Your home is festooned with twinkling lights and your children’s holiday gift requests are being registered super politely and quietly, while cookies bake in the oven. Okay, maybe not. But the holiday bonanza provides a good moment to take advantage of kids’ natural curiosity and teach them about the origins of the big-name seasonal festivities their neighbors celebrate, as well as how those holidays are celebrated differently around the world.
Parents strive to treat their families to amazing experiences. Catapult, in partnership with Intel, is the field guide for the modern mom, offering tech-based at-home activities that will build lasting memories.
Those lessons are also a great stepping off point for some exercises in geography, cultural appreciation, and even a little comparative religious history. Fortunately, technology is here to make all that wholesome learning fun and accessible. From kid-friendly websites to short online videos to an app or two, tech can help you expand your kids’ horizons this year. Here are a few ways to engage with holidays around the world.
For the younger elementary school kid, start by sending an e-card with this very basic Scholastic web app.
Scholastic offers nice e-cards for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and regular winter season greetings. And, because it’s Scholastic, in order to send the card you have to choose an accompanying educational fun fact that will help kids learn about the history and significance of various traditions. (Examples: “The principle of the first day of Kwanzaa is Unity, or Umoja.” or “In Holland, Santa is called Sinterklaas and he travels on a white horse.)”
Help your kids send an e-card to a close friend or family member to help them celebrate their cherished holiday.
PBS offers super-short episodes of “All About the Holidays.” Also, since it’s PBS, the teacher portal has supplemental materials and activities once they’ve watched. The site’s “winter holidays” category includes later winter festivities like Chinese New Year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and even Mardi Gras.
In about a minute or two of video-watching, you and your kids can learn all the basics about these holiday celebrations. The videos are super informative and inclusive. Even within the video about New Year’s day, for instance, you and your kids can learn how people following both ancient and modern traditions ring in the New Year at different times of year — and with different foods and rituals. Black-eyed peas, anyone?
Now that you’ve learned about some new holidays, maybe you want to discover a specific holiday ritual through technology. There are dozens of apps to help you do this, from “Xmas around the world” to Chinese New Year lantern festival and apps that let you light a virtual Hanukkah menorah or Kwanzaa Kinara to celebrate the passing of the days.
Now your kids have learned the basics of some of these holidays, they can test their knowledge with a fun, interactive winter holiday quiz from National Geographic Kids.
Cool sound effects and images accompany the questions, too. On the rest of the NatGeo kids website, you can find lots of information about the holidays and seasons, not to mention some extremely cool information about strange animals, wintry Mad-Lib-style games, and more.
All this learning about different cultural holidays may make your kids eager to get virtually globetrotting. Disney’s classic “It’s a Small World” app replicates the famous amusement park ride, gently introducing the littlest kids to cultures and languages around the globe.
The app “Kids’ Planet Discovery” is another one to help your offspring explore Earth along with some curious aliens getting to know this planet for the very first time. It includes a look at seasonal rituals in every continent and corner of the globe — as well as information on each place’s climate, culture, and wildlife.
For even older kids, just load up Google Earth, with its shiny new “tour” feature—and let their minds be blown as you zip all over the planet.
Has hearing about potato latkes, dumplings, gingerbread got your mouth totally watering? Now’s the time to load a website on your computer or app on your phone to help you explore the world’s foods and inspire your kids to help you out in the kitchen! World Recipes for Android is one of many simple apps that can help suggest brand new global-cuisine recipes to try, from Gefilte fish to Dutch pancakes to Madras curry.
If you’re all feeling in a giving mood, the Share the Meal app helps get food to families in need around the world, which will help impart one of the most important holiday lessons they can learn: Being a better global citizen.
Sarah Seltzer is a writer and editor in NYC.
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