When my boys were young, I started a tradition of doing a family art activity* on New Year’s Eve. Our inaugural project was making a kind of winter count. A winter count isn’t a math competition, rather it’s an activity borrowed from the Lakota tribe. Traditionally, an animal skin was used to record tribal records and significant events from the year. Some winter counts have a single image depicting the most memorable event of that year, though others have more. These images were combined with oral histories to provide a record of the past.
You’ll probably want to substitute construction paper in place of an animal skin, but to make the project more special, as well as longer-lasting, provide each family member with an inexpensive white fabric placement and fabric crayons or markers. Light-colored pillow cases would work, too, and they might be especially helpful in creating sweet dreams for the year ahead.
Before anyone grabs a fabric marker, explain the activity and brainstorm with your children about the good times you had this year. As you do this, have an older family member write these down so that you can do a different kind of count–tallying up all those special memories! Who had the most? Who shared the least? Give that person help. Maybe a child lost her first tooth or learned to ride a bike. Maybe one of the adults started a new job.
Now that everyone has a nice list, add together all of those moments. How many special memories did your family think of? What is the average number of memories per family member?
Next, each person has to decide which single memory (or three) is the most special and draw it out on his or her winter count. If you chose the fabric route, check the instructions on your crayons or markers to be sure you permanently fix the colors onto your cloth.
Some youngsters will appreciate the help of an experienced hand in creating their designs, but others will be satisfied that their scribbles represent the first days of school or a family vacation. Remember, a winter count is more of a story prompt, than the story itself so let your child’s sense of artistry flow.
Your evening’s conversation will be a wonderful reminder about the year that passed and your end results will be a family treasure that will bring back great memories for years to come.
*Sadly, my boys rebelled, so the tradition only lasted a couple of years. Apparently I was the only one who thought making art as a family was fun.