5 ways to teach kids true spirit of the holidays

Frazzled parents. Check. Impossible to do list. Check. Not enough time or money to go around. Check and double check. Happy holidays. In spite of the season's non-stop soundtrack of peace and love, goodwill towards all, sometimes it's easy to overlook the spirit of the holidays and feel more humbug than ho-ho-ho.

So what is the true spirit of the season? The answers are as personal as the traditions we cherish. Whether we observe Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa it can be agreed that we are all celebrating a season of miracles, grace and giving. Amidst chaotic commercialization that preaches gimme, gimme, gimme, how do we teach children the importance of sharing, and help them understand sometimes it does feel better to give than to receive?

Devin Hermanson, charitable giving expert and national director of the World Vision Gift Catalog believes it's a life-lesson worth the effort. His team put together some ideas on the subject, and I've thrown in my own two cents for good measure.

1. Crafty Giving

Consider creating do-it-yourself gifts that children can help prepare, such as no-sew fleece blankets (I found a great instructional video at instructables.com if you don't mind the weird music that accompanies the demonstration, it's absolutely great, and looks easy!), homemade soaps, hand warmers (activityvillage) or fabric-covered notebooks (family crafts at about.com). Donate the crafts to a community shelter. Helping someone in need without the expectation of receiving something in return is an experience in gracious giving.

2. A Helping Hand
Help the kids create coupons or a coupon book to share with neighbors who would appreciate an extra hand. Coupons could include shoveling their sidewalk, raking leaves, walking the dog, watering plants while they are away or reading to younger kids. As adults, we know that time is one of our most valuable assets and helping out encourages thoughtfulness and a sense of pride in a job well done. I found a free, holiday-themed coupon templates online here. Check out similar, free templates by entering, "free coupon template" in an online search engine. Maybe you'll get lucky and the kids will gift you with one as well -- don't forget to hint.

Finally, be sure to help your child maintain their generosity of spirit when it comes time to follow through with the offer.

3. Memory Keeper

Creating a legacy of family memories that can be passed down from generations doesn't have to cost anything and yet the rewards are priceless. Taking the time to ask grandparents and relatives about their life experiences teaches family history and the importance of listening to others. Perfect for relatives you might not get to see this year, but would love to receive a phone call.

You can help your child write down the stories, and attach a photo of the person so they will remember the conversation. Story Corp, a non-profit organization believes that "Listening is an act of love," and has published a book by the same name. Dedicated to honoring and celebrating one another's lives through listening, the organization has helped more than 500,000 people record their stories, which are subsequently archived in the Library of Congress (very cool!). It is the largest oral-history projects of its kind.

In addition, older kids might be interested in doing a little detective work for the family tree. Websites like Ancestry.com help take the mystery out of family history, and it's something everyone will enjoy. There are membership fees to join, so be sure to check that out before you begin. I've tried this a little myself and it's addictive!

4. Get Cookin'
Holidays and baking go hand-in-glove, and it's another great way to create family traditions. This year, swing by a local nursing home or senior center and share some of the goodies with a few friends you haven't met yet. It's a nice gesture and the kids should feel proud of their contribution. Foodnetwork.com, childrensrecipes.com, and familyfun.com all provide wonderful ideas for kid-friendly recipes. Mmmm-mmm good.

My older son recently accompanied his dad to help feed the homeless at a local rescue mission and it was an eye opening experience. Every rescue mission operates differently, so I would suggest calling to find out what their needs are, but it could be a nice way for pre-teens and teens to do something meaningful. We helped provide the food that was served, which is another way for everyone in the family to help out. Without too much effort, it's a way to fulfill a need as well as a great reminder of how lucky we are to be on the giving end.

Lastly, many schools and organizations conduct food drives this time of year and it is another great way of helping out. Again, by giving your child a budget and allowing them to shop with you at the grocery store, they will have a learning experience on several levels. (Teachable moment! It might be necessary to explain why a basket full of Twinkies may seem like a good idea, but it may not be the best choice...).

5. Pay it forward
As a family, select a charitable organization to support. Online tools such as CharityNavigator.com help explore charitable organizations that match your personal values and concerns. By giving a child a budget and allowing them to choose the cause they would like to support it presents an empowering opportunity for them to think about the issues closest to their hearts. In addition, it's a great way to contribute. Remember, every little bit counts -- those pennies and dollars add up!

Devin Hermanson says the World Vision catalog began with parents thinking in much the same way. He said they wanted to be able to provide their kids with a "giving allowance" and discuss how their contributions would impact lives. Hermanson says, despite what some might believe, kids can understand the importance of, "sacrificial giving" -- or giving up something that you might like to keep (i.e. money) in order to share it with others.

The catalog, which began in 1996, helps support Americans in need as well as others in crisis around the world. For the more than 13 million kids living in poverty in the US, a $25 donation through the World Vision catalog will provide $350 dollars worth of necessities such as clothing, diapers, blankets and shoes thanks to matching corporate contributions. One woman, "Mary" who took refuge from her abusive husband at a homeless shelter said she was grateful for the support from World Vision donations, "I feel special ... I feel appreciated," she said.

Similarly, children can choose to support some of the poorest children in the world through donations such as $25 to provide two chicks to another child's family, $70 for a goat (the most popular catalog item), $32 to provide an education for another child, $50 for a foot-powered water pump, or $16 for mosquito netting to prevent malaria. Each gift is purchased in someones name and they will receive a special card that describes the impact of their contribution.

Speaking via telephone from Ethiopia on a whirlwind tour of four countries in five weeks and logging more than 22,000 air miles, Hermanson said he and his team were on a mission to videotape just where those contributions go and who they help. The videos and interviews can be seen on World Vision's Facebook page. "It's been an amazing trip," he said, "it shows how small gifts can change lives."

In spite of the economic downturn, Hermanson said sales revenues for the catalog are up 28% over last year's numbers at this time and he credits a return to meaningful giving. The organization has set a record goal this year to earn $25 million dollars. It has recently reached $11 million.

"We set a higher goal," explained Hermanson, "because there were more people in need, "if we reach that goal, we'll be able to help 650,000 people ... I think we've got a shot." He continued, "If we can do it, it would really be a Christmas miracle."

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