Friday, 20 December 2019

5 Helpful Hints for a Merry Christmas

Author: Katie Crouch, Senior Lecturer in Early Years, Norland College
Twitter: @crunchiekatie

The festive holiday season is often portrayed in films as the perfect family time with snow falling outside and families gazing lovingly as children excitedly open their presents by the tree. This means that parents often feel under pressure to try to make everything ‘Christmas card’ perfect. However, parents can often feel that they are juggling multiple activities such as cooking or worrying about welcoming guests instead of enjoying their time with their children. Here are some suggestions and helpful hints to enable you to make the most of your holiday period.

1. It’s not all about the presents

Children often enjoy the process of opening presents rather than playing with what is inside. Think about presents that you can buy more of but can wrap individually. For example, books are often reasonably priced so they can help with keeping costs down and will be much-loved gift enabling your child to spend time with you sharing the book together for weeks, months and years to come. Try to give children ‘project presents’ ahead of the celebration meal. These could be low-mess high-interest activities which a child can do independently, for example something which involves colouring. This means that the children will be involved in exciting new tasks, leaving you free to carry out any last-minute preparations. For example, colouring and decorating paper placemats for themselves and visitors.

2. It’s not all about the food

We can all feel the pressure to provide a picture-perfect banquet fit for social media. Try to think about what food can be prepared prior to the day of celebrations. For example, can roast potatoes be peeled and pre-boiled the day before? This is something which will help you to balance your time cooking with spending time with your family and guests. As suggested in the first tip, give children small, fun tasks to help with the arrangements. Why not check out some of our 125 winter activities to do with teaching? You could also ask visiting adults that the children are familiar with to carry out some of these whilst you may be busy.

      3. It’s not about trying to please everyone

The Christmas period often means spending time with relatives and friends whom you may not see as often as you’d like. This can leave us feeling like we are running a gauntlet of trying to visit people, often in unfamiliar surroundings for our little ones. It is okay to ensure you have regular windows of time where you can spend quality time at home and keeping in time with your little one’s routines of bedtimes and eating. Hugging unfamiliar relatives can also be daunting and confusing for young children. A thank you, wave or blowing a kiss is okay (why not see our previous blog on The Power of Hugs).

4. It’s about time with family

Children value time spent with others. Activities that are full of language can often be the most memorable Christmas moments for children. For example, going out for a walk and talking about experiences from earlier in the day. This is also a great way to use additional energy from the excitement of Christmas and the higher levels of sugar if they have had ‘treat’ foods. My children often discuss times spent playing their favourite board games as a family and the laughter involved, especially when someone was found not to be playing ‘strictly’ by the rules. Remember: board games should be fun so you may have to adapt rules and instructions to fit with the stage of understanding of your little ones. Children remember the fun times!

      5.  It's about making memories

As mentioned above, children cherish your time and moments spent together. Children don’t remember the under-par roast potato, the lumpy gravy or a dry turkey. Instead, they do remember the way their parent smiled as they excitedly unwrapped their presents rather than what was inside the box. How happy times were spent with the people they love when walking off their Christmas dinner, and sharing experiences through games and activities. Remember everything doesn’t have to be perfect for sharing on social media. In fact, the best times are spent away from these platforms. Instead, connect with the people around you and enjoy having moments that your children will cherish for a lifetime to come.

On behalf of myself and everyone at Norland; we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy new year.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

The Father Christmas Story

As we approach the festive holidays, our newly appointed Research Fellow Dr Theodora Papatheodorou, revisits her previous research into the Father Christmas story.
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For almost six weeks before Christmas, the story of Father Christmas dominates the lives of children and adults. For many, the story remains highly controversial and questionable. Introducing children to deception and lying, over-commercialisation and the accentuation of differences in diverse and multi-faith societies are some of the concerns counting against the perpetuation of the story. On the other hand, tradition, the values that the story may convey, and the powerful magical experience it creates for young children are some of the arguments put forward for continuing to tell the story.

It was some of these issues that my colleague, Janet Gill, and I had been debating – as a parent and grandparent respectively – which led us to conduct research about Father Christmas two decades ago. 

In its initial phase, our research focused on parental attitudes and experiences with the Father Christmas story (a second phase focused on early years professionals attitudes and practices, and a third phase of the research looked at children’s experiences).

The research was conducted among parents of young children, four to eight years old, in Suffolk and Essex. A questionnaire was distributed via a network of schools that showed an interest in our research. 318 completed questionnaires were returned (representing a 53 per cent response rate) and eight follow-up interviews were conducted with parents who volunteered to be interviewed.

Although aware of a number of issues clouding the Father Christmas story, most parents in our research said that they did keep up the story as a means to transmit personal and family values. They changed, modified and appropriated it to pass messages about caring, giving, generosity and relationships with others on to their children. Despite the acknowledgement of its obvious commercialisation, for the families in our study the Father Christmas story was mainly associated with a sense of magic, awe, wonder and excitement and, as such, held a special place in their children’s lives.

For our respondents, the Father Christmas story portrayed a kindly old man who existed outside of the competitive economic reality instead embracing an alternative set of values: benevolence, happiness, co-operation and generosity. It was this kind of ‘magic economy’ that parents introduced to their children to gradually instil self-awareness and awareness of others, and their capacity for spiritual development. 

For parents, the Father Christmas story has many versions, demonstrating its potential to embrace everything and everyone. Parents constantly change and modify the story to make incongruent information congruent, to transmit personal, family and social values, to express the need for a sense of universal generosity and benevolence, and to nurture imagination and magic thinking as well as rational thinking. It is a story that enriches children’s lives with a sense of awe, wonder, magic, curiosity, imaginative potential and, over time, questioning and reasoning about its unexplained aspects. With time and when the story is sensitively handled by parents, children may put together its incongruent elements to realise its actual nature, true meaning and its reflection of family values and beliefs.

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It can be argued that children’s cognitive abilities may support the perpetuation of the story, as young children do not have the acquired knowledge from which to divide the world phenomena as real or unreal and their capacity for belief is infinite. However, as children grow older and seek out more evidence-based knowledge, they become sceptical and suspicious about the incongruent elements of the story. Inevitably ‘finding out’ becomes a rite of passage from the infinite belief in the story towards scepticism to finally finding out or working out the true nature of the story!

The respondents of our research indicated that they kept up the Father Christmas story in a playful, interrogating and questioning manner, appearing willing to ignore the story’s obvious fantasy elements. By living the ‘magical reality’ of the story and retaining a ‘suspended belief’, parents acknowledged that, while children may gradually lose literal belief in Father Christmas, they could retain belief in the visionary powers of the story that provides them with sanctuary and meaning.

Should parents keep up the Father Christmas story? This is obviously a matter of personal choice, dependent on each family’s own values. Should parents do so, they should emphasise its awe and wonder inspiring elements, transmitting the universal values of benevolence and generosity. More importantly, parents should be mindful of keeping up the Father Christmas story, not Father Christmas as a real person, for it is the narrative of the story that matters!

The research is now dated but conversations with a younger generation of parents and grandparents still echo similar arguments that my colleague and I had two decades ago. Perhaps some new research may provide new light and insights about their attitudes and practices.