The holidays offer many opportunities for children to practice executive functioning skills. Below are some holiday-themed ideas and activities that incorporate the skills involved in executive functioning.
- Compare/contrast several holiday celebrations. To encourage flexibility in thinking, research and practice celebrations or customs that are different from what your child has traditionally celebrated. In the United States, most families are familiar with the Christmas celebration, but there are many other occasions that occur during this time of year. Here are a few examples:
- Hanukkah offers many opportunities for various kid-friendly cooking, games, and rituals.
- The Winter Solstice is celebrated by many different ethnic groups; each has a different name for it: Yalda (Iranian), Modraniht (Saxon), and Saturnalia (Roman).
- Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration that focuses on positive character traits, giving, and feasting.
- Complete a craft project that requires planning several steps. A great holiday project that any child enjoys is creating a gingerbread house. Kits are available at large retail stores and grocery stores. It is also easy to construct a smaller “gingerbread” house using a small empty milk carton as a mold for graham crackers. Use icing to glue the crackers to the sides and top of the cartons, and then use it to glue decorative candies to their houses. Have your children separate the pieces, plan their creation, and then take action!
- Organize gift-wrapping supplies and holiday decorations. There are several solutions to organizing wrapping paper supplies available at home hardware stores, but you can also use old shipping boxes, a large gift bag, large plastic storage bags, or plastic storage bin to keep tape, ribbons, tissue paper, and other supplies at bay. Enlist the help of your children, or give them this project to do on their own.
- Play “freeze” games. If the weather outside is frightful, stay inside with your children and play games that allow them to practice behavioral control and inhibition. Research has shown that games such as the following lead to increased self-control in preschool aged children:
- The Freeze game. Play music for your children, and encourage them to dance! But when the music stops, they must freeze until it starts again. Dance quickly for fast-tempo songs, and dance slowly for slow-tempo songs. These cues can also be reversed, so that they dance slowly to fast music and vice versa.
- Color-matching freeze. In this version of the freeze game, children are assigned colors. When the music stops, they must find a colored mat and stand on it.
- Conducting an orchestra. Kids play musical instruments (like maracas and bells) whenever an adult waves her baton, increasing their tempo when the baton moves quickly and reducing their tempo when the baton slows down. Then the opposite rules apply (e.g., kids play faster when the baton moves slowly).
- Drum beats. Children are to respond to different drum cues with specific body movements. For example, they might jump in place when they hear a fast drum beat and walk in slow circles when they hear a slow drum beat. These cues can also be reversed after the children have grown accustomed to them.
And most importantly, have fun!!
Tominey S, & McClelland M. (2011). Red light, purple light: Findings from a randomized trial using circle time games to improve behavioral self-regulation in preschool. Early Education & Development 22(3): 489-519.