10 Free Ways To Keep Your Kids Busy Over December Break

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It’s the most wonderful — and expensive — time of the year. Americans are estimated to spend between $942.6 and $960.4 billion on holiday-related expenses this year. And even if you try to be careful, the costs do add up: toys from Santa, thank-you gifts for your kid’s teachers, host gift bottles of wine for holiday parties and even travel costs for your whole family to visit extended family far off. But not every holiday activity has to result in visions of dollar signs dancing in your head. There are a few holiday traditions you can start with your kids that cost nothing (or virtually nothing). If you have some spare paper and some spare time, these are free ways to make holiday memories and keep kids home on break entertained.

Create A Memory Book

The holidays are a rich time for making memories, and the ones we love the most don’t always come from picture-perfect moments. (Does anyone else have family lore about an indoor snowball fight or catastrophic Christmas tree topple that gets trotted out year after year?) Starting with a blank notebook you have lying around, or even with a Google Doc, ask your kids to share some of their favorite memories from holidays past. After this year’s have passed, you can have them add onto it. You can also use it as a chance to create a survey about the holidays where you can see how your kids change over the years. Every December, ask them to write down (or transcribe for them) what their most-wanted gift is, favorite holiday movie, carol, etc. Just be sure to store it somewhere you’ll remember to find it next year!


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DIY Wrapping Paper For Friends & Family

Make wrapping paper and even gift bags feel truly personal by having your kids make their own. This may mean investing in some butcher paper, but you can get creative and go for zero-cost as well. Cut up old sheets, for example, and let kids play with food coloring for fabric wrapping. If you have solid-colored gift bags without a plastic coating, let kids draw or glue things directly onto them. Old newspaper can be carefully colored on or embellished with stickers, construction paper, cutouts from magazines, and stamps. Older kids may especially enjoy the challenge to go zero-waste with holiday wrapping and find even more stuff around the house to use, like old maps or GreenWrap from Amazon packages.


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Make A Paper Chain Countdown

You only need paper, scissors, and tape or a stapler for this. Cut long, narrow strips of paper of matching size. Create one loop and tape or staple it shut. Make the next loop in the first loop, creating a chain. Continue until the chain is the desired length — each loop represents a day to the holiday you’re counting down to. Then, before bed each night, your kid gets to tear off a loop, getting one day closer to Christmas, New Year’s Eve, etc. Usually, these are started on December 1, but you can really start it whenever. If you can’t find construction paper, you can also keep kids busy in the construction stage by having them decorate strips of paper or even write notes inside the loop to reveal each day.


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Yes, the holidays are busy, but this is a tradition you’ll feel really good about once you’ve carved out the time. Not all volunteer opportunities are kid-friendly, so you’ll want to do your own research into local shelters, food banks, and community organizations that welcome help from people of all ages this time of year. (You can find kid-friendly volunteer opportunities near you by searching the Kids that Do Good website here!) If the organizations you reach out to are set for December, consider signing up in advance for something for MLK Day, which is also a federally recognized day of service. In the meanwhile, you can find ways to give back. Have your kids sort through toys and clothes they can donate. If possible, take your kids with you when you go to drop off the donations so they can see where their once-loved, lightly-used possessions are going.

Institute Tree Time

I am stealing this from my mom, who gathered our family around an advent wreath every night of advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas in many Christian traditions. Each Sunday, we lit a new candle until all four were lit up; then, finally, we’d light the Christ candle in the middle. While the candles were lit, we read stories, both from the Bible and from favorite books, and sang songs. I am no longer religious, but I still look back on that time warmly.

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