Without wanting to profile y’all, there is an extraordinarily high chance that you are a fabulous parent. I have this cocky certainty because you read parenting websites. You’re interested. You realise being a parent is something we do, as well as who we are.
I know endless folk who get their advice from www.slackraparental.com, evidenced by their indifference to their children and outrageous lack of understanding of the role parents have. You, however, are tremendous. As we know, it’s not enough to simply love our children, we need to raise them and you are well aware of that, hence, you read this blog. Bravo.
Let’s build up a list of enjoyable and educational activities we can offer our children. They needn’t be complex, but they should be fun, cheap and manageable. I like to keep in mind the life skills children will certainly need as they children and throughout their adulthood.
The International Baccalaureate Organisation lists the following as key trans-disciplinary skills.
- Research skills – being able to find stuff out (RS)
- Self-management skills – being responsible, tidy, efficient and more (SMS)
- Communication skills – listening, presenting, reading, writing, speaking (CS)
- Social skills – team work, taking on different roles, tolerance (SoS)
- Thinking skills – applying knowledge, developing memory, transferring skills from one context to another (TS)
It’s not a bad list.
Here are six activities you could do with your children, in an adapted form, to help them develop in the above areas. The letters next to the activity refer to the skills above.
I would love to know what you do with your family in the weekends. How do you help your children to grow? What skills are important to you? How do you pass on your own passions to your children? How do you discover and nurture theirs?
Please, write your top three family activities in the comments below. If you enjoy such things, the chances are other people will too.
1. Sing together
Put on some 80’s classics or maybe some Katy Perry. Learn the words. Belt out a range of songs. Repeat them over and over. This will develop memory and encourage co-operation. Older children could even go online to find music, lyrics, cover versions etcetera. I don’t meet many children who don’t like to sing. Feel free to add in dance moves. (RS, CS, SoS)
2. Go for a walk
Rain or shine, a stroll is a splendid way to learn about the world around us. It can be fun to have a set saunter time. We’ve been for night walks, too, which have their own special character.
Each walk could have a theme: looking for animals, counting vehicles, looking for people working (postie, road repairers, taxi drivers, couriers…), looking up, silent walk (listening for sounds), follow a map, find items on a checklist, post a letter, meet strangers (practice saying ‘good morning’ to others who walk past) and on.
You could have a quiz at dinner time when you get back, or ask the children to retell the best bits of the walk to the rest of the family (or to Granny via Skype) (RS, SoS)
3. Make something
Get an old box. Paint a side each (or mosaic, collage, sketch, stick photos on). Decide on a theme or have a free for all. Everyone can take part. Put the box in a prominent place and talk about it. Build a robot or bake baked Alaska. Construct a blanket fort. Sleep in it (or at least share a story or a book or a quiz or a cookie or a secret).
Use items from the beach to make a diorama. Basically, have something tangible to show for an hour spent together. Each person could take a role (leader, gatherer, planner, checker). Keep it relaxed but make sure everyone fulfils their role and that the job is completed. Change roles each time. Take a photo and make it your desktop wallpaper for a week. Celebrate with a glass of milk. (CS, SoS, SMS)
4. Collect things
Have a shelf or a corner (or a homemade box) set aside for keeping collected bits. You can go as hard out as you like, finding out about your pieces, writing captions, making a poster, preparing a speech for Uncle Murray, starting a blog to track your findings and so on.
Or, keep it simple. Every time you find a playing card on the footpath, which happens more often that you might think, pick it up and put it in your box. Aim to collect the set. Ask family and friends to help out. You could hunt the red cards while cousins or neighbours gather black.
Anything is collectable: recipes, photos or drawings of cool letterboxes, quotes, drink bottles, yellow things. It can be fun to try to fill a shoe box with items related to each other. They all begin with the same letter or have something more obscure in common. Filling a match box could be a fun challenge too and require a trip to the beach or a park. (RS, SMS)
5. What if?
Depending on the age of your children, this will need modifying but simply put, find ways to ask your children “What if…?”.
Take part in any activity and then start hammering them with questions. You could be reading the news together, baking, looking at family photos, reading a story, walking through the supermarket or clothes store, snuggled under a sheet, driving through a new part of town or anywhere:
You could ask:
- What if we didn’t put sugar in?
- What if we ate rice for breakfast?
- What if we went and said ‘hi’ to that lady?
- What if we bought a watermelon?
- What if we made a card for your mum?
- What if we left our umbrella at home?
- What if we lived in a different country?
- What if we said nothing for a whole hour?
Let children come up with their own What if?s. Endeavour to glean several responses from a single question.
You could even present a photo from the news (of a flooded town or Ethel with her prize winning sweet potato) and ask a What if? question during Saturday breakfast and announce that each family member will need to give three answers over pudding later in the day. (TS, RS, CS)
6. Plan a month of Sundays
Use ticket websites, church newsletters, local rags and imagination to plan the next four Sunday afternoons. Take a break from routine. Each afternoon should be quite different.
Events needn’t be outlandish, and might simply include one or two of the tasks above. Making and sticking to the plan is the fun bit.
Mix up the activities: inside, outside, splurge, scrimp, favourite activities, new activities, with another family, by yourselves, walk somewhere quite far, stay home, dress up, exercise or go for a smile walk – when you walk around the block and smile and say ‘hi’ or ‘kia ora’ or ‘namaste’ or ‘alright?’ to everyone you pass, even those across the road.
Plan ahead and have each family member take a role, even if it simply ‘carrying the drinks’ or ‘deciding which photos we should take’. Maybe the plan might purely be to be spontaneous. Make the timetable, put it on the fridge and talk about it over meal times. Make sure everyone is ready and excited. Debrief, too. (TS, RS)
I like to focus on how children learn as much as, or more than, on what they learn. Skills last much longer than knowledge. Each of these simple activities must be modified for each family but I hope they at least spark off an idea or three.
Please comment to let us know what you’ve done already as well as how you did trying out these. We have a huge influence over our children’s development, so all these tasks are designed to be done together, as a team, as a family.
Encourage mess, mistakes, humour, discussion, questioning, reflection and hugs.
Hold hands, high five, smile and treasure these times as a family because as cheesy as it sounds, our children will be living in Guatemala, Ljubljana, Winnersh or Palmerston North one day and we’ll be hoping like heck we prepared them sufficiently.
How do you plan to spend next Sunday afternoon?
Michael is a primary-school teacher who has taught in six countries. He is contributing to this series and responding to our questions, so please do leave comments, questions and suggestions for future posts below. This is his third post in the series. You can catch up on his first and second postsand the series list here.