This past week as I walked through downtown Opelika with the lights, Christmas decorations and Christmas music playing through the speakers, my mood changed to “Hey, it is Christmas in Railroad Town!”

A big old smile came across my face and into my heart as I went to enjoy Christmas preparations with my preschool class. In teaching young children, we teachers witness a twinkle in our young students’ eyes, as well as joy, as they anticipate the hope, giving, warmth, excitement and love at Christmas.

Even as “grown-ups,” our hearts become like children’s as we squint and look at Christmas lights; secretly make, buy and wrap up gifts for our friends and families; and wisp up the smells of Christmas cedar, pine and cinnamon. A big part of Christmas joys are the preparations in our hearts to focus on love and giving to others.

With children, the greatest gifts we can give them are hugs, love, time and encouragement — reminding them how special they are to God, family and friends. In asking and gleaning from other families in our community, the response is always to speak blessings and prayers over our children for them to hear, no matter how young they are. The blessing is not based on performance, but on how very special and unique they are in the way God made them. Young children soak up words of encouragement in their hearts.

Young children also find inner happiness, confidence and pleasure in making and creating their own gifts to share. Their creative minds enjoy making Christmas decorations to display throughout the home. This builds cherished memories for your child.

Children can give gifts from the heart, like helping out with younger siblings or doing simple chores like sweeping, wiping tables, cleaning up their rooms, etc. In the early childhood classroom, making and giving Christmas coupons of tasks or chores to be done is a gift of love action. A parent tears off a chore that needs to be done each day around the home or for neighbors.

Right here before Christmas, invite your children to help you make Christmas cards that can be sent to family and friends. I love to decorate my little home with the Christmas cards I receive from my students, families and friends. The cards remind me to pray for these people during the holiday season. The friendliness of our community’s post offices makes it a joyful field trip. With your children, mailing packages and letters focuses on giving love to others.

I have heard that many families do a “make or bake” cookie swap to exchange with siblings, family members or neighbors.

A true favorite of young children is to make their own Christmas wrapping paper from white butcher paper, or even brown paper bags. They can draw their own pictures on the paper and then wrap up their purchased or homemade items to give to family or friends.

Another yearlong gift that can be created over the holidays is to make a calendar for the family with everyone’s photos and birthdays.

Parents, a very special memory-maker for your children is recording them singing their favorite Christmas carols, which you can keep and play for your families year after year as your children grow up.

Readers, I know I gently remind us each year to teach our young children what some of our Christmas symbols mean when they ask. I would like to briefly review what some of our symbols traditionally mean. This will make some good conversations with your young children.

We are surrounded by lights everywhere during this beautiful Christmas season. From candles to lights on the Christmas tree, we squint as we view the beautiful lights of Christmas. Lighted stars reflect the Bethlehem star where Jesus lay in a manger. The Bible records in Psalms 76:4: “You are radiant with light more majestic than mountains rich with game. God is resplendent with light.”

I can remember as a young child my parents driving us around town and in the county to see beautiful town lights, as well home lights. Even now, I absolutely love to go walk and view the Christmas lights along the railroad tracks in Opelika. This is a great time for you and your family to go Christmas light sightseeing.

Already in the early childhood classrooms, we are singing Christmas songs. One of this teacher’s favorites is to go buy very inexpensive Christmas bells for the children to ring and sing during the Christmas season. Young children absolutely love to sing and hum tunes of happiness and joy. Music brings joy even into the hearts of infants as they clap and smilingly sing along.

When young children make simple paper plate wreaths, or when they see wreaths everywhere, share with them that this represents the never-ending symbol of eternal love that God provides.

As I close this column, I must mention that as a young child growing up, I had trouble falling asleep at night. As my family very well remembers to this day, I was just scared of the night. I’m not sure why, but I know many parents have identified that with their young children.

Being a child from “Railroad Town,” I used to love to listen from my home for the whistle and horn of the trains making their nightly runs. I can clearly remember my mother reminding me not to be scared because the train workers were awake as they ran through our town. I can clearly remember that as a young child, after hearing the horn of the train coming through my town, I would drift off to sleep in peace.

I have just skimmed the surface of what this season offers in love and memories for children and families to cling to and have hope. But as I turn older, to hear the sound of the railroad whistle each night still gives me peace for our future. These weeks preceding Christmas, peace and hope are meeting the needs of our children as they see our community come together as we love and care for each other.

Classroom Observer

Beth Pinyerd