I’ve Got This, Mom
Kids do their holiday gift shopping at school
Photo by Gregory Cherin
The countdown to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa is a magical time of anticipation. As some children craft elaborate wishlists and others pause to light candles, there is a heightened sense of wonder that becomes even more tangible as the calendar turns to December—a month marked by festivals of light, elaborate feasts, and exchange of gifts. The surprise element of gift giving is a challenge for many young people, though, who rely on grown-ups to take them shopping. But several elementary schools have created holiday shopping experiences for their students, traditions entire school communities look forward to as a way of including everyone—even the youngest of preschoolers—in the spirit of giving.
“The best part is surprising mom and dad,” says second grader Ethan Lemon. “I bought Daddy some soft camo gloves for winter that he uses to stack wood with, and I bought Mommy some fuzzy, fuzzy socks.” Ethan attends Farmington River Regional Elementary School in Otis, where the annual Holiday Shop was born nearly four decades ago. The tradition, aimed at including children in the magic of holiday gift giving, is spearheaded by the PTA and typically happens the week before winter vacation when the art room is transformed into a paradise packed with merchandise for shoppers in grades K-6.
“The holidays are meant to be a magical, wonderful time,” says Kathy Adams, who has run the school’s Holiday Shop for the past four years. The two-day event, staffed by parent volunteers, is entirely funded by the PTA and donations from area businesses. Items are grouped by category—think moms/dads, brothers/sisters, grandparents, pets—with all items priced between $1-$5. “Kids come in with varying budgets,” says Adams, who points to the independence kids glean from making a list and budgeting. Last year, light-up electronic speakers and die-cut animal figurines, both from Five Below, were hot. Adams finds that her biggest challenge has been to pull out merchandise slowly to ensure that each class has a similar selection.
Not all families are able to send their children to school with spending money, Adams notes. But that does not preclude any student from participating. “There is always money in the drawer for everyone to shop,” she says. Unlike other PTA initiatives that aim to raise money, the Holiday Shop is a strictly feel-good event with no funds raised. For PTA member and Holiday Shop volunteer Dawn Lemon of Sandisfield, the experience is totally worth the effort. “Kids are incredibly proud to buy for their family members and beyond excited for the purchases they are making.”
Kerri Timoney begins scouring shelves at the Dollar Tree and Walmart the day after Christmas for the annual Holiday Bazaar at Allendale Elementary School in Pittsfield. The event began 20 years ago and is organized by the PTO. The week before winter vacation, two days are set aside for the Holiday Bazaar when students take turns shopping in the gymnasium. “To keep it easy, we just make everything a dollar,” says Timoney, who recognizes the importance of making the bazaar affordable for families. There are holiday ornaments and coffee mugs, various kids’ toys and other trinkets. Volunteers are on hand to help students select gifts for their loved ones, and each student can purchase up to six items to ensure there is enough loot on hand for the roughly 320 students. “We don’t turn anyone away, and no one leaves empty-handed,” says Timoney, who has been organizing the event for the past five years. “If a student doesn’t have money, we will at least help him or her pick out an ornament, which is personalized, to bring home to someone special.”
Which, at the end of the day, is the real purpose: to include children of all ages in the magic of gift giving. “While I know young children want to receive gifts, they are also delighted to be able to share and give,” says Brenda Kelley, principal at Allendale. “During the elementary years, students become more and more aware of the feelings of others which is how they learn the ‘cause and effect’ and the value of giving.” Students see how giving a gift makes the receiver feel good, which, Kelley notes, “is the first step in learning the essential emotional skill of empathy.”
For many classes, the fun does not stop at the Holiday Bazaar. While there is tissue paper on hand to wrap small items, some teachers take a roll of wrapping paper back to class. Amidst a sea of scissors, scraps and Scotch tape, students not only conceal their purchases from view but also bolster confidence and connectivity, elements essential to healthy development. The spirit of collaboration, independence and giving is what it’s all about.
“The look on the kids’ faces—with their wide eyes—is worth volunteering alone,” says Adams. “It makes you feel so good to make the kids happy.”
Helping to Wean
Binka Bear, created by local entrepreneur Kaitlyn Pierce, has pockets in each hand and gets his magic when a child gives their pacifier for safekeeping. binkabear.com