The Gift of Family Time: Strengthening family ties during the holidays and beyond, by  Kris Perry, Executive Director-First 5 California

We all have such busy schedules that it can be a challenge to find time to spend together as a family. Although many African Americans get together once a year for a traditional family reunion, which often times includes extended family, frequent and consistent quality family time is important throughout the year because when parents learn and play with their children every day, it boosts a child’s self-esteem and helps kids develop positive relationships. Even 10 to 30 minutes of one-on-one time per day is a good start, as long as it’s part of a regular routine. Young children will benefit from the love and attention they receive during these precious moments.

This holiday season, First 5 California encourages parents as well as grandparents and caregivers to give the gift of quality time. By planning educational and nurturing activities everyone can enjoy together, families can set up healthy routines that last through the holidays and well into the New Year.

* Start a tradition. Plan a family meal at least once a week — even more often if you can. Eating together provides a wonderful opportunity to talk with your children about their day and show them that they are your top priority. Get kids involved by giving them age-appropriate tasks like setting the table, tossing the salad and cleaning up. This holiday season is a good time to start an African American Kwanzaa tradition. Create activities for your children around the seven Kwanzaa principles which are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. The Kwanzaa tradition calls for the youngest child to light candles each day and discuss one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some families create an art piece to represent the principles. Kwanzaa is a great opportunity to be creative, to involve the whole family and to increase self-esteem in African American children about their cultural heritage.
* Open a book daily. Help your child’s imagination soar by reading favorite stories together. Point out fun things you see in picture books and let your toddler turn the pages.
* Host a weekly family fun night. On cold or rainy days, turn off the TV and computer, and get creative. Set up a row of chairs and role-play as a bus driver or train conductor; enjoy a game of musical chairs; or use everyday items like cardboard boxes, glue and cotton balls to create pieces of art.
* Take a field trip. Visit the zoo, local museums and libraries to learn about animals, interesting historical facts and other educational topics. Make sure to call ahead and find out if there’s a kids’ day, and ask if free or discounted tickets are available.  
* Go outside for physical activity. Go for a walk, play catch, ride bikes around the neighborhood or visit the park. It’s a chance to spend time together as well as squeeze in a healthy dose of active play!
* Make every moment count. Above all, use every moment together to learn from and listen to your child, even when taking care of every day errands. Young children love to help — take your kids grocery shopping and let them pick out fruits and vegetables while you ask about favorite foods. When driving, point to colors and shapes, and ask your child to count trees or read simple signs.

Remember, spending quality time with your children this holiday season is a priceless gift – your time and attention cost nothing and mean everything. For more information on promoting your child’s healthy development, visit

About First 5 California

First 5 California, also known as the California Children and Families Commission, was established after voters passed Proposition 10 in November 1998, adding a 50 cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes to fund education, health, child care and other programs for expectant parents and children up to age 5. For more information, please visit


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