When adults talk about the holidays, it seems the words stress, hectic, and rush are first to come to mind. However, children of all ages get excited for a holiday, especially during the fall and winter when it seems we’re celebrating every week. Harnessing that excitement into positive and productive tasks will allow your children to further develop important skills while enjoying holiday cheer.

Whether it’s decorating a Christmas tree, preparing Thanksgiving dinner, or making a dreidel for Hanukkah, there are plenty of activities that will help your children celebrate the holidays to the fullest extent this year. Many of these tasks develop fine motor skills and strengthen motor planning abilities. In addition, they all foster independence and provide your children an opportunity to feel pride about their contribution to the festivities.

Some of the tasks can be completed a day or two in advance so you can take the time to guide your child and reinforce her skills before the rush of the holiday. If you’re hosting and have a long list of responsibilities, ask a family member to help the children complete their to-do list.

Food preparation

Have children cut soft food items, such as bananas, cooked potatoes, or cheese, using a plastic knife or butter knife. After an adult has opened the cans, ask children to drain and pour olives into serving bowls. (Remind them to be very careful around the edges of the cans!) Ask children to spread peanut butter or blue cheese on cut celery. Have children use tongs to move ice from the ice bucket to glasses and pour drinks for guests. (Consider allowing younger children to pour only clear liquids, or have club soda on hand for potential spills!)

Cleaning and setting the table

Children can wipe down counters and the table with a sponge before and after meals. (Learning to wipe down the table and sweep the crumbs into the your hand is an important skill and one that is often challenging for those with fine motor difficulties.)

Have children set the table by counting the number of guests, gathering the correct number of plates and silverware needed, and setting everything in its proper place.

Ask children to fold napkins or put them in napkin rings as they set the table.

Have younger children use a handheld vacuum and older children use a large vacuum to clean up before and after dinner.


Set up craft projects, such as making and decorating ornaments, dreidels, or kinaras using popsicle sticks, glue, buttons, glitter, pipe cleaners, cotton pom palms, and paint.

Make a gingerbread house and have children ice the gingerbread with a jar of icing and a plastic knife, place small candy on top, and decorate using tubes of icing.

Children can peel and hang decorative window clings throughout the house.

Ask children to make garland by stringing beads or cereal.

Assign tasks based on age and consider modifying some jobs for younger children. For example, a ten-year-old may carry four plates at a time to the table, whereas a five-year-old may carry one at a time. Encourage teamwork by having children work together to complete a multi-step assignment, so one child can put out the plates and silverware, while another sets out napkins and cups. This also encourages problem solving and reasoning because they will have to decide which tasks are best completed first in order to efficiently complete the job.

Be creative in assigning tasks and patient as your child learns to complete them. Remember the holidays are about joy and spending time together, so encourage your children to participate by setting attainable and enjoyable goals!