How our family learned to give experiences as presents
Showing off his atlatl, a prehistoric spear thrower
All we had to do was listen as they told us
Giving experiences for the Holidays builds great family memories. Our best come when we listen to and incorporate each person’s interests. This holiday, take the time to really be present. Our attention is a wonderful gift to give.
STEM experiences you can give
Museums can be important hubs in your STEM Ecosystem. We’ll often alternate annual memberships between our local museums: zoos, aquarium, science, planetariums, botanical gardens, historical monuments, and natural history. Often with a friend in tow, we’ll visit that locale several times. Local nature centers can often be digested in smaller bites, while the Bronx Zoo requires days. When we’re traveling, we make an effort to visit local museums associated with a family member’s special interests. Their enthusiasm is usually enough to super charge the experience for the rest of us. Here in the US even smaller national and state parks and monuments have been well worth our time. My youngest declares that if she was too young to remember the trip, then she gets to go again.
In addition, helping your kids to pass what they know on to others can be a great holiday opportunity. For example,
- Decoding the Keys to Success – a suburban teen teaches coding to younger friends in Newark
- Creative Compensation Opens Opportunities for Teens – Approaches I’ve seen work and fail.
- JerseySTEM Teach It Forward helps kids program Scratch – Employ middle schoolers
- ucvts-np-stem/”>Summer Science Olympiad: High School students coach Middle Schoolers
Seize opportunities when they come along
My 5th grader came home once with an urgent need to collect sap. He needed it for a prehistoric tool project in school. (Later I learned his teacher had only mentioned the upcoming assignment.) The mid-December day was unusually warm, so we needed to go now because the sap would be running and easy to collect.
Ask them for their priorities
I explained to him that it was almost Christmas and I honestly had no idea what to get him. (Yes, I’m really that bad.) We’d planned to window shop so he could tell me what he wanted. “Mom! Gathering sap is on my Christmas wish list. Please, can we go now!” Chuckling I replied, “It is your choice, but there really won’t be much under the tree.” He didn’t care. A good Cub Scout, he knew exactly where we could find the requisite pine trees. They were oozing sap and weren’t on private property. We had a blast.
Soon thereafter, “I need some straight sticks. I know just where to get them.” Now this kid had been collecting straight sticks for years. Since our yard has many trees we have more sticks than we know what to do with. But most sticks aren’t straight, so he’d bring home more. But his collection was seasoned and dry and he needed fresh green ones. Again he knew exactly where he wanted to go, a grove that had just the thing in the nearby nature reserve. A-walking we happily went. Still no Christmas presents. He continued his own research online.
Find joy in life’s rocks
Then came “I have to have a striking stone and a softer stone that I can use to make arrowheads.” His first request was for a piece of obsidian and an antler, neither of which did I had handy. I asked him to research other appropriate rocks, how to identify them, and what could be found locally. Basalt and shale could be found in the reservation too! All we needed was another trip… this time I cheated. First, we scoured our yard until we found what he needed in our decorative rock bed. Being the Mom of a deaf child had taught me to seize the teachable moments. He already knew igneous from metamorphic rocks. We found great geology embedded in that history project.
He was right again
This all had to be done before Christmas. Turned out the kid was right. That year it snowed and snowed for months. If we’d waited he wouldn’t have been able to find any of the supplies for his arrow heads, spears, woven grass sheath, or atlatl. That winter break he spent many happy hours outside working on his tools in the snow. His prehistorically correct glue needed wood ash to mix with his tree sap. Of course he used his stone and flint to start his own fire in our fire pit. Thankfully, I could watch his progress from the warmth of my kitchen. He chose his Christmas presents well. For my own kids the experiences around the holidays are most important.
Thank you again to Mrs. Malangone, and to teachers everywhere who inspire!!
Grandma shaped dough
I remember coming home from elementary school in December. Often, my mom would have some type of hands-on activity for us to share. I’m dysgraphic, had trouble with eye-hand coordination and had a tough time making friends in a new school. So we baked cookies, and “painted” them with icing. Our gingerbread houses had “stained glass” of melted hard candies. It was great for my self esteem. After Thanksgiving we would make plum puddings. Each day a different cookie was baked so we could gift an assortment. Homemade Christmas decorations filled 2 trees. Bread dough elves trimmed the front door. Hollowed out egg shells, cut with a Dremel tool and decorated inside and out. Mom even hand beaded stuffed felt ornaments. A mathematician, she’d weave in math and scientific explanations for things.
Giving experiences for Christmas was very meaningful. But, I have to remind myself that we did this over a decade, not overnight. Sometimes overcoming my own idealized expectations of what each Holiday should be can be my biggest hurdles.
Teach by example, give experiences
“Investing in experiences brings lasting happiness.”
The professor shared insights from his Philosophy of Happiness course as we backpacked. The well-planned trip through the Adirondacks high peak region was the couple’s engagement present to us. A wonderful, unforgettable experience with two outdoor educators. We allowed ourselves to be in the moment. Eventually, our daughter would be named for his dear wife and they each became godparents to one of our boys.
Balancing across cultures, religions and my own weaknesses.
When my kids were 3, 5 and 7 we went with another “aunt” to the Lego store. She wanted to let the kids to pick out their own Christmas presents. As we wove through the busy parking garage a voice from the back of the mini-van piped “Wow! This is like a small city.” My dear friend retorted “So your kids have been to the Taj Mahal but they’ve never been to the mall?!” Busted. I’m just not a big shopper. Everyone likes a thoughtful gift. In our house those from relatives, god parents, and friends are appreciated all the more.
Using the ashes of failure to build success
Delaying gratification and hiding things from family members aren’t my forte. Once, I tried to sneak something past my kids in the Target checkout line. One of my wee ones sobbed hysterically until I showed them the chocolate easter egg. “Mommy, don’t ever do that again. You made me sad.”
My husband once asked, “So how is it American holidays are about lying to your kids?” Good point. Sharing my religious beliefs was easier than deciding how to navigate cultural norms. Even Jesus only got three presents that first Christmas and it was his birthday. Easter is about redemption. Diwali is about not gambling with something you can’t afford to lose. However, I didn’t want our kids to be ostracized for fear they’d spill the beans about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the tooth fairy.
That year I compromised by organizing a neighborhood Easter Egg hunt. A neighbor dressed up as the Easter bunny and gave out candy. Everyone helped hide and find eggs. Kids were thrilled. Much easier for me because it played to my strengths. We celebrate American, Christian and Indian holidays by emphasizing what we believe is important in each one.