Making Every Occasion a Learning Experience

A Montessori teacher's tips on making the most of the holiday season


As a Montessori Teacher, and now a Grandmother, I have learned that in a child's life any and every occasion or holiday can be a learning experience.

Children are watching and learning like little sponges every moment of the day. They are right at work from birth absorbing language, eager observers particularly attracted by our actions and programmed to imitate us. They pick up on our manners, spoken language, body movements and habits unconsciously in a blink of an eye, undetected at times, but very noticeably at other times. 

For instance even an infant will smile when you smile, a toddler is edgy when you are and repeats those words you would rather they didn't and a child wants to help bake when you are busy getting the desserts ready for Christmas. 

I was not much of a baker because my mom wasn't, but I always remember our neighbour, my mom's friend, who made wonderful treats during the Christmas season.  And to this day the smell of Christmas baking brings to mind happy memories spent in her kitchen.  I did make an effort when my children were younger to make simple things around the holiday season and include them in the process.

Christmas is everywhere and children can't help but be taken in by the special season.  Many of us have time off from work or school; there are television programs, decorations, retail outlets all geared toward celebrating this holiday.  So your child will most definitely be building his/her holiday culture, memories and traditions by just experiencing what goes on in your home and their environment during this time. Family, friends and the environment are their teachers.

This holiday season brings so many opportunities for learning that I don't know where to begin. I get my inspiration from Dr. Maria Montessori's own words:  “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”  So, I try to remember that our children are sensorial learners; they learn through the senses.  The refinement of the senses occurs from birth to about six years of age. During this time the child is working on discovering and putting order to his environment through the senses.  By touching, tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing, their learning is done.  Their senses are in constant stimulation at Christmas: they see the blinking lights and touch beautiful decorations, taste and smell the goodies coming out of the oven, feel the coldness of a the new fallen snow, the warmth of the fireplace, hear the sounds of jingling bells and the cheerful carols sung.

Nadia's Grandson, Nolan, learning to build a snowman and decorate the Christmas tree [Photo credit: Nadia Koonar]
My Grandson learning to build a snowman and decorate the Christmas tree [Photo credit: Nadia Koonar]

Here are 8 ways to use the holiday season as a learning experience:

  1. Colours can be taught when children help with decorating the tree:  “Let's put up the red ornaments first.”

  2. Language is perfected as they learn the words to Jingle Bells or Frosty the Snowman.

  3. Numbers are enforced when counting the number of snowballs needed to make a snowman, and preparing the amount of carrots, buttons, pieces of coal you'll need.
  4. While baking, quantity and measurement can be presented: “How much is a cup of flour, a spoonful of butter, a liter of milk?”  Practical life activities of pouring, cutting, kneading are practiced.

  5. The feel of ice and snow and how it turns to water as it is brought inside can be an introduction to solids and liquids. 

  6. There is an opportunity to experience how things feel, look and compare by sorting all the toys in a child's toy box: hard, soft, rough, smooth, long, short, big, or small.

  7. A visit to a food bank with a donation of food, or to the various associations that collect used clothing or toys is a very good example of community spirit.  Our four-year-old grandson was going through his toys recently with his mom to see what toys he no longer plays with so he could make a donation to less fortunate children and of course, make room for toys he hopes to receive.

  8. Manners can be taught through example.  How and what do we say when we greet people?  “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”.  How do we act?  “Oh thank you very much for your gift” followed by a sincere great big hug.

The learning opportunities are endless!  Make this Christmas one that your children will remember by spending time with them enjoying the season, and sharing moments that will leave a lasting impression.


Have a Very Merry Holiday Season!

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