winter, December 21. It is also the shortest day of the year. Winter Solstice has been celebrated all over the world for centuries, from Peru to Poland. And each culture has different practices for their tradition. Overall, the purpose of the festivities is the celebration of light and life. Festivals are held with feasting, dancing, and singing. A bonfire is usually part of the celebration. Today, many of the aspects of this pagan, midwinter festival have been enveloped into Christmas.

Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January 1. It is a holiday that reconnects people with family, community, and their African-American culture. During this time, it’s important to reinforce values and emphasize the spirit of unity, responsibility, and collaborative work. There are three colors associated with the holiday, each with a symbolic meaning: black represents the people; red represents the struggles; and green symbolizes the future and the hope that sustains it. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa know it is important not to mix its customs with other celebrations. Gatherings are celebrated with colorful African art, fresh fruit and vegetables, and exchanging meaningful gifts, which are usually hand-made to encourage creativity.

Three Kings Day
Three Kings Day, or the Epiphany as it is known by the Christian church calendar, is celebrated on January 6. This holiday is the remembrance of the arrival of the three kings who greeted Jesus Christ at his birth. Each wise man or king, Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar, came bearing gifts. Likewise, in today’s tradition throughout Latin America, Spain, and in some Latino communities in the United States, children await this day to receive gifts. According to tradition, gifts were left inside children’s shoes. Nowadays, it is more common to find them under the Christmas tree. A traditional food for this holiday is the Rosca de Reyes, which is bread in the shape of a wreath decorated with dried fruits and nuts, made especially for this holiday.

Chinese New Year
Each family celebrates Chinese New Year or Spring Festival differently, but essentially the element of good fortune is fundamental. We celebrate the end of the old and the beginning of the New Year by praying for good fortune and participating in activities that bring good luck.

The next Chinese New Year will begin on February 19, 2015, and will last for about two weeks. It is traditional to have a New Year’s Eve dinner, which is a great time for a family reunion. Families cast away bad luck with fireworks and welcome good luck by cleaning their houses and decorating them with red lanterns. The festival also entails parades with dragon and lion dances. Gifts are exchanged, usually in red packages for good luck.

Remember, making the most of your time with your son or daughter is most paramount, whether you celebrate these traditions or not. The winter months, when children may spend more time indoors, is a great time to learn about these cultural celebrations and just spend time together.



Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.

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DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry

December 11, 2014

By Judy Razo

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | 4 shrinky dink ornaments, a snowman, a Christmas tree, a red and green wheel, and a heart with the words "Emma's 1st Christmas."

As the holidays approach, the concept of giving and receiving gifts piques your children’s interests. Creating gifts together is a great way to teach your children the concept of giving—they create something they’re proud of and then give it away for the sake of someone else’s joy. Try this easy DIY activity with your children to make heartfelt, homemade gifts.

Here’s what you need:

  • #6 clear plastics
  • Hole-puncher
  • Scissors (An adult should handle these. Practice scissor safety.)
  • Permanent markers
  • Yarn, string, or ribbon
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tongs

Here’s what you do:

Gather all of your materials. Many plastic to-go boxes, cups, and container lids are made of number 6 plastic. Ask your children to search for usable materials by locating the recycling arrows on a plastic item and checking for the number 6 inside those arrows.

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | Plastic containers, cups, lids, and tongs, scissors, a hole-punch, markers, ribbon, and foil.

Place the oven rack in the lowest position and preheat your oven to 350°F. Take the foil paper and create a platter by bending the four sides up. Ask your children to help you. This is also an opportunity to ask them what shape the foil is, how many sides it has, and even measure it with a ruler. When you’re done making the platter, set it aside.

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | A foil platter.

Depending on the age of your children, either cut the plastic into the shape they desire or let them cut it. To start off, keep your shapes basic, such as circles, squares, hearts, stars, ovals, and rectangles. Once you get the hang of it, you can get creative and cut the plastic into more non-traditional shapes. Remember that the shape is going to shrink to about one third of its size, so cut it oversized.

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | Cut plastic in the shape of a heart.

Next, your children can decorate the plastic shapes with permanent markers. They can draw free-hand or trace their favorite designs or images. Placing a sheet of paper underneath the shape will help your children see their artwork better and will also help prevent that permanent marker from getting on your table.

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | The colored plastic shapes sit on the table.

Discuss with your children how to string the gift, be it a necklace, bracelet, or ornament. Then take the hole-puncher and punch a hole in the place where your children want the string or yarn to go. Do not add the string yet.

Let your children place the plastic shapes onto the foil platter.

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | The plastic shapes on the foil platter.

Then place the tray on the lowest rack in the oven. Turn the oven light on so your children can see the magic happening. It only takes about two to four minutes for the plastic shape to shrink and be ready, so keep an eye on it. Ask your children to track the time with you.

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | The foil platter, with the plastic shapes on it, is on the lowest rack in the oven.

Using the tongs, remove the foil platter from the oven. After allowing the Shrinky Dinks to cool, add the string, yarn, or ribbon to the hole you made earlier. Now it’s time to wrap the gift and give it to the recipient.

DIY: Shrinky Dink Repurposed Plastic Ornaments + Jewelry | The snowman Shrinky dink.

In addition to spending time together and learning about giving, this is also an opportunity to ask questions that can support your children’s learning. They can measure, tell time, count, name shapes and colors, read instructions, and more. This activity shows your children that learning is not only useful but also fun.

Lastly, remember to let your inner child come out and play. Be as creative and silly as your heart desires. The holidays are a time for joy, and there is great joy in making fun and loving memories with your children.

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Why Parent Engagement Month Matters

November 24, 2014

By Sunny Chico

I heart my child. I am an #EngagedParent. November is Parent Engagement Month.

I love that the entire month of November is dedicated to parent engagement. It brings awareness to the critical role of parents in our homes. Every day should be Parent Engagement Day, because each day your child is learning and growing. Parents need to be present and aware of what’s happening and nurture positive development.

But what does this engagement look like? Many times we focus on what’s happening in the classroom and rely on the school to take care of the child’s needs. Parent Engagement Month helps remind us that it’s not just about academic needs.

A child’s development occurs in four core areas: social, emotional, physical, and academic. In order for the child to succeed in school—and in life—he or she needs to possess strong social and emotional well-being, have his or her physical needs met, and engage in learning for cognitive development and academic success.

A teacher in a classroom cannot nurture all of those areas in a child. If the parents are engaged and understand the development of a child and how to provide support, the child will be better prepared to learn. Then the teacher can do his or her best to help the child academically. Remember that while children change teachers every year, they do not change parents. Parents must be consistently nurturing those core needs in their child.

I often hear from parents that they want to be more involved in their child’s development, but are afraid that they are doing it wrong. They think the school can do a better job with their child. But the school can’t do everything. 92 percent of a child’s life from birth through high school is spent outside the school, and much of that time is at home. Only eight percent is spent at school. Eight percent! It’s impossible for the school to do everything with only eight percent of a child’s time. But when parents are supportive of a child’s development, the teacher is most effective helping the child academically.

As parents and as a society, we depend a great deal on schools to help our children. We spend billions to educate children. If we truly want education to help our students compete in a global economy, we must rely on the parents. It’s the parents who encourage the child with homework and learning activities, guide the child to develop self-confidence and self-esteem, and nourish the child with healthy food and exercise, and yes, love.

So parents, I’m calling on you to think hard about your relationship with your child during Parent Engagement Month. Are you paying attention to your child’s social and emotional well-being? Are you making sure he or she is living a healthy life? Are you coordinating with your child’s teacher to foster academic success outside of the classroom? Are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your son or daughter outside the home?

This is what parent engagement looks like. If every parent is dedicated to becoming an engaged parent, our children will grow up and contribute to making this the world we want to see. Let’s all become engaged parents this month and every month hereafter.

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Standards-Based Report Cards + the Common Core

November 12, 2014

By Maureen Powers

Standards-Based Report Cards + the Common Core | An apple and pencil sit on the desk in front of a grading scale.

The school year started months ago. Regardless of what part of the country you live in, progress reports or quarterly report cards have been issued. While you likely want to review those reports to evaluate how your child is performing, there is a chance the grading system may have changed.

Some schools continue to use traditional letter grades A through F but many schools now use Standards-Based Report Cards. What are these standards? Standards describe what students are expected to know and be able to do at each age and grade level. Student progress is determined by measuring how close the student is to being “proficient” at the skill in the standard.

The acronym FAME can help parents remember progress toward the standard:

F= Falls Below the Standard

A= Approaches the Standard

M= Meets the Standard

E= Exceeds the Standard

In the Unites States today, 43 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have adopted the Common Core State Standards for children in elementary through high school. Understanding what your child is expected to know and be able to do is important and will help him or her be successful in school. You can find more information about your state’s requirements through the Core Standards website.

In addition to the elementary through high school students, all 50 states in the nation have now created early learning standards for three- and four-year-old children. Many states have even added educational guidelines for infants and toddlers. The American Psychological Association has created a State Resources for Early Learning Guidelines Toolkit where you can find links to the early learning standards in your state.

You might need to use your child’s teacher as a resource in deciphering a new report card. Ask if the report card measures what students are expected to know for that reporting period or by the end of the school year. If you don’t understand the new criteria, contact the teacher and ask him or her to walk you through the report and explain how your child is performing. This is a learning opportunity for parents, too.

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4 Steps to Support Learning at Home

November 5, 2014

By Dr. Bruce Marchiafava

4 Steps to Support Learning at Home | A mother helps her daughter with her homework.

Most parents today have limited free time, but still want to help their children succeed in school. National Parent Engagement Month is a great opportunity to evaluate how you support learning at home.

Whether we choose to or not, our children will learn from us. Basic learning begins at birth and continues right up to kindergarten. During these years, children acquire an amazing amount of knowledge. They learn to walk, run, and play games and sports. They acquire a language or two, they learn to read, and they develop social skills. They explore their world, starting with what they see in their cribs and continuing through their home and neighborhood.

This is quite a curriculum. Fortunately, parents can seek help with teaching these skills to their children from social agencies, formal and informal groups of parents, family members, books, and educational videos.

Once the child enters school, parents’ roles in learning shift to two major responsibilities: supporting the child in understanding what is taught at school and advocating for the child with the school.

Support your child’s learning at home with these four steps:

Readiness
A healthy child is better prepared to perform well in school. Ensure good health by seeing that your child eats properly and sleeps enough, by making sure his or her backpack has the required books, pencils, and assignments due, etc.

Learning Environment
This environment can be a room or a desk in a corner or the kitchen table. It must be free from TV, music, phones, and other distractions. Multitasking rarely works for studying. See our article on creating an ideal DIY study room for kids for more ideas.

Homework
Parents should guide and supervise a child’s homework but not do it for them. Know the assignment and the due date and check to see what grade the teacher gives. Look for opportunities to praise your child for a job well done as well as for improvement on future assignments.

Communicate
Speak with the teacher on a regular basis, not just when there’s a problem. Remember, teachers are your partners in helping your child succeed in school.

By practicing these simple parent engagement tips, you can help your child continue to learn and succeed once he or she has started a formal education.

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