Using a Christmas Tree for Child Development

I am really in the Christmas spirit this year. Partly because I was looking for some happiness and positive energy after a bleak fall, and partly because this year my son can really start to enjoy the season. He pays attention to everything and has plenty of commentary about what's going on, so he was very excited when the first decorations went up (during his naptime) and asks everyday to turn the lights on.

For a little while, there were no ornaments on the tree. I didn't want my little climber to get any ideas and try to get up to the higher branches, and I know that there is no way to keep some ornaments intact around kids (they can come back in 10 years or so...). But I decided to make the tree a more interactive experience for him with minimal hassle from me.

Closer view of some soft ornaments
A couple ornaments for mom on top, most for the baby on the bottom.

I set out the ornaments that were soft and unbreakable. I took off all the wires that we normally use to hang ornaments. I made sure that all of them had a loop to hang by- some needed additional yarn to have a larger loop. The loops are varied lengths and materials which presents different challenges. I also made sure to put out a bucket and box so that my son had a location to put in and take out (a favorite toddler past time).

I really only showed him how to pinch and spread open the yarn loop to make it large enough to fit on a branch a handful of times, and that was enough to inspire hours of self-directed play. It's a very easy activity to set up, and from that we have an easy starting point for practicing communication and cognition concepts. We talk about the characters, what color they are, on/off, in/out, up/down - it's a very natural way to play with a child and promote development in multiple areas.

Here's some ideas for good ornaments for toddlers and preschoolers to use for their personal decorating:

- Pipe Cleaners / Beads: If you have a preschooler or an older sibling, there are plenty of ways to make inexpensive, unlikely to break, ornaments that you can treasure as kids' projects in years to come.
     - Easy bead and pipe cleaners
     - A variety of easy ornaments
     - Triangular beaded candy canes
     - lace and bead wreath
     - pipe cleaner wreath

- Plastic Canvas: One of my aunts just loved to do plastic canvas crafts. Some of these were designed to be magnets, but many were ornaments. Since they are all yarn, they are no worries about injury or ornament damage.
     - Pre-made from Etsy
     - Ornament patterns  1  2  3
- Clothespin ornaments: The pinching requirement to operate these is another great fine motor challenge, and it makes for a nice change of pace.
     - DIY Snowmen
     - Etsy set

While ceding my tree to my toddler seemed pretty logical to me, especially since I don't want to spend everyday telling him not to touch the most interesting thing in the room, my husband reminded me that it was my OT brain and not just a "common sense" thing. So hopefully this will be a helpful share to others.


Katherine Collmer said...

Cheryl, I love posts with lots of links to new and exciting ideas! Your OT-inspired tree activity lends itself to lots of fine and visual motor, as well as balance, skill development! Thanks! (Love the photos!)

Sarah said...

I've been worried about what to do about the Christmas tree with my one year old! Glad to see someone blogging about it!