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Editor's blog: How to have a sane holiday break.

So, today is our first day of break. My 9-year-old daughter is already glued to the iPad, but at least she’s using a creative application to make a cool drawing.

We’ve survived three holiday parties – even one of our own that featured a “white elephant” gift exchange that was really funny, if you find humor in fart jokes and Borat-inspired “mankinis.” Our family ended up with a dusty glass pineapple candleholder from the 1970s and a red fuzzy stocking with a large plastic troll head attached to the top. Useful!

Anyway, there are still a few things on the holiday list but it feels – finally – like a magical calm is coming. I find this the best part of the holiday season, when you can rest and look around and be thankful for all you have. The dreariness and chill in the weather reminds me of Michigan, where I grew up, and those memories make me happier still.

However, most people probably have not yet come to close to this Zen state. If you are still running around like a maniac, I offer up these tips to keep you sane. This advice comes from a few EdNews Parent experts and my daughter’s fourth grade teacher.

Take time to give to others

  • Take time this holiday season to see life through another’s eyes. Your children, for example. Pretend you don’t know them already and be open to learning something new. The kids I teach amaze me at every turn.
  • Ask them questions about what they like, what they enjoy, what inspires them, what kind of person they admire or how they want to be. Ask the age-old question, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” but use a different spin by saying, “What kind of qualities do you want to have in yourself?” Or, “Who would you help in the world if you could help anyone?”
  • Use this season to take your kids to help others. One of the most rewarding things our martial arts students do is help out in teaching at transitional housing shelters. Have the kids actively put together some “care” packages to give to worthy causes like Boys & Girls Club, Toys For Tots, or some of our city’s great shelters or facilities, such as Warren Village, The Family Tree, Denver Rescue Mission, or The Gathering Place. Or, take the kids on a visit to one of these places to understand that not everyone has an Xbox, DS, iPod or other cool gadgets.

– Theresa Byrne, wellness coach and martial artist

It’s OK not to be perfect

  • Give yourself permission not to be perfect. Realistic expectations – whether it’s patience with your kids less-than perfect behavior in new situations or deciding not to attempt calligraphy on each and every holiday card – can free you up to appreciate the joy of the holidays moment to moment. Besides, when things go wrong, that’s when funny memories are made. One year my dog ate an entire (expensive) cheese plate! It’s one of our family’s favorite memories. I highly recommend Virginia Brucker’s book Gifts from the Heart: Simple Ways to Make Your Family’s Christmas More Meaningful, which focuses on simplicity and love, not perfection.
  • Maintain regular routines as much as you can. Especially for young children, the daily rhythms of life like the before breakfast cuddle, simple meals at the regular time, morning & afternoon naps, and regular bedtimes are the constants that help them feel safe and right with the world. Be mindful of the temptation to overbook the schedule, or to squeeze in just one more errand, even with the snowy roads and busy stores. For kids home from preschool, consider timing a morning snack at about the same time they would have one at school, or plan to bundle up for an outdoor romp at about the time they would usually play outside. A little routine can go a long way during the frenzy of the holidays.

Sarah Brenkert, director of education at The Children’s Museum of Denver

See out quiet, restful moments

  • Find a balance between over-scheduling and under-scheduling. Like us, children need time to relax and decompress. Leaving blocks of time open as ‘free time’ is crucial. If you can, schedule individual one-to-one time with each child for lunch, ice cream, or another shared activity. Children cherish these times. Have plenty of crafting material on hand. Give yourself and your child permission to take a break from the books and schoolwork. Instead, visit a museum, zoo or cultural event.

– Kevin Everhart, clinical child psychologist

Learning doesn’t have to stop

My daughter’s teacher shared these suggestions for continued learning over the break. Some of this stuff looks so fun – kids may not even know they’re doing things that will help them with school.Math

  • Let your child assist with the budget for the trip.
  • Estimate the miles that you’ll travel.
  • Convert currency if you leave the country.
  • Compare sales tax for different states or countries.
  • Practice math facts in the car or plane (OK, this one may not be a huge hit….).

Language arts

  • Set aside time each evening to read about what you will see the next day.
  • Write letters to friends and family back home.
  • Keep a daily journal.
  • Play 20 questions about specific items you saw that day.
  • Read the local paper together.
  • Create a scrapbook that includes written descriptions of each 
location visited.

Social studies/geography

  • Research the destination via the Internet before you leave.
  • Print interesting documents to read in the car or plane.
  • Visit the library to find travel books about your destination.
  • Study maps of the areas before you leave. Bring them with you 
for referral.
  • Identify five new things you learn about the new place/culture
 each day.
  • Seek out factories that have tours so children can learn about how things are made (i.e. chocolate factory in Hershey, Penn.;
 Teddy bear factory in San Francisco, Calif.; and glass blowing in 
Seattle, Wash.).
  • Note the different foods of the region and what food groups
 they fall into.
  • Trace your family history if you’re visiting relatives and create
 a family tree. Interview each family member to determine names of

With that, happy holidays! And share your ideas to keep kids learning and happy over the holiday break by making comments on this post.

About our First Person series:

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