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Parenting

Transitioning from a surprise-filled, carefree holiday break to the ho-hum back-to-school routine is hard for kids--and parents. Incorporate small playful family rituals and you can help ease the transition, brighten glum faces and bring your family closer together.

Day after holiday blahs. After all of the anticipation and excitement surrounding the holidays, the next day can seem anti-climatic. Exchange books with each other on the day after the celebrations end. These are gifts that often get overlooked during the holiday shuffle. Cozy up and take turns reading to each other.

Cook together. Hold a family cooking competition. Team up and challenge each other to come up with a part of the dinnertime menu using holiday leftovers. Stipulate what three foods have to be included in the food creation. Whoever your family declares the winner gets to choose dessert that night.

Host a hot chocolate party. Invite your kids and their friends to come in from the cold and warm up with hot chocolate. Create a buffet table featuring candy canes, marshmallows, candy sprinkles and whipped cream.

Build in transition time. Back from vacation? Rather than jumping right back into the routine, build in a couple of days of "wind-down" time after you return home. Try starting a project before you leave that your kids will look forward to return to when they come home, like a game left in limbo, a jigsaw puzzle, model airplane or craft project.

family reading

Review the holiday. Gather the photos you took during your vacation and help your kids create a digital slideshow set to music or a photo book to share with family and friends. Reflect on the best parts of your family get-away.

Send good cheer. If you visited out of town family members and only get to see them once in awhile, your child may feel particularly sad when returning home. Encourage him to mail a note to the grandparent or cousin he already misses. Suggest he write about his favorite activity or draw a picture that depicts something fun they did together during your family's visit.

Craft an art party. Is your crew feeling moody on the eve of a manic Monday? Turn a gloomy winter afternoon into a colorful art party with your family. Stock up on art supplies like paint, textured watercolor paper, watercolors, glitter, colorful duct tape, beads, buttons, glue and paintbrushes. Challenge each other to come up with a creative work of art using only the materials available.

Plan an outing. Start the new year off right by getting active with your family. Go rollerskating, sledding or iceskating. Head to the bowling alley or jump around on trampolines at a local jump zone.

Feed feathered friends. Hand your kids a list of scavenger hunt items to look for on a nature hike. Take pictures of any birds you spot, animal tracks and winter foliage, and collect pine cones. Afterward, head home and make birdseed ornaments to hang in your trees. Roll a pine cone in peanut butter and then roll it in bird seed. Hang it from a tree with twine.

Friendly competition. Together play a favorite classic board game or test-run any new video games your kids received as gifts. (They'll love teaching you how to play and you'll get a better idea of how the game works.)

Schedule a movie-watching pajama party. Make yummy appetizers, popcorn and warm beverages and spend the day in your pajamas watching family-friendly movies.

Envision your next vacation. Along with your kids, come up with a list of places in your community or elsewhere that you'd like to visit over the coming year. Assign your tech-savvy kids different places to research. Have them answer questions like: hours of operation, cost of admission, location, nearby restaurants, best time of year to go, etc.

Fulfill a hoped-for experience. Give your kids the gift of an experience like tickets to concerts, the movies, amusement parks or sporting events. Cash in one of the events soon after school starts back up to give your kids something to look forward to in coming weeks.

Be spontaneous. Are most Saturdays spent on household tasks and chores? Surprise your kids by doing something out of the ordinary like going to the zoo for a wintertime stroll or splashing around at an indoor water park.

Set intentions. On the first day back to school, mark the day with a special celebration. Light a candle on a "back-to-school" cupcake, muffin or cinnamon roll. Encourage your child to make a wish for the second half of the school year before blowing out the candle.

In a society where we're pulled in multiple directions, leisurely hanging out together can cost very little. The return on your investment of time will pay dividends down the road, resulting in a happier, more connected family.

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