1. The gift of sensory play
Sensory play includes activities that stimulate a child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing. It helps develop and enhance memory and language, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, social interaction and so many other benefits.
Let’s look at the benefits of intentional smelling – it can help develop taste through kids understanding of the olfactory world. Implementing sensory play will also help your kids to appreciate a wide variety of foods. Smelling can help to develop language based on the use of imagination to describe smells.
Give this a try! Take out your favorite holiday spices (like pumpkin pie spice) and herbs which might include ginger, nutmeg, clove, rosemary, cardamom, sage, peppermint, mint, vanilla, cinnamon, and allspice; then allow the kid(s) to smell each one as you name it and also have them see the name on the bottle or container; then you each take turns closing your eyes, put up a spice or herb to the child’s nose, have them smell it and name it.
2. The gift of homemade baked goods
The memorable experience of creating homemade baked goods to share with family at home or drop off at a loved one or friend’s doorstep, will last a lifetime! The interaction of baking, smelling the ingredients, sneaking a chocolate chip, laughing together, making a mess in the kitchen together, has such lasting wonderful memories. Enjoying heart felt, shared treats brings joy to all involved! We can all agree that the smell of baking treats is like a warm, loving hug.
3. The gift of gratitude.
We’re are all aware of the word “gratitude” as it is used to express thankfulness and show appreciation. Maintaining an attitude of gratitude makes you a pleasant person to be around. Also, leading by example with a consistent attitude of gratitude benefits those around you. Practicing gratitude actually increases dopamine in your brain (the stuff that makes you feel good!) and encourages your brain to seek more of the same. So, scientifically speaking, the more you are grateful for, the more you will find things to be grateful for. Sounds like a great way to live to us!
Try this fun gratitude activity: Take a walk together and find stones that have a surface you can write on. Gather colored pencils or markers and write a positive word or affirmation on the stones. Put them in a special place or give them as a gift. We personally love positive affirmations and keep affirmation stones around our home.
Having conversations with others about things we are grateful for instills a sense of hope and peace. We can all get caught up with our busy days; so to end our day with a conversation about bright spots that happened with a focus of gratitude can help to keep us feeling balanced and living in appreciation. We have affirmations stones around our home as visual reminders.
Try this fun activity: Get together once a week with friends or family (can do this through technology if needed) to journal three things that you are each grateful for. You can keep gratitude journals for each person or just use paper and a notepad. You can share what you wrote with each other or keep it private. It’s nice to go back and reflect on the notes. We personally enjoyed doing this with our children as they were growing up and when we stopped for a bit, our daughter was the one who reminded us about it, saying that she missed it.
4. The gift of giving
Giving something, even if it is handmade or cans of food, especially around the holidays, offers an ideal opportunity for families to experience the joy of giving, which provides a deeper family connection at the same time of living in appreciation. Community service can show kids that giving their time, effort and kindness is more rewarding than receiving lots of presents.
Also, if you do this as a weekly or at least monthly family activity, starting at an early age, it may become part of your kids’ lives—something they continue in their adult lives or with their children.
This lifestyle can teach them that giving of themselves can mean so much more, and last longer, than any gift that money could buy. Each time they give something to someone in need, they get to experience compassion, gratitude, appreciation, tolerance, sacrifice, the truth that they can make a difference and can have a positive impact in the world.
We are personally so grateful that our children live with the awareness that our company is a social purpose company – that we work to bring forth positive messages through our creative products, with the intention to support St. Jude’s Research and Children’s Hospital.
5. The gift of smiles and laughter
Smiles are contagious and can often lead to laughter. Consider starting your days with a positive intention to be aware of intentionally smiling throughout your day.
When you smile your mood and the moods around you (those who see you smile) are often elevated. Smiling helps to maintain a happier disposition. Smiles are super contagious!
Research shows that if you see another person smile, the area of the brain that controls facial movement is activated. Research also shows that when you smile, a chemical reaction occurs in the brain, releasing endorphins that relax the body, allowing for stress reduction as well as producing more white blood cells which support your immune system.
If you haven’t heard of Laughter Yoga, consider checking it out (this is another science based, fun method, for maintaining health). During these increasingly stressful times, practices like Laughter Yoga can be so important to implement into weekly self-care.
Benefits of Laughter
Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California
have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. To date, their published
studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases
muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells,
disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural
painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.
The following is a summary of his research, taken from an interview published in the Humor
and Health Journal.
Laughter Activates the Immune System
In Berk’s study, the physiological response produced by belly laughter was opposite of what
is seen in classical stress, supporting the conclusion that mirthful laughter is a eustress state—a state that produces healthy or positive emotions.
Research results indicate that, after exposure to humor, there is a general increase in activity
within the immune system, including:
• An increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack viral infected cells and some types of cancer and tumor cells.
• An increase in activated T cells (T lymphocytes). There are many T cells that await
activation. Laughter appears to tell the immune system to “turn it up a notch.”
• An increase in the antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A), which fights upper respiratory
tract insults and infections.
• An increase in gamma interferon, which tells various components of the immune system to “turn on.”
• An increase in IgB, the immunoglobulin produced in the greatest quantity in body, as well as an increase in Complement 3, which helps antibodies to pierce dysfunctional or infected cells. The increase in both substances was not only present while subjects watched a humor video; there also was a lingering effect that continued to show increased levels the next day.
Laughter Decreases “Stress” Hormones
The results of the study also supported research indicating a general decrease in stress
hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity. These were shown to
decrease in the study group exposed to humor.
For example, levels of epinephrine were lower in the group both in anticipation of humor and
after exposure to humor. Epinephrine levels remained down throughout the experiment. In
addition, dopamine levels (as measured by DOPAC) were also decreased. Dopamine is
involved in the “flight-or-fight response” and is associated with elevated blood pressure.
Laughing is aerobic, providing a workout for the diaphragm and increasing the body’s ability
to use oxygen.
Laughter brings in positive emotions that can enhance—not replace—conventional
Experts believe that, when used as an adjunct to conventional care, laughter can reduce pain
and aid the healing process. For one thing, laughter offers a powerful distraction from pain.
In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, patients were told one-liners after
surgery and before painful medication were administered. Those exposed to humor perceived
less pain when compared to patients who didn’t get a dose of humor as part of their therapy.
Perhaps, the biggest benefit of laughter is that it is free and has no known negative side
Below is a summary of how humor contributes to physical health.
Muscle Relaxation – Belly laughs result in muscle relaxation. While you laugh, the muscles
that do not participate in the belly laugh, relax. After you finish laughing, those muscles
involved in the laughter start to relax. So, the action takes place in two stages.