“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Over the past few weeks during the Advent Season for Christmas and the New Year, I have been singing “The Little Drummer Boy,” by Katherine Kennicott Davis, with the preschool children I teach. The song is about a poor little boy who does not have a material gift that he can bring to the Christ child in the manger, but he does have a heart gift of playing his drum for the Christ child. Young children truly identify with the young drummer boy as they sing and repeat the chorus – “pa rum pump um pum” – in realizing that it is not the material gift we give to someone we love but it is the heart gift.

As I have listened and sung “The Little Drummer Boy” with the preschoolers, as a teacher, I have reflected on young children’s heart needs and asked myself: what gifts can we as teachers and parents give to our children as this year comes to an end and we embark on a new year? The following list is very simple and to the point to grab when sharing heart gifts with our children daily.

Heart gifts equal LOVE! Infants, toddlers, twos, threes, fours and on up in age just know the emotionally secure, peaceful feeling of being loved unconditionally. They love to hear their names said or called out and to be accepted for how God made them. During this past year with the pandemic we have had to show love to our young children through our eyes and what we say and do for them. 1 Corinthians 13:13: And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

During this holiday season, take advantage of this extra time to really listen to your young children. Come together face to face, make eye contact and totally focus on what they are saying. We as parents and teachers can learn a child’s thought process as we truly listen to what they are sharing with us.

Plan  easy, simple chores for your young children to help you with over the holidays. Children love to help when they are instructed on what and how to do so, like picking up toys after play, cleaning up their room, helping set the table for meals with parents’ oversight, folding laundry, simple dusting, etc. Confidence is another heart gift that emerges when children accomplish a task and praise is offered. Too, we have to gently remind ourselves that we praise children as the unique person whom God has created. Praise is a simple heart gift that brings true joy and happiness to a child and that is a solid foundation for a child to spring from when things get tough.

Allowing children to play and use their imaginations is another heart gift we can give our children. Allowing young children to dream and to use their creativity to explore their world is a wonderful heart gift that encourages enthusiasm for life and what it has to offer each and every day. I love to look at the excitement children display when playing in centers as well as outside. We teachers and parents definitely see that play is a child’s work.

This year, with everything being so different and at times challenging, flexibility, resilience and contentment are heartfelt gifts that we can model and encourage for our young children to experience. Even though there have been disappointments, setbacks and stress during this pandemic, providing love, support and understanding is a gift for young children so they are able to cope.

One of the greatest heartfelt gifts we can provide for our children is an age-appropriate discipline plan. When simple rules are explained to young children, this is a heartfelt gift. Too, they clearly understand the consequences if they don’t abide by school or family rules.

The greatest heart gift we can extend to our young children is HOPE! This gift encourages our young children to be optimistic no matter what the circumstances are. Children with the gift of hope look at the bright side of circumstances. Young children’s smiles as they delight in life is a heartfelt gift that we can all embrace.

Classroom Observer, Beth Pinyerd