Easy activities for children during the holiday season.

By Marlyn Flores, Deputy Director of College Savings, Office of the Illinois State Treasurer, Michael Frerichs

December 13, 2022

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year! It’s a time to come together, reflect on all your blessings, and reconnect with family and friends. Many families enjoy decorating for the holidays, gift shopping, hosting family and friends over, and cooking their favorite traditional holiday meals.

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For some, the holiday season can also be a very busy and stressful one – especially for families with children. While many are busy with holiday planning, others are worried about how to keep their children busy during the holiday break. As a Chicago resident and mother of a 3-year-old, I am looking forward to a white, snowy Christmas and our yearly winter activities. We enjoy fun activities at home as well as outdoors like visiting the zoo light show, going ice skating, or simply just driving around admiring the holiday décor and bright colorful lights. One of the things that I’ll be doing different this year is incorporating financial literacy activities. The season is full of teachable moments you can use to help children understand the concept of money, how to budget, wants vs. needs, and more. Here are some ideas for using the holidays to teach your children about money.

Count Coins Together

Who loves loose coins? Children do! Throughout the years we tend to collect a lot of loose change from our everyday shopping. With much practice, I’ve been successful in teaching my 3-year-old to save all the coins he finds around the house by putting them in his coin jar and not in his mouth. It’s a great way to teach your children or nieces and nephews the importance of savings with loose coins. There are a few things you can do this holiday season with those coins. This can be a whole family activity, modified by age.

  1. Count the number of coins you have.
  2. Make a coin candy cane. Draw a candy cane on a paper and trace it with coins. Count the number of coins it takes to make a candy cane.
  3. Sort the coins. First, make holiday theme jars or cups. You can paint them or glue decorative items to it. Use the jars to separate the different coins to differentiate pennies versus nickels, dimes, and quarters.

Budgeting for the Holidays

Will you be buying gifts for the holidays? There is no need to overspend on items. While you determine your budget for gifts, you can teach your children the importance of budgeting and how to do that during the holidays.

  1. Take a trip to the library and check out age-appropriate books to learn about budgeting.
  2. Play pretend and spend. Have your kids make and design holiday theme pretend money, then give them advertorial flyers of their favorite store to shop around and spend only $50 of their pretend money on items they would like to gift.
  3. Decorate Christmas stockings for the holidays. Enjoy a day of arts and crafts. Decorate stockings as a family. Instead of stuffing them with gifts, help your children create a wish list of items they want versus items they need. Determine the price of those items and set a spending limit. Take them shopping and help your children make wise spending decisions during the holidays. Engage them in a conversation and explain how you determine what is a want or a need.

Save and Invest During the Holidays

While many children are looking forward to presents, some parents are thinking about how to stretch their dollars during the holidays. This is a great time of the year to teach our children about savings.

  1. Gift a piggy bank. Gifting a piggy bank can help spark the conversation about how you can use it to save. Discuss the importance about saving and share how you are currently saving.
  2. Play hide and seek for coins. Give your children the opportunity to start collecting and saving coins. Hide coins around the house and have your children find them. Count together how much they collected and determine what they want to do with them. Talk about spending and saving.
  3. Open a 529 college savings account together and contribute. Once the piggy bank is full, help them count how much money is going to be deposited so they can have a physical understanding of how much money they have.  Show them the final number. It can provide a great source of motivation for your children if they understand that their money will grow over time as long as they don’t touch it.

The holiday season can be full of teachable moments for the entire family. There are many more activities you can find online to teach your children about money, saving, and investing. Teaching our children about money is a lifelong lesson. Show them how to do it. Giving the gift of college can be one way. Gifting a 529 college savings account or contributing to one is a gift that will last a lifetime.

May this fun holiday season be one to remember filled with love, happiness, and success. Have a Happy Holidays Season and a Prosperous New Year!

About the author: Marlyn Flores is the Deputy Director of College Savings in the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer, Michael Frerichs. Marlyn facilitates all marketing efforts and community outreach focusing on educating families across the state about Bright Start 529 College Savings, and the importance to save little by little. Before joining the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer, Marlyn dedicated over eight years of experience in higher education, community outreach, and project management. She earned her B.S. in Bilingual Education and M.A. in Higher Education Administration with a focus in Educational Leadership from Chicago State University.