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How To Keep A Little Thinker Busy Over The Holidays

12/16/2013 05:25 EST | Updated 02/15/2014 05:59 EST

Ah, the holidays... visits from family and friends, sumptuous meals, thoughtful gifts, and for many families, a whole lot of time with kids who would ordinarily be busy at school. How does a parent with an already-hectic schedule keep little hands occupied, while keeping young minds supple and ready to go back to class in the new year?

Festive occasions are the perfect opportunity to hear what your budding philosopher has to say, and to encourage them to play with ideas. As you sip cider and watch the snow fall, why not start up a great conversation? Here are some cool questions to get the mental merriment started:

• Is it better to give or to receive? Why?

• Is it better to give a gift that will be lots of fun for a little while, or something that will be a little less fun for a longer time?

• No two snowflakes are alike. Are people the same? What makes one person different from all other people?

• What's the difference between a beautiful decoration, and a not-so-beautiful decoration?

• When you have visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, how do you know they're not real? What's the difference between dreaming and being awake?

• When we wish for peace on Earth, what do we mean? What is peace anyway?

Need something a little more hands-on? Give these activities a try:

• Cut festive shapes out of colourful paper and have your child write big questions or ideas on them. Hang them on an "idea tree" and pull one down each night to share. These can be made into an advent calendar as well.

• Have your child choose their favourite big idea or question and write and illustrate holiday-themed stories or comic strips about it. They could also write them into an original Christmas carol.

• Bake festive treats in the shape of question marks and light bulbs! As your child decorates them (or eats them, as is likely to happen), discuss big questions they've been mulling over in their head.

• Ask your child to pick their favourite "great thinker" and make a collage representing what that person might want for Christmas (material or otherwise).

• Make the most of a white Christmas by having your child make a "thinking" snowman, or by scratching their favourite question into the snow with a stick.

• Help your child write a list of resolutions for 2014, and discuss what makes a new year a happy one. Ask them to act out or role-play each resolution, and if you've got the means, make audio or video recordings that can be revisited next year.

In addition to keeping kids occupied, these types of activities tend to really open up the lines of communication between children and parents. What could be more of a gift than quality time spent together, catching up on life, the universe, and everything?

Happy holidays to all the little (and big) thinkers out there!

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