Local preschools, elementary schools offer ideas for family fun activities


Happiness researchers consistently report that people find greater satisfaction from life experiences than from receiving material things.

In search of ideas for memorable, family-friendly experiences over the holidays, the Palo Alto Weekly polled some local preschools and elementary schools.

What follows is a list of the suggestions, organized by category for easy reference.

Ideas include simple activities for rainy days, outdoor adventures, where to find holiday lights and displays, ideas for home-based arts and crafts or cooking and family outings to museums and theaters.

Simply, at home

• Dance with your children in the living room to their favorite holiday songs and yours

• Read books together

• Build a Lego castle

• Play charades

• Make the tallest tower you can with tape and newspaper

• Rent a holiday-themed movie and sit by the fire place with popcorn and hot chocolate

• Invite friends over for board games

• Write a letter to a classmate at school who has been kind or helpful

• Make the tallest structure you can with uncooked spaghetti, yarn and tape

• Write letters to parents thanking them for all they do

• Build a puzzle together

• Play a board game or teach your kids to play cards

• Make the strongest bridge you can with tape and paper

Helping out

• Volunteer with your family in a local soup kitchen

• Buy and wrap gifts of toys and clothing for the less fortunate

• Make a donation to a charity

• Check out, a nonprofit website created by a mom of two Palo Alto students to help parents find volunteering opportunities during the holiday season in the San Francisco Bay Area

Lights and displays

• Palo Alto Christmas Tree Lane: Fulton between Embarcadero and Seale

• Holiday Lego Extravaganza: Museum of American Heritage, Palo Alto

• San Carlos lights on Eucalyptus Street

• Candy Cane Lane in Redwood City: 1200 block of Dewey Street

• Oakland Zoo Holiday Lights, including nighttime train rides around the zoo

• Train Extravaganza at 2387 Adele Ave., Mountain View: Six tracks run on a platform across the lawn in and out of front window. 6:30-9 pm Tuesday through Sunday, weather permitting, through Christmas evening

• Fantasy of Lights at Vasona Lake County Park, 333 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos; 6-10 p.m. nightly through Christmas Eve, presented by the Santa Clara County Department of Parks and Recreation, $15 per car

• Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train: Dec. 19-23: Passengers sing carols, sip hot cider, listen to musical entertainment and get a visit from Santa as their vintage cars, adorned with thousands of lights, roll through the streets of Santa Cruz. Departs and ends from Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Reserve online. $22 per child 2-12; $28 ages 13 and up.

• Christmas in the Park, downtown San Jose, 9 a.m. to midnight through Jan. 1

Holiday-themed performances

• "A Charlie Brown Christmas" with the San Francisco Symphony, through Dec. 24

• "Elf," the Broadway musical, through Dec. 28 at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco

• The Nutcracker, San Francisco Ballet, through Dec. 29

The great outdoors

• Visit the farm at Hidden Villa

• Go bird-watching in the Baylands

• Visit Foothills Park

• Hike Windy Hill

• Walk the beach at Pescadero

• Go to Rancho Siempre Verde Christmas Tree Farm (10 miles south of Pescadero)

• Hike at Coyote Hills Regional Park

• Ride bicycles to Shoreline

• Go to the snow for tobogganing, skiing or igloo building

• Hike the Dish

• Visit the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach

• Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

• Go fishing

• Go whale watching

• Visit the tide pools in Santa Cruz

Family outings

• Go ice skating at Winter Lodge in Palo Alto

• Walk your own neighborhood to view the lights

• Go caroling down your street with family and friends

• Ice skate and see the Christmas tree at Union Square in San Francisco

• Visit the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

• Visit the Cantor Art Center at Stanford

• Visit the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto

• Visit the Palo Alto Art Center

• Visit CuriOdyssey at the Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo

• Visit the Exploratorium in San Francisco

• Visit the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park

• Visit the Planetarium at De Anza College

• Visit the Tech Museum in San Jose

• Visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose

• Go on a long drive and listen to a good book on tape/DVD

• Go see a newly released movie

• Go out for ice cream cones

• Visit one of Palo Alto's libraries

Arts and crafts

• Decorate a gingerbread house. The simplest way is to buy a pre-made gingerbread house and, instead of using their decorations, make your own frosting and use your own decorations. If you want to build your own house, Fairmeadow School suggests this recipe for icing that will hold the graham crackers together: Beat 1 egg white until very stiff and spoon 250 grams of powdered sugar into the egg white. Add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar to make the mixture sticky enough to hold graham crackers together.

• Experience the beauty of light. Offer children various battery-operated tea lights to arrange on a table. Or go to a party-supply store to purchase a small to medium tube-style black light, which filters out most of the visible light and allows children to observe the effect of fluorescence. Highlighters become magical as they seem to glow on paper.

• Make play-dough. Here's a recipe from GeoKids Early Childhood Development Center: Mix together 1/8 cup salt, 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar, 1 cup all-purpose flour (plus a bit extra for kneading) and food coloring (gel is preferable).


• Bake and decorate cookies together

• Get a children's cookbook from the library and let the kids plan and cook a meal

• Make home-made pizza dough (or buy pre-made at Trader Joe's) and have a family pizza party, where everyone gets to make his or her own with a variety of toppings

• Create a holiday progressive dinner party for all ages. Start at one host-home for appetizers and proceed for dinner and dessert. The street where Barron Park School art teacher Charlene Temple lives will celebrate its 18th annual progressive dinner party this month

• Involve kids in preparing a meal. Parent's Place in Palo Alto suggests making a hearty butternut squash and carrot soup (see recipe below). Kids can wash the produce and herbs and, with supervision, chop the carrots and onions

What you'll need:

• 3 tablespoons of butter

• 1 2 1/4 pound butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (4-5 cups)

• 1 medium onion chopped fine

• 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin

• 1 tablespoon of fresh sage leaves, chopped fine

• 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

• 6 cups vegetable broth

• 1 1/4 teaspoon of salt

• 1 small tub of crème fraiche


• In a large stock pot heat the butter on medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 5-7 minutes.

• Add the chopped sage, squash and carrots and grated nutmeg, saute occasionally until they turn translucent for 10 minutes.

• Add the broth and salt, bring to a boil and simmer and cook covered for 35-40 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.

• Blend the soup with a hand held blender or in a food processor, until smooth.

• Check the consistency of the soup, if it is too thick then add some more stock or water to your desired consistency.

• At this stage, do a quick taste test of your soup to check the salt; add more as per your taste.

• Serve hot in individual soup bowls with a dollop of crème fraiche. This recipe serves six to eight people.

Contributing writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at

Staff and families at GeoKids Early Childhood Development Center of Menlo Park, First Congregational Church Nursery School of Palo Alto, Parents Place of Palo Alto and Barron Park, El Carmelo, Fairmeadow, Nixon, Palo Verde, and Walter Hays elementary schools in Palo Alto contributed their kid-friendly ideas for holiday fun for this story.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bethlehemite
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Just up the Peninsula in Redwood City, Bethlehem AD starts its first night of 3 with the re-enactment of the first Christmas in a Hebrew village scene. Dec. 21, 22, 23 from 6.00pm - 9.30 pm at 1300 Middlefield Road, Redwood City. Admission Free. Suitable for all the family, from the youngest to most senior. Golf Cart available for anyone who has mobility difficulties. Web Link

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