It's the most wonderful (learning) time of the year

The time of year is a very busy time for many families. But for the parents and caregivers of children 5 and younger, traditions - and our children's questions about them - offer a host of opportunities to expand children's learning.

Winter time is a good opportunity to teach children about our Navajo culture and play learning games (like string games), suggested Rhonda Etsitty, a member of the First Things First Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council. When you teach your children string games, "they are using their problem solving skills and fine motor skills." You can also use time together to share traditional Navajo stories in your native language and encouraging children to ask you questions about their culture.

Asking questions is one of the primary ways that young children learn about the world around them.

Early childhood expert Peter Mangione, Co-Director of the WestEd Center for Child and Family Studies, says that showing genuine interest in a child's questions and responding to those fully does more than give kids information, it shows young children that what matters to them is important to their caregivers, too.

Here are some helpful hints for turning holiday experiences into learning opportunities with young children:

• Give children more information than they ask for. When you respond fully to a child's question, it can lead to more questions, thus expanding their learning.

• Look for opportunities to grow their vocabulary. When you use new words be sure to point out to your child what they mean.

• If your child shows a deep interest in a topic or tradition, offer to look through family photo albums, talk to additional friends or family members about it, or help them find books you can read together about it.

• And, let your child determine when the conversation ends. Once they have lost interest, don't force it. But, be prepared, their interest could return at any time.

By building on our children's curiosity about holiday happenings, we not only help them build their knowledge and experience, we may re-discover our own wonder in holiday traditions, too!

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