This year has been unlike any other. Now, maybe more than ever, we could all use some holiday spirit! Here are a few creative and low-budget ways to help your family and friends feel festive. Each idea will also engage growing minds in important developmental motor and STEAM skills, such as coordination and planning. You can also use these ideas a springboard for your child’s imagination – you may be surprised by what they can dream up once they get started!
Start a Snowflake Factory
Materials: blank paper, scissors
Flakes not on the forecast? Make your own! Using only blank paper and scissors, you can fold and cut your own designs to your heart’s content. These are great to hang from the ceiling, display in windows, decorate packages, or refold and send in the mail.
Feed the Birds with a Homemade Feeder
Materials: pinecones, nut butter, birdseed, string
Use a butter knife or popsicle stick to smear nut butter on a pinecone, then sprinkle it with birdseed for a simple homemade bird feeder. Hang it securely outside where you can watch the neighborhood birds feast on your creation! Take a nature walk to hunt for the pinecones, or you can halve and core an apple as a substitute (just be sure to remove all apple seeds).
Make a Shiny, Hanging Icicle
Materials: aluminum foil, string, glue and glitter (optional)
Cut aluminum foil into long triangles and lay a piece of string down the center, extending out from the top. Begin to squeeze the foil into a cone shape, pinching the very bottom into defined point. These can catch the light while hanging and look beautiful from a window, mailbox, or tree! To really make it shine, your child can paint glue on the outside and sprinkle on glitter. Brrrr!
Plan an Indoors Snowball Fight
Split into two teams and spend an afternoon designing and building the ultimate forts using couch pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals. Exercise those hands by crumpling blank (or recycled!) paper into tight paper balls to act as snowballs. Discuss the rules of engagement… head to your forts… countdown… and toss! Whichever teams get the most ‘snowballs’ into the other team’s fort… wins! You can always end the game with a round of hot chocolate for all players – one marshmallow for each paper snowball you find and collect from the forts.
Create a Snowy Sock-Man
Materials: white sock, cotton balls, rubber bands or hair ties, paint and brushes or markers
Stuff a white sock and tie off two or three sections to create a plump, miniature snowman made from a sock. Younger children can decorate them using paint or markers, or older children can sew on colorful buttons or tie on tiny fabric strips as a scarf. Make one for your home, or make an army to leave as gifts in your neighbor’s mailboxes. They are also fun to hide around the house for a game of hide-and-seek!
Decorate Your Own Wrapping Paper
Materials: brown paper bags, paint, potatoes
Decorating your own wrapping paper by repurposing brown paper bags is not only beautiful- it’s also eco-friendly! Cut open your saved brown grocery bags so they lay flat on the table. Your child can free-paint designs, or create your own stamps using potatoes! Simply halve a raw potato and carve your preferred design on the inside. They are perfect for simple shapes like stars and trees, or you can stamp circles for ornaments or squares for presents. Have your children stamp all over the paper, then return later to decorate each one. Once it’s dry, they’ll love to see a special present wrapped up in their specially designed paper!
Bundle Up Dressing Relay
Materials: cold weather clothing (hats, gloves, scarves, jackets, boots, etc.)
One of my favorite ways to work on dressing skills is by having a fun dressing relay, and wintertime is a perfect season for it! Collect different sized clothing items from categories like hats, gloves, scarves, socks, boots, and jackets. Take turns racing to see who can “get dressed up” in the clothes the fastest! If you want to add a silly challenge, swap sizes so that all children have to wear adult-sized clothes and all adults have to try children-sized clothes. Small children may have an easier time pulling on larger-sized clothes, and they’ll love to see the adults squeeze into tiny gear!
Shadow Puppet Theatre
Materials: flashlight or lamp
Making shadow puppets on the wall may seem old-fashioned, but it never stopped being fun! With the winter days growing shorter, this is a fun screen-free family activity to try after dusk. Act out your favorite holiday story or song, or create your own narrative.
Measure the Snowfall
Materials: wood stick or paint stirrer, marker, ruler
A creative way to target measurement skills is by decorating your own yardstick to measure the snowfall each season. Children can paint over an old paint stirrer or other type of wood stick, then mark off each inch or half inch. Make sure to leave space at the base to insert it into the ground. Find a spot outside where you can check how high the snow measures after the first snowfall!
Create a New Years Countdown
Materials: paper, pencil, tape or stapler
New Years is just around the corner! Build the anticipation by marking the days with a homemade countdown. Create a simple paper chain by cutting strips of paper, securing them into loops, and linking them to one another. Before forming them into loops, write a quick note on the inside of the paper. It could be motivational, funny, or you could create a “Snowman Bootcamp” by adding a special motor challenge to each day, such as complete 10 push-ups or hop on one foot for 30 seconds. Keep it a mystery by putting different family members in charge of adding secret messages to each link. Each day, your family can look forward to tearing off a piece of the chain and enjoying the message or activity together.
I hope you enjoy these festive, and fairly free, activity ideas – with a STEAM twist. Have a joyful holiday, and a Happy New Year!
I received a game in exchange for this blog post. All opinions expressed belong to me.
Allison Duggan is a practicing occupational therapist with an expertise in pediatrics. She currently works in Montgomery County Public Schools. Never one to exclude an age group, she also practices in adult inpatient acute care occupational therapy. Off the clock, you’ll find her spending time with family and friends on a trail, in the sand, or watching the game. She loves to create, from paper flowers to refinished furniture, and is always game for game night.
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