Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wonderful Grace & Courtesy Lessons for the Holidays: Kris Kringles

Kris Kringle (or alternately known as Secret Santa) projects are a great way to highlight grace and courtesy with young children during Christmas. If you do not celebrate Christmas, doing a gift exchange for your favorite holiday would have the same benefit as a great way to talk about grace and courtesy with your child. Children need to learn grace and courtesy, a Montessori cornerstone,  for many life situations, but especially near the holidays, in particular with respect to giving as well as receiving a gift.


It is helpful to have these skills modeled for a child, as sometimes, it is a challenge for a child to be gracious during the holiday season.
In a classroom setting, it is possible to model these life lessons for a child during circle time...
In the home, this is something that you can integrate into your day-to-day, naturally modeling being gracious and courteous to people throughout the year. For the holidays, when there is a good chance that your child will either get a gift or will be giving one, it is important to prep your child for this situation.


While attending grade school as a young child, we had Kris Kringle Exchanges nearly every year. We pulled names out of a hat and then, that person was our Kris Kringle for the school days  leading up to the holidays. We were instructed to go out of our way to do nice things for that person, to make little notes and leave them in their desk for them to find the following day.
We also were to bring in little candies and other small trinkets to share, such as a decorative pencil or an eraser for our friend. For the last day before break, we were all instructed to bring in a small gift for our special Kris Kringle recipient to exchange as the culminating activity during the party.
The focus was to be kind and giving throughout the time leading up to the party, not just the party and the culminating gift exchange in itself...


Some years, when it came time to do the gift exchanges, there were a few sad children, some more outwardly sad than others at the party, because either as the gift giver, they felt badly that they had forgotten to bring in their gift, or they did not have a gift to exchange, or else, as the recipient of a less-than-stellar gift, they felt badly that they did not get something that was really meant to be a gift at all...
This happened to me twice when I was the recipient in the Kris Kringle exchanges as a child, but if you would have been at the party, you would have seen me trying to be gracious in spite of things.

Thankfully, my parents taught me to be gracious in light of the situation. My parents had told us the story of the Little Drummer Boy who comes and plays a song for Baby Jesus, as he did not have a "real gift" to give Baby Jesus. He had tried his best and that is what he could do...and it is in giving, not receiving sort of concept. Learning that it is important to be grateful, gracious, and courteous are values that my parents had instilled in me...that and to try to look on the bright side of things, to view the world in an optimistic light, to try to be happy even when things get you down.


It is so important as adults to try to prepare children for the possibility that the gifts they receive in such an activity might not be at all similar to the lovely ones that they either made or purchased and carefully wrapped for the exchange. Regardless, though, a child should learn to say thank you and should show kindness to the gift giver.


One year, I got a flimsy, very thin plastic hair comb that I am sure was something that this child had saved in their desk from school photo day (we had all been given these types of combs from the photography studio) and because they did not have a real gift to exchange, they gave me this comb. Another year, I got a half eaten bag of chocolate Christmas bell candies.
Although these things made me sad inside as a child, I put my game face on, did my best to force out a smile, and tried my best to act gracious and said "thank you" for these gifts.
Focused on how these classmates had tried to be extra nice and had written little notes as we were encouraged to do. In both cases, deep down, knew that there had to be a reason that this had happened (namely, that their gifts were very much of an afterthought),  but was too young to really understand the family situations of these classmates to have a clue as to why this had happened...


As years passed, it was generally the same few children who were less than prepared, so eventually, the teachers at my school would allow these children to select something as their exchange gift and would help them to wrap it so that every child felt good about what they were able to exchange. The teachers continued to remind us year after year that the focus was the whole idea of being in the holiday spirit and that doing kind deeds was just as meaningful, if not more so, than the exchange gift at the party...

My heart really goes out to the children who had to show up at the Kris Kringle party, had  to act like everything was okay with them, and had attempted to participate in something that they were ill prepared to take part...
The child who gave me the plastic comb came from an exceptionally poor family. This child's family probably did not have the resources to go out to buy anything for an exchange gift.
The other child who gave me the half eaten bag of chocolate Christmas bells had lost an older sibling in a horrible car accident months before it was time to take part in class festivities.
Am sure now that this child brought the chocolate candies in probably because this child's parents were in such a fog that getting an exchange gift for their younger child's school party was about the last thing on their minds when they were grieving the loss of their older child.

As an adult, also relate to the parents of the child who had their child die before the holidays, as two years ago, after being in and out of the hospital for over a week, I had a miscarriage on and was in the hospital until Christmas Eve. It was a huge loss to our family.
We had been doing a version of Kris Kringles with some people that year and for a few years prior. That year, instead of individually labeling the gifts, I had managed to wrap the gifts as one clump of gifts but not individually and had not labeled them before they were shipped off to the recipients. The box was mailed to the family but did not have the "to" & "from" tags on every single gift. It was an oversight on our part at a time of extreme duress and sadness, as we were so devastated about the loss of our baby. We had given great thought and care in selecting the gifts but had dropped the ball with the labels. The people who received the gifts had obviously not had any sort of lesson in grace or courtesy and instead of them sharing their condolences on the loss of our baby,  they instead called us out for not having the gifts individually labeled. Seriously, gift tags should not make or break a relationship.
Have had to work very hard at having forgiveness in my heart for these people, as they obviously didn't (and still don't) understand the fog that we were in, the devastation that we were feeling, or the heartache that was tearing us apart right during Christmas.
Have had to put myself in their shoes to try to see why it would be so upsetting to have to guess as to who the packages belong to,  and have come to realize that even though not having the gifts perfectly labeled, we did our best and that is all we could do...
That happens in life sometimes...
You try your best and that is all you can do...


But what this has also taught me is the importance of instilling a sense of empathy and understanding in Big Bro and Little Bro, and preparing them with lessons in grace and courtesy so that if this ever happens to them, if they receive a gift that is not perfectly wrapped or perfectly labeled or even if the gift itself is less than what they had envisioned as the perfect present, that they will take it in stride and will focus on the good things about the person, the gestures of kindness this person has shown to them, not just whether or not the gift or its wrapping and label would make the "Top Ten Best Gifts Ever List"...


This Advent, our sons are Kris Kringles to each other.
We are focusing on noticing the good in each other and being kind to each other, plus we are also doing little gift exchanges. 
Each day, they have to come up with at least three things to share about each other.
They have to try to go out of their way to do something special for each other throughout the day.
Big Bro and Little Bro also get to make or buy little gift items for each other. 
Last night, we explained the concept to the boys after we read our nightly Advent story.
Reminded them about going out of their way to help each other, so Big Bro helped Little Bro put away his morning work. He also helped get the gallon of milk out of the fridge for him.
Little Bro helped to steady some of the candy pieces for Big Bro as Big Bro was wrapping up his peppermint candy house. He also got out a pair of scissors for his Big Bro to use.

Reminded them that they would have to come up with a list of three things that they enjoy doing with each other and that they would share when they exchanged their little items for the day.
Each were allowed to select a small, inexpensive little present from Target to give to each other today.Big Bro selected Moon Dough for Little Bro and Little Bro selected Pocket Battleship for Big Bro.
They also each choose a special cookie to make for each other.
Little Bro made reindeer sugar cookies for Big Bro while Big Bro made Christmas tree cookies for Little Bro.
While the oven preheated, the boys sat next to each other and shared their three favorite things about each other for the day:
Big Bro shared with Little Bro:
I like to play blocks with you.
I like when you and I pretend spy on mom and dad and see what they are doing and where they are putting our presents.
I like to play chase with you. 


Little Bro shared with Big Bro:
I like to play Playmobil, city, and trains with you. 
I like when you help me read.
I like to share treats with you.


They gave each other a hug, exchanged gifts, said their thank yous, made a nice comment about their gift they had received, and then, we all made some yummy cookies.


Whether or not your family does Christmas,  you homeschool your children , or you subscribe to the Montessori philosophy, the concepts of grace and courtesy transcend all religions, holidays, and traditions. Children benefit so much if they can show empathy towards one another, can be grateful, gracious, and courteous to their peers.


What do you do to instill a sense of empathy in your children?
What kinds of life lessons do you share with your children about grace and courtesy?
How about compassion? Kindness?
What are your thoughts on having children write thank you notes?
Would love to hear back from all of you to see what you do and to glean ideas for other things we can do here with our family in these areas.

Deb from Living Montessori Now also recently wrote a great post about teaching children to say thank you when they receive gifts. Please be sure to check out her nice post. I was reading Mari-Ann's Counting Coconuts FB page when I saw that she had mentioned Deb's post and so I had to go and read it. I had somehow missed reading Deb's post while reading her blog, but she gives some great pointers. 

Happy reading!

Happy holidays!

5 comments:

Kerryanne Cummins said...

This is such a beautiful post. I wish everyone could read this and have a holiday reminder of grace and courtesy adults and children. That you for this. I have empty little christmas boxes that I put out with the Christmas decorations and my boys spend the weeks before Christmas filling them with little gifts and giving them to everyone in the family! Its great for me to get excited about thier little presents and be and example of how to except a gift.

Mommy Moment said...

I agree with you on the gift exchange thing. I like the idea of doing nice thing for a person instead (although hopefully we already do this).
I love how you let Big Bro and Little Bro pic up gifts for each other. We have done that before and the girls love it. I love that they are growing a bond that will hopefully last forever!
Another great post!
Jody

Leann @ MontessoriTidbits said...

Colleen, today I gave you the "Me Encanta Tu Blog" (I love your blog) award. I'm pretty sure you've already had it before.... and I REALLY need to email you! You'll be getting a little package in the mail soon, too.

Deb @ Living Montessori Now said...

What a lovely post and wonderful tradition, Colleen! It's interesting that I never experienced Kris Kringles growing up or as an adult. I felt so sad that you had to go through such a loss on Christmas Eve (or ever) and then have a bad experience with gift giving because of it. But what a wonderful thing you're doing for your boys! Thanks so much for adding my link and your kind words. I added your link to the Blog Frog manners discussion at http://theblogfrog.com/1378313/forum/69164/-how-do-you-teach-manners-to-your-child-or-children.html

Tracey M. said...

I love what you are doing to teach your boys to be a blessing to one another and help them grow closer. The cookies they made for each other are cute. I also like the Kris Kringle idea.

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