Do You Know What Your Child Really Wants?
Family Fun nurtures relationships
The Gift of Time
In Unplug the Christmas Machine, Robinson and Staeheli*explore what children really want at Christmastime. They identified that more than the latest and greatest toy or electronic, children deeply desire meaningful family relationships.
They quote Dr. Patricia Love of the Austin Family Institute “What children really want at Christmas – just like at any time of the year but more so during holiday season – is time with their parents. A parent’s relaxed, freely given attention conveys a simple but profound message “You are a priority in my life.”
This may be an obvious truth for the littles in our life, but what surprises parents are that this is true for teens also.
Even if they don’t admit it.
My husband enjoys tinkering on our cars in his “spare time”. Our children have always enjoyed watching him. He used to mistake this for mechanical interest and would wonder why our son wasn’t out tearing into the pickup truck his grandpa gave him.
I pointed out that it wasn’t the specific work they were interested in. It could have been ships-in-a-bottle or pasta making.
It was hanging out with dad and helping him that drew our kids to the garage.
A Matter of Interest
This works both ways.
Sometimes we engage in the interests of our child. My daughter is a gifted fiber artist. As an adult, she’s leagues ahead of me in skill and knowledge. But when she was 6 and wanted to learn to knit, I was her companion.
The problem is, I can’t stand the feel of yarn – literally.
I went to the mother/daughter knitting class, fighting the urge to throw the tangled mess across the room.
Before long, she was clicking away independently – and I admire her work.
I don’t knit.
24 years later she just remembers us taking that class together.
15 Ideas for Family Fun
1. Dust it Off
Take a mental inventory of the stuff you already own. Puzzles, games, cards, a Wii, yard games, unopened craft and science kits, a fondue pot… Plan a family night around one of these items.
2. Game Night
Playing games as a family is second only to read aloud in time well spent. Simple and free (once you own the game) – this is a great activity to plug into the family calendar.
Resurrect a vintage hobby. Did you have a stamp, coin, rock, or cool pencil collection as a kid? If you still have it, share it with your children. Expand it together. Or start something new.
Bike rides, geo-caching, hikes, visiting every park in town are examples of inexpensive, minimal prep activities. This is the type of family fun that will get you outside and moving. One of our favorite family memories is a hideous, 10-mile hike that was so muddy we were lucky to come out with shoes. We felt like survivors and still talk about how awful it was with great fondness!
5. Ethnic Nights
This is a favorite at our house. Pick a country and search for recipes that are distinctive to the culture. Find some music and possibly a travel video or a picture book. Back in the day, I had to go to the library to find all this. Now you can plan an ethnic night using the web, video streaming and music services like Pandora – pulling this off in less than an hour.
6. Simple Toys
The Klutz book series turned this into an art form. Dollar bills, a yo-yo, slinky, shadow puppets, jacks, marbles – you get the idea. What can you do with one of these items? Do you remember playing with this stuff as a kid? How about lifting images off the Sunday comics with a wad of silly putty? Maybe you’re a young parent and need to get your parents involved.
7. Learn About a Sport
There is more to the sports world than football, baseball, and basketball. What is curling? Rugby? Fencing? Do an internet scavenger hunt (see #12). Watch an event on video or TV. To go all out, find a live event…meet…match…game and attend.
8. DIY Projects
Creating something together for the house, garden or as a gift will build teamwork and memories – not to mention skills. There are endless books and internet directions for family projects. Just spend a few minutes on Pinterest and you will have enough ideas for a lifetime of parenting.
I’m having fun just dreaming about this one. My kids love to make truffles, chocolate chip cookies, cakes, cupcakes. Just add chocolate and it’s a party at our house.
10. Pioneer Skills
I define a pioneer skill as making anything from scratch. Brewing root beer, making candles, cooking over a fire, sewing a doll quilt, sourdough pancakes, and pulling taffy come to mind. If everyone wears a bonnet, which you can also make, it’s a pioneer skill!
11. Dress Up
Put on outlandish outfits, make music, dance in the living room and put on shows. And do it before they get too old and you have to do it alone. Taking a video is a bonus. I’m waiting for grandchildren so I can pull out my disco moves again.
12. Scavenger Hunts
I love a good scavenger hunt – making them up and doing them. When my kids have younger children to entertain this is their go-to trick. A scavenger hunt can range from simple visuals for the pre-readers to elaborate multi-location hunts for teens and their friends. This is the idea behind murder mystery evenings, geo-caching and city tours being offered to adults. There’s no age limit on a good puzzle.
13. Forts and Playhouses
For the most part, this is an activity best left to the children and their creativity. But once in a blue moon entering into their world is a complete hoot! Imagine gathering every sheet and blanket you own and turning the entire house into a labyrinth. Major mess? Yes. Guaranteed memory? Yes again.
Become a tourist in your own town. How many places within a 50-mile radius of your house have you been planning to go to “someday”? What are your kids intrigued by? Pick a day on the calendar and start checking these places out. Families with older children can pick a local town center or historic area and spend an afternoon exploring, try a new restaurant, read the historic markers, take photos of the architecture. Then…
15. Make a Scrapbook
As you explore your hometown collect pictures, mementos, brochures and other ephemera. A 3-ring binder and page protectors will make a great book. Simple and done is better than perfection and good intentions. Your family can share this with guests as your own personal guidebook to your town.
Other scrapbook ideas might be a chocolate connoisseurs tasting record, with wrappers and comments from the family. Adding photos of the items you bake along with the recipe will build this into a family heirloom. If your family is big on sports, keep a sports scrapbook. Or combine topics and make a giant scrapbook of ALL the fun activities you try.
Enjoying Your Family
No matter what “fun” looks like at this stage of your family, the most important thing is the gift of time. That can be as simple (and free) as cuddling on the couch and playing 20-questions. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you’re enjoying one another and building relationships.