At Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center in Auburn, this holiday season was filled with new experiences and opportunities to learn about traditions like Hanukkah, Christmas, gift giving and helping others. As the students tried new things, they had so much fun they didn’t even realize how much they were learning.

“Spinning a dreidel is not just exciting, it requires fine motor skills to make it happen,” said Karen McClure-Richard, director of the Early Learning Center. “Listening to a children’s book about Hanukkah being read aloud requires practicing skills like sitting still, paying attention and listening.”

When kids are learning through play, unexpected things can happen that take the opportunity even further.

“One of our kiddos doesn’t talk,” recalled Karen. “She sings a little, but we can’t always make out the words. She lit the last candle on the menorah and her face lit up and she spontaneously started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for all of us to hear. It was wonderful. For her, candles meant ‘birthday’ and she was able to express that clearly with her words.”

The holiday season is also a time for the kids to try new foods with different textures and practice sitting at the table using utensils. Something as simple as removing the foil wrapper from a piece of candy requires patience and determination to see it through.

“Bringing in special activities like holiday celebrations also requires students to experience a change in their usual routine,” Karen concluded. “That’s how they can learn to go with the flow, adapt and participate. Change can cause many different types of emotions, and this is an opportunity for the kiddos to learn how to be resilient in the moment.”

In the spirit of the season, each child was given a book and a pair of homemade mittens to take home. From sharing, to helping others, to learning about different traditions, the experiences gained this holiday season will carry over into many aspects of the children’s lives as they develop and grow.

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