Tag Archives: Screen-Free Activities for Kids

Children’s Books to Read in December

By Tracey Dowdy

December 1st ushers in a month of holiday celebrations. Some are familiar – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza – while others are a little more obscure, appealing to a, shall we say niche audience. I’m looking at you National Llama Day and National Bouillabaisse Day

With screen time for our kids at an all-time high, alternatives that provide a break, entertain, and dare I say, perhaps even educate, are a great idea. That’s where good old fashioned reading comes in. Here’s a list of books to get you and your littles through December’s snow days, meltdowns, bedtimes, and lazy afternoons on the couch. 

Llama Llama Holiday Drama – Anna Dewdney Llama Llama doesn’t like waiting. He and Mama Llama rush around, shopping for presents, baking cookies, decorating the tree . . . yet Christmas seems to be so far away! But, a cuddle from Mama Llama calms and reminds our favorite little llama that “Gifts are nice, but there’s another: The true gift is, we have each other.”

The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever – Stephen Kroll  In the latest installment of this beloved series, Clayton the town mouse and Desmond the country mouse team up to bring the spirit of Christmas to Mouseville-in a big way. Who will find the biggest tree?

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale – Eric A. Kimmel  Kimmel, author of the Caldecott winning Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, weaves a charming and imaginative Hanukkah tale that celebrates eight miracles: family, friendship, hope, selflessness, sharing, faith, courage, and love.

The Story of Kwanzaa – Donna L. Washington  From ancestors in Africa to slavery and the civil rights movement, Washington walks us through the the history leading up to the creation of Kwanzaa. Her captivating text is accompanied by gorgeous photographs of contemporary African fabrics and mixed-media illustrations. The book includes activities like how to make your own cow-tail switch and recipes for benne cakes.

The Crayons’ Christmas – Drew Daywalt  ‘Tis the season for writing out those holiday wishlists! But everyone–even the crayons–knows that the best presents are the ones you receive but those ones that you give. Duncan and his friends – including beige crayon who’s now allergic to gluten from coloring too much wheat and gray crayon, who’s celebrating Hanukkah – share how they celebrate the holidays. The book is clever, witty, and includes real letters from the Crayons that kids can remove from their envelopes to read, plus games, punch-out ornaments, a poster, and even a pop-up tree. 

Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever – Matt Tavares  Rudolph may get all the attention, but that doesn’t mean the other reindeer don’t have a tale to tell! Meet Dasher, a spunky reindeer whose dreams of a different life come true when she meets Santa. Fun fact: Only female reindeer still have antlers at Christmas; the males of the species shed their headgear before mid-December, so, all Santa’s reindeer are actually girls! 

There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell! – Lucille Colandro  Both books are a joyful, rollicking, sleigh ride through rhymes, funny illustrations, and have endings that will have your little ones giggling again and again. It’s a holiday spin on the classic “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…” that’s sure to become a family favorite. 

It’s Christmas, David!- David Shannon  David – star of the David books – is back and just trying to make it through ‘til Christmas without ending up on the naughty list. From resisting the temptation to peek at his presents to waiting in an endless line to see Santa, David’s all-too-familiar antics will have your kids laughing out loud. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

More Screen-Free Activities for Kids

By Tracey Dowdy 

On a scale of “Guess How Much I Love You” to “Lord of the Flies,” how are things at your house? Learning to parent through a pandemic is something none of us expected to have to do, yet here we are. 

For many parents, understandably, screen time limits have become more like suggestions rather than rules as we try to navigate uncharted and often choppy waters. If you’re flat out of ideas and looking for activities to fill an afternoon or more, here are some fun options. 

Plant a garden. I know it may seem a little late to get started, but there are plants you can start now, indoors, to transplant in the spring. If you’re not sure where or what to plant, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has a guide that drills down to specific towns in the U.S. and Canada from Fairfax, Virginia, to Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. Just type in your zip or postal code to bring up your planting calendar. If an outdoor garden isn’t an option, you kids can plant an indoor herb garden. You can even teach your children how to grow pineapples, avocados, onions, garlic, or a host of other vegetables from the parts you’d typically compost or throw in the trash. 

Organize. With the holidays fast approaching, there’s a good chance that your children will be expecting – and accepting – new clothes, toys, books, and games from Santa and Hannukah Harry. This is a great time to go through closets, toy boxes, and playrooms to purge things the things your children have grown out of. This is a job you could easily do on your own, but it’s an opportunity to teach your children generosity. It has been a challenging year for many families, with many parents out of work due to the pandemic. Donating unused clothes and toys teaches your children to think beyond their own needs to the needs of those around them. It teaches compassion for others and gratitude for what they have. Be aware that some charities are not accepting donations right now, but here’s where you can donate clothes and toys right now. 

Write a book, scrapbook, or create a memory box together. While it’s true that many of us will be happy to see 2020 and this pandemic in the rearview mirror, we’ve lived through a significant event in world history. Why not document your family’s experience for grandchildren and generations beyond? Have your kids write a letter to their future selves about what they loved and hated, their favorite pastime in quarantine, what they thought of virtual schooling, what they missed, and what they learned. Write your own letter, documenting what it was like to parent during this season. You can gather photos and publish your own photobook of “Our Life in Quarantine 2020,” or document the whole year in a “2020 – What a Year for the Mathesons!” Include snapshots of virtual school, what you did in your downtime, relevant news stories, rallies, or protests you participated in, socially distanced playdates and proms, information about the election – whatever resonates with your family. Or, create a scrapbook or memory box of letters and items that remind you of this season. 

Write a book together. Has your family started cooking together? Compile your favorite meals you’ve prepared over the past several months, write out the recipes, include photos of the finished dish, or even better, your children actually preparing and eating it. Voila, you’ve just published a cookbook! Or, have your child write a story, letting their imagination run wild. Along with writing the text, have them draw the illustrations, then print a hardcopy or publish it online to share with family and friends. 

Get in the kitchen. For a few weeks at the beginning of quarantine, my husband and I did a live cooking demonstration for family and friends then gave the meal to a local viewer. It was silly, fun, and a great way to feel less alone while we were all housebound. If a live demo isn’t a good fit, do your version of Iron Chef, the Great British Baking Show, or Top Chef, and see who makes the best brownies, cupcakes, or grilled cheese. Since eating out options are limited, learn how to make restaurant favorites at home, or teach your children how to make family favorites or recipes handed down through the years. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.