By Katie Bugbee

Dear Santa, I want everything in Toys R Us. Please and thank you.

That about summarizes what my 3-year old daughter would write to the jolly ol’ man, while my 5-year old son agonizes over what he can give to Santa – “because he gives so much to everyone else.” How can these two children be so different?!

But as we write our letters to Saint Nick this year, there are a few lessons I’ll try to teach with the project. This is a great opportunity to provide some meaning behind the holiday and teach some school skills – as well as to learn what they really want. And for this project, kids seem to become a very receptive audience (it helps that there’s something in it for them!).

Here are some things to go over as you help them write their letters to Santa.

1. Show Letter Writing Structure
Explain that all letters have a greeting, body, and signature section. The greeting is the “Hi Santa, or Dear Santa.” The body will be the part that creates a connection with this magical person – and gets your point across. And then your signature is the “Thank you” or “I love you” with your name. And guess what? The same structure works on your thank you notes too (Tip: Santa can get Thank yous as well!).

2. Create a Connection
How can Santa get to know you? Ask your kids what they want Santa to know about him or her. How would she describe herself? What has she done that’s good (and bad) this year? And how did that make her feel? Let some of your child’s personality come out in this letter – it will be a great keepsake for 20 years from now!

3. Be Polite
This is a great chance to teach manners. Besides saying “please” and “thank you”, explain how a voice can come across in their letters. Use the same niceties they would say talking to someone in person. Make this less of an “I want” list and more of a list that says “I appreciate you so much and since you seem to give good kids gifts every year, I would love to have…”

4. Learn to Ask for Less
Teach boundaries when creating these wish lists. Less is more – especially when more will really be heavy on Santa’s back (a lesson in compassion).

5. Make a Request for Someone Else
A letter to Santa is a great time to teach about kids who are less fortunate. Or, make a wish for someone else. Is there someone at school who could use something? What might Santa give to a neighbor or grandparent? Or, is there something nice he could bring a sibling?

6. Trace Letters
Whether your child can write well or not, this is a great chance to get them to trace. You can buy stamps of each letter and spell out S-A-N-T-A as well as your child’s name. Use capital letters since those tend to be what kids learn first.

7. Be-Dazzle the Final
Decorate the final version as a fun craft project. Add glitter, jewels and colorful words in markers and crayons. This might be something you frame one day.

What other tips and ideas do you have for writing a letter to Santa?

Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of A busy working mother of two, she’s an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.