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We've been trying to explain New Year to our 4-year-old but since he doesn't yet have a good understanding of the calendar, time references are meaningless to him.

How do you explain this?

This is a seed question. I know at least one good answer myself but I'd like to hear others' ideas too. It's a bit late to ask this now (1 January) but it will be relevant every year.

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After many fruitless attempts, my wife finally had this idea:

We're celebrating the birthday of the year. Just like people have a birthday once a year, the year also has a birthday. And because the year can't celebrate itself, people do it instead. And they do that with fireworks and parties.

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  • This is exactly what I told my kid. Then she asked, "Well, what do you get the year for a present and how will the present get unwrapped?" Still worked great though. Jan 1 '14 at 14:50
  • This is actually a really good idea. It's actually rather convenient too, since my oldest's birthday is December 1st. I'll keep this in mind for next year.
    – SomeShinyObject
    Jan 1 '14 at 14:54
  • This is the first thing that popped into my head upon reading the question. In answer to @balancedmama's question posed by her child, I'd answer New York Square New Year's Ball is a present =P
    – Doc
    Jan 23 '14 at 21:01
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The term "toddler" can refer to a significant range of developmental ability. In raising my child, I have always tried to explain as much of the truth as she can sucessfully process. With very young children, often visuals are better than vocal explanations, so an activity where one of you stands in the middle and the other walks around the other as a demonstration of Earth's path around the sun and the identification of a full circle implying a new year might resonate with the toddle as well as provide an instructional opportunity.

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May be one can try to explain that people decided to divide time into time periods to measure it. It's difficult to explain to a kid, what a year is, but we can explain, what is 10-second period, then - day, month and year.

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Like with most of these yearly events, we don't actually explain them much. We just say that sometimes, people agree to all have parties together. Given that the whole idea of new year on January first is kinda arbitrary, explaining it is only difficult because it doesn't make much sense.

So with us "New year" is just the fireworks day, where she gets to come out of bed in the middle of the night to watch fireworks and eat snacks. Because everyone agreed that fireworks are more fun if everyone does it together.

It has not dulled the excitement in any way.

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I explained this to my four year old by taking the abstract out.. Time is pretty abstract, and hard to grasp at first. But it just so happens that a year (and a day, and a month) have very real, non abstract meanings. 4 year olds are able to grasp that there are planets out there and that they rotate around the sun (wether they grasp the specifics isn't important), and there's great ways to show/demonstrate how things work in this department!

Then all that's left is telling them that on new year we celebrate that the earth has made another circle around the sun, and that we're grateful for yet another cycle of seasons. (And while you're at it you can also use movement of planets/moons to explain our concept of day/month)

I heard him explain it (quite perfectly) to his 2 year old sister the other day, so the way we explained it must've left a pretty good understanding of how this works and why we divide up time the way we do.

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