A first grade teacher talks holidays and a first grade student talks Anywhere Teacher

Christmas themed photo of a mom and dad and little girl sitting together on a couch, little girl is reading

How to highlight the joy and magic of the season? Megan Dean, first grade teacher and busy mom of two, suggests keeping it simple and shares her family’s Christmas Book Countdown tradition. And George, one of her students who loves to read, answers a few questions too!

SZ: Even in a typical year, the holidays are fun but can also be stressful. It’s been a tough 18+ months for everybody--parents, kids, and teachers alike--with lots of disruption in routines and schedules. Suggestions for the holidays?
MD: I’m a mom of a first grader and a third grader, and I know I’m trying to simplify. We can’t jam-pack 5 things into one day. It doesn’t go well. Try and maintain routines, even things as basic as bedtime routines or reading with your child. Keep it fun. Not super forced. Maybe just 20 mins of reading.

SZ: Are there specific ways that younger kids can help with holiday planning that could also be useful for their all-around learning?
MD: Kids can definitely help! Baking together can include measuring and reading part of the recipe. They can help with gift wrapping too. It might not look perfect, but they practice folding and problem-solving. At our house, we do a Christmas Book Countdown. In November we gather up at least 25 books they already have read; most of them were gifts that were signed by the giver with a note. Then we wrap them up and put them under the tree. The kids help decide what order to open them in. My grandma passed away a few years back, and it’s so nice for the kids to read a note to them from their great-grandma.

SZ: If you could wish or recommend just one gift for any child between the ages of 4 and 8, this holiday season, what would it be?
MD: An experience with someone you love. I tell my own kids “We’re collecting memories, we’re not collecting things.” A lot of kids like to go look at the lights. Find something special you can do together. It can take just 10 minutes.

SZ: Why is that so important?
MD: You’re forming that connection, and those memories last forever. That means so much more than things.

SZ: Do you have a personal rule of thumb for gift-giving?
MD: Not really. I wish I did. I do try and think “What are things the kids would like that they also need?” For example, my son plays hockey, and I bought him a nice pair of pants for pond hockey. And I would say, look for toys, board games, and other things that everyone can play together.

SZ: How would you fill in this sentence: Above all, kids should use the holiday break to ______?
MD: Relax and recharge!

SZ: Grown-ups have lots to juggle during the holidays. There are going to be times they need to focus, and there will be days the weather is bad. What are some great ways to keep kids busy and prevent hearing them say, “I’m bored”?
MD: I know a lot of people rely on tablets and other devices, and that can be great, including programs like Anywhere Teacher  [School Zone’s online learning program for ages 2-8]. Get kids thinking about this before they get bored. I have my kids make a list of things they can do if they get bored—things like coloring, playing dolls, and playing trains. Tell them: “Build something. Use your imagination. Let’s make a list.”

SZ: Any closing thoughts about kids and holidays?
MD: Just try and keep it simple. Remember that the small moments can be really big gifts.

Christmas coloring book pages spread out with three kids activly coloring them with additional small images of Christmas craft ideas for kids, paper christmas trees, marshmallow snowmen, tiolet paper roll Christmas characters adn paper cut-out snowflakes
And now a few words from 6-year-old George on reading, football and Anywhere Teacher

SZ: What is the best part about going to school?
G: Reading!
MD: I think especially for him, he just has a love of reading. He’s not going to quit. He is persistent. He wants to try to figure out words. He has this internal drive, like I’m going to figure out how to do this.

SZ: What are some things you are learning in school right now?
G: Compound words and con…
MD: Contractions. Remember, words in disguise? Can not can be…
G: Can’t!
MD: We are working on solving tricky words—words wearing tricky disguises. Vowels. Bossy e. Magic e. Exposure to phonics. Right now, I’m doing a lot of conferring. I listen to them reading. Are they using those skills? And I’m giving feedback: “Let’s try that again” or “I’m noticing you’re doing that really well.”

SZ: Your teacher says you like playing on Anywhere Teacher. Why do you like it?
G: ‘Cause it’s fun! I have four more levels on the First Grade Learning Path.
[Anywhere Teacher has 3,000+ activities and curriculum-based learning paths for P, K, and 1 created with teachers. The First Grade Learning Path has 23 levels with 7 unique activities on each level – all developed to cover the first grade curriculum standards.]

SZ: What are your favorite things to do or play on Anywhere Teacher?
G: Cone Catch and Memory Match!

SZ: Anywhere Teacher has some games you can play with a friend. Do you ever do that?
G: Memory Match.
MD: George played a friend the other day and won 20 to 1. He has also discovered Tic Tac Toe on Anywhere Teacher.

screen image of an online memory match game from anywhereteacher.com

SZ: Do you only play Anywhere Teacher at school or at home too?
G: At home too.

SZ: If you could do anything you wanted tomorrow, what would it be?
G: Hmm…play football with my brother!

SZ: What is something you are really good at?
G: Reading and football.

SZ: What is something you want to learn how to do?
G: Multiplication. My brother has been trying to show me, but I don’t quite have it yet.

Thanks, George!

two photos of the same little blond haired boy playing on a tablet one photo showing the online learning site, Anywhere Teacher and the second photo of the little boy playearning path on Anywhereing the first grade guided l Teacher