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Having Fun Together

15 Things to Do Before the Holidays

These fun winter activities will help you add sparkle to your season

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The holidays are coming! But there's still so much time to make family fun and memories happen. Here are 15 ways to pepper joy and happiness throughout the season.

1. Go on a holiday scavenger hunt. Start by making a list of all the wintery and holiday items you want the kids to find. Think: a holiday wreath, icicles, a Santa lawn decoration, something candy-cane striped, and more. Next, list all of the items (with picture clues for the littles), hand it out, and go for a walk. Be sure to dole out seasonal stickers or stamps as a reward for each item found.

2. Play hooky. Instead of squeezing every last family activity (and errand) into your limited weekends, take a mid-week day off-and let your kids skip, too. See a local matinee performance of The Nutcracker. Hit the mall and allow your kids to pick out special gifts for Grandma and Grandpa without the stress of crowds. Or just play in the snow. 

3. Build a winter wonderland. Raid the recycling bin for empty boxes (cereal- and mac-and-cheese-size are perfect). Gently turn them inside out and secure with tape-or cover them in a variety of holiday wrapping paper. Use scissors (or have a grown-up use a hobby knife ) to create doors where needed. Next, haul out the ribbon, construction paper, candy canes, glue sticks, markers, and more to construct mini-homes for a DIY winter village. Perfect for under the tree, on a mantel, or in the playroom.

4. Create a good deed jar. Write 24 kind gestures on separate squares of holiday wrapping paper. Fold 'em up and place them in a glass jar (or inside an advent calendar). Each day of December, have the family select a new good deed to complete. Some can be accomplished individually (say, making a card to tell your sibling why you love him) while others can be done together, like dropping treats off at the police station or donating canned goods to a local food pantry.  

5. Deck all of the halls. Why should the den and living room have all of the holiday cheer? Take the kids to the craft store and allow them to choose some holiday decorations for their own room.

6. Craft a star. Go on a nature walk with the kids, but with a mission: Have them find several not-too-thick, not-too-skinny sticks that are all about the same length to create a twig star to top the tree or to hang in your home. At the same time, encourage them to find natural decorations, such as tiny pinecones, birch branches, pine tree clippings, and more. While you'll need to lay out the design of your 5- or 6-point star, securing the intersections with a hot glue gun and/or wrapped twine, the kids step in again to decorate.

7. Make room for holiday loot. The holidays are a great time to say goodbye to your kiddo's forgotten and outgrown toys. To help these once-adored playthings make a smooth exit, explain to your children that Santa (or mom and dad) simply can't deliver new goodies if there's no room for them. For older kids, explain how their toys can brighten a less-fortunate child's holiday.

8. Host a no-bake cookie swap. Invite a group of friends (and their kids) over and have each family make enough of one kind of no-bake treat to share. (No-bake means kids can make their own.) At the party, everyone gets to sample the treats and take home a yummy assortment of goodies.

9. Have a crafternoon. Cruise on over to the art supply shop and stock up on mini canvases, unfinished wooden keepsake boxes, frames, and ornaments and the embellishments you need to decorate them. Next, gather the kids and have an afternoon of with homemade gift-making for grandparents, neighbors, teachers, and everyone on their list.

10. Go on a picnic. Surprise the kids with a winter picnic in your yard or local park. But instead of packing watermelon and sandwiches, take hot chocolate, some mini marshmallows, candy cane stirrers, and a batch of sugar cookies. Don't forget the flannel blanket to sit on-and one to wrap around you!

11. Create next year's calendar. Make the family photo calendar a family affair: Write every month on its own slip of paper, toss all 12 in a hat, and have each family member draw till all are gone. Each person gets to choose the photos for the months they select.  

12. Customize your holiday gifts. Have your kiddos create their own signature holiday paper. Simply roll out a spool of craft paper (weigh down the edges so it doesn't curl) and have them decorate with holiday stencils and stamps, glitter pens, markers, and more. (This also works with brown craft bags for gift bags or paper scraps for thank you cards.) If they're old enough to wrap, swap clear tape for holiday-themed washi or packing tape.

13. Think of others. There's no better time to start teaching your children the value of giving back than the holidays. You can work at a local soup kitchen together; help with a coat or toy drive; bring cookies to a senior center and stay for a visit; go on a hunt for Salvation Army bell-ringers and donate a small amount to everyone you see; raid your pantry for canned goods to donate; or bring doggie treats to a nearby animal shelter.

14. Learn about the holidays around the world. We all love changing up the read-aloud routine with holiday-themed books. This year, change it up a little more by researching how different cultures and religions celebrate during this time of year. Your library should be a great source for books on how wintertime holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Ramadan and more are observed in different countries.

15. Have a camp out. It's too cold to sleep outdoors, but you can still camp out in the living room (right near the tree if you have one!). Unroll the sleeping bags and instead of telling ghost stories, read holiday books. Instead of campfire songs, sing holiday songs. And if you have a fireplace, add a little candy cane dazzle to your 'smores!