Planning a staycation this year? We’ve got a lineup of fun and inexpensive activities for the whole family in the form of things that are sure to make memories and teach your kids new skills along the way.
These simple and low-cost activities promote bonding and offer families a chance to refresh and recharge by getting out of the usual routine of work, school, and extracurricular activities.
Ideally, you’ll want to think about your child’s age and interests and involve him or her in the planning. One-on-one time doing things with your kiddos is something they’ll remember for a lifetime, but also remember to build in free time for everyone’s sake. As we’ve talked about previously, it’s actually healthy and important for children to have unstructured play time and to experience boredom. Include a mix of planned activities and downtime and you’ll strike the right balance and create an epic staycation they’ll be talking about for years to come.
1. Backyard Campout
Kids love the adventure of camping, and the security of knowing they’re close to home is a bonus. Let them think through the packing list (tent, camp chairs, sleeping bag, flashlight, etc.) and encourage them to help with as much of the campsite setup as possible. Learning to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and search for constellations are great skills that build confidence in the hearts of young explorers.
2. Day Hike
Hiking is great for nearly all ages, though you’ll have to adjust your expectations a bit depending on the age of your child. When they’re really young you can carry them in a pack, but they may still tire easily, as they likely will in the independent but short-legged toddler and preschool years. Younger kids will probably find plenty of thrill in hiking a paved Greenways trail, while elementary and older will start to enjoy more adventurous trails. No matter their age, make sure you’re prepared for the great outdoors and take a backpack loaded with sunscreen, bug spray, tissues, sunglasses, and of course plenty of water and snacks. Seriously don’t forget the snacks. Kids love snacks.
3. Scavenger Hunt
Ah, the scavenger hunt. Classic fun, and great for indoors or out, depending on the weather. You can create the list OR make it even more fun and let your kids brainstorm with you. If you have an early reader/writer in your crew they’ll love writing out the items themselves and checking things off for the family. It’s a very official job, after all, made better with a clipboard or small notepad and pencil. Possible items for inclusion on the list are people, places, or things that can be found around the house, your yard, or a nature trail.
4. Explore Your City
Often there are fun things to do around the area we live in, we just don’t take the time to step outside of our daily routine long enough to explore them! Consider historic sites or buildings, museums, or landmarks that tourists in your area would be sure to hit. If you’re drawing a blank, try searching your city on TripAdvisor to see things from a fresh perspective.
5. Pool Day
Even if you don’t live in an area where it’s warm enough to enjoy an outdoor lake, beach, or pool, you can still make plans to visit a local indoor water park! Pack a few toys, towels and snacks (by now you’ve probably noticed we’re serious about snacks around here) and make an afternoon of it.
6. Unstructured Quiet Time
Picture the ideal vacation day spent lounging around a pool or on the beach without any distractions. Now try to recreate that feeling at home. Try a technology-free day or afternoon for the whole family. Pick up that book or magazine you’ve been interested in reading but just haven’t found the time to enjoy. Encourage your kids to do the same. This is a great time to break out their Busy Board or Imagination Box and let them do their own thing while you do yours.
7. Movie Night
Let the kids help choose the movie and pop the popcorn. You can also put them in charge of making sure everyone has a blanket and a cozy spot to enjoy the movie. They’ll love having jobs to do and you’ll enjoy the time together.
8. Board Games
Board games are a great option for family time. You can typically find things that will interest kids as young as two, and are fun for adults, too.
Options like The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game!, and Shelby’s Snack Shack Game are fun and teach things like colors and counting to younger kids. Another popular preschool board game is Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It, which teaches cooperative play and encourages teamwork, promotes attention to detail, and reinforces object identification and matching skills. Who knew kids could learn so much from family game night?! Connect 4 or Jenga are great classics suitable for ages 6 and up, that teach skill and strategy. For kids 8 and up, Stratego is a fun capture-the-flag type game of strategy, and Uno Flip is a fun, slightly more challenging version of the classic favorite.
9. Yard Cleanup/Gardening
Getting your kids involved in household chores teaches responsibility and hard work and taking time to celebrate and reflect on a job well-done will pay dividends.
If the weather cooperates, spend an afternoon outside doing yard cleanup together, perhaps picking up sticks and sweeping the sidewalk. Let your kids help choose seasonally appropriate flowers or vegetables to plant and water with their own kid-sized garden gloves, shovel, and watering can. No yard of your own? See if you can find a community garden or an elderly family member who would enjoy the help. Then enjoy an impromptu picnic dinner or campfire while admiring your work and celebrating the season.
10. Yard Games
Whether you purchase something or make up your own backyard games, the kids will have a blast. This 3-in-1 set with a low net is designed with younger kids in mind, and even if the kids can’t handle the ball or birdie yet you can try letting them hit balloons around with the badminton rackets. Bean bag toss, Ladder Toss, or Wooden Dice also look like fun options.
Let the kids help pack up sandwiches and fresh fruit, or pick up some takeout, and go have a picnic at a nearby park. You may want to pack a blanket or camp chairs in case the picnic tables are all taken (#prepareddad) and throw in a football or bubbles for something fun to do after you eat. Another perk of the park is that you can let the kids burn off some energy on the playground equipment or go on a walk.
12. Build a Fort
Remember building a fort as a kid? Whether you’re talking blankets, sheets, pillows and chairs in the living room, or a more permanent outdoor structure this is sure to be a hit. Not only do they get to help build the fort, they’ll have hours of fun playing in it.
13. Cook Together
Teach your kid how to make simple, age-appropriate food items together. Even toddlers can help dump simple ingredients into a bowl to mix up muffins or make a smoothie. Preschoolers love to help make peanut butter sandwiches, bake bread, put toppings on pizza, and cut a banana into slices with a butter knife. Elementary-aged kids will love having a bit more independence in the kitchen and learning more advanced recipes. Make breakfast sandwiches, parfaits, or a colorful salad – there’s a chance they’ll try something new or different if they get to help make it.
14. Dance Party
It doesn’t take much time to have fun and make lasting memories. Turn on some tunes and bust out your best dance moves – the giggles are sure to ensue, and you’ll get some exercise at the same time. For even more fun, you can create a family “staycation” playlist, and everyone adds their favorite songs.
15. Play Catch
Get outside! If your kids are young you can introduce them to playing catch, kicking around the soccer ball, or throwing a frisbee. A classic playground ball makes for hours of entertainment, whether kicking, tossing, or bouncing. If your kids are already involved with a structured sports team, let them just goof around and try something new, rather than turning this into an official practice session. It is vacation after all! Time for free and unstructured play is valuable.
16. Visit the Library
Check out a local library together. Not only can you find books by a favorite author or on a topic your kid is really into (turtles, police cars, a historic figure, another country, etc.), but many libraries often have toys, puzzles, iPads, and/or other activities for kids to explore.
17. Stage a Photo Shoot
Do you have a budding photographer in the house? Show them how to use your phone or a camera (do they still make those separate from a phone!?) – oh yes, we found a digital camera for toddlers here or an instant print one for your preteens here – and let them take some photos of family members, their toys, or interesting things around the yard. It’s even more fun if you can print some of the photos out to hang in their room.
18. Get Ice Cream
This is a fun and easy treat for the whole family, whether you head to the grocery store to pick out ice cream and toppings to make sundaes together at home, or you head out to your favorite local diner or fro yo shop.
19. Check Out an Aquarium or Zoo
Kids love checking out animals and you can get some exercise while walking to see everything. For little kids remember to load up the stroller and water and snacks, and you’ll want sunscreen on everyone if you’ll be outside at the zoo.
20. Arts & Crafts
Pick up some basic art supplies from your local discount or dollar store and let the kids have fun. Crayons, markers, pipe cleaners, pom poms, popsicle sticks, stick glue and some construction paper and you’re golden for toddler through elementary-aged kids. If you’re feeling adventurous and really want to light up their world you can introduce glitter and paint into the mix. Pro tip: Put down a plastic tablecloth before they go crazy with any glue, glitter, or paint for easier cleanup.
21. Volunteer Together
No matter the age of your kids, it’s rewarding to find ways to volunteer together. It doesn’t have to be a major project, either, though those are great too. Whether introducing them to the concept of donating toys or books that they no longer use, putting canned food items in a bag and taking them by a food pantry, or picking up trash (pack the gloves!) at a park, you’re teaching them the importance of serving and caring for others without any expectation of something in return. As they get older you can look into volunteering at the local Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, or any other number of local nonprofits.
The Bottom Line:
In the end, no matter how you choose to spend your time, the important thing is that you’re together. Making memories doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Involve your kids in the planning, watch their wheels start turning, and know that smiles and excited giggles are not far behind.
Now go have some fun and remember we’d love to see pictures of your adventures on Facebook or Instagram!
In closing, if you click through and order any of these games or gadgets from Amazon, Good Dads will earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you) and that helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support - today and always!
Stephanie Grandestaff is a wife and mother, and enjoys handling all aspects of marketing and media for Good Dads.
There is hardly a person on the planet that doesn’t like the opportunity to play. Of course, the term “play” has varying meanings at varying ages. For instance, play to a two-year-old might mean whacking a bowl with a mixing spoon, while play to a 10-year-old might mean hours of meticulously building multi-thousand-piece Lego lands. A teenager? Often sports come to mind, while in the world of adults – at least for me – it has often meant long motorcycle trips or quietly fishing by the lake. To my wife? Drop her off at any local décor super store and she can happily play all day.
Just how important is play and playing with our kids? I don’t simply mean the battle over “going outside vs. staying inside game,” either. Is it about what our children are playing, or is it more about the fact they are playing and that we, as parents, are encouraging and engaging as well?
I get being a young man who is also a young parent. In the very season of life I was trying to navigate my way through a career path, my wife and I eagerly also brought into the task of navigating the parenting path as well. The trend for “career first, family second” may be on the upswing, but that blueprint never crossed our life desks. We didn’t want to wait for kids, and the kids would have to eat... so, the balancing began. With long days and sometimes long nights of working, just seeing my kids, let alone playing with them, seemed a monumental feat. I learned playtime didn’t have to involve loading up the minivan with a picnic basket and sports’ gear in a run for the local park for an entire afternoon. It’s a great gig if you can make it happen, but when you can’t, there’s hope.
While organized play was a huge part of our boys’ childhoods (and might I add the one non-athlete’s marching band camps and practices rivaled the rigor and fun the two athletes’ baseball, basketball, and football endeavors offered), impromptu play proved to be their favorite. To this day, my grown sons rarely mention a thing about one of the many sporting activities or all-day family play outings, but rather they recall the five-minute, nightly, free-for-alls. They can give a true “play-by-play” about these encounters.
Kids are smart. Kids know. Kids are wise enough to know that sometimes dads work long hours and can’t coach their teams and can’t take an entire afternoon to go to the park. That’s when they’re smart enough to know that those minutes in which a tired, hard-working dad turns into a goofy Godzilla to make brushing teeth and going to bed more fun are some of the most meaningful play dates they will ever have.
For me, the bottom line was that I just wanted to connect with my boys whenever and however I could. In the midst of all this, I learned something very important; the power of play can never be underestimated. Sure, hard work is the foundation of an ethic that can move our kids to success. If you can’t enjoy what you work for and find enjoyment in what your life has to offer, what’s the point?
So, my family and I chose to “play” and enjoy this adventure we call life. And, more importantly... we do it whenever possible! Looking back, it is one of most important ingredients to our family bond.
Five Tips for Maximizing Playtime With Your Kids:
Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I grew up in rural Arkansas surrounded by nature in the Ouachita Mountains. It was beautiful, but it was also poor. Both of my parents worked to keep us afloat. My father worked as a carpenter by day. He was gone before we got up for school and returned in the evening in time for dinner. Many nights, he would leave again to install floor covering as a secondary job and I wouldn’t see him again until the next day. That being said, he still managed to read to my brothers and me as often as he could. I remember him reading the entire Little House series to us as well as a book entitled The Two Little Savages (the problematic nature of the title didn’t occur to me until I considered buying a copy of this book for my own children). In addition to reading, my father would do small projects with us. He was a master of improvised toys. We made stilts, kites, dancing buttons and something he called "fly-flys" (hand carved, wooden propellers glued to a dowel. When you rolled the dowel between your hands, it would fly to the ceiling). He taught us wood craft and survival. He taught us the value of curiosity and the limitless possibility of “messing around.” While my dad’s schedule didn’t allow him to attend a lot of parent-teacher conferences, he stressed the importance of education. If I’m being honest, he helped us understand the inevitability of learning. Everything you do is a learning experience, but not every learning experience is equal of value.
These days, it’s my job to do the teaching. I have two sons, Jacob and Geoff. I could gush about how amazing they are, but what I'd really like to share about is being involved in their education.
Both of my boys are gifted with quick wits and have a natural curiosity that makes them natural learners. However, they have also been saddled with unique burdens. Both of my boys have been diagnosed with ADHD. My eldest also has Non-Verbal Learning Disorder. My youngest has Dyslexia.
The statistics on learning disabilities and school dropout rates boldly illustrate a strong correlation between the two. It should come as no surprise that people whose brains work in different ways than the norm, people who can’t learn in the same way as their classmates, people who need more help, find school to be frustrating at best. At worst it can crush their natural inquisitiveness and self-esteem. I speak from experience. In having the boys diagnosed, I learned a lot about myself. All growing up, I struggled in school. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I received a hefty dose of constructive criticism, a thousand versions of “You’re so bright. If you would just apply yourself . . .” What no one knew was that I was also struggling with my own learning disability. My boys came by it fairly.
I managed to graduate high school and even completed two college degrees, but my self-esteem took a beating and I still struggle with self doubt and imposter syndrome. Were it not for the positive influence of my parents--my dad especially--my life would have taken a far different course. The mission I have taken upon myself is to shield my boys from the psychological damage I suffered, to get them through school with their heads held high.
When the guys were really young, my wife was the primary wage earner and I was the primary caretaker. I was working on my Master’s degree in Library Science but we still spent a lot of time doing fun learning, the kind of stuff dad did with me except more urban. We lived in cities (St. Louis, Richmond, Louisville) and that environment made for different experiences and fun adventures. For example, in St. Louis at the time, there was a five stop free ride zone on the MetroLink during lunch hour. For a couple of toddlers, it might as well be an amusement ride. We would ride the train back and forth between Union Station and the Eads Bridge. We went to the (all free!) zoo, park, and several libraries. And we read. Books, books, books. We read board books and picture books and chapter books. We read about hobbits and dragons and castles. We read about hidden worlds and ancient civilizations and dinosaurs. We read about plants and animals. We read about history and geography. We read funny books and serious books. After we moved to Virginia, I finished my degree and got a full time job at the Chesterfield County Public Library. We enrolled the boys in day care.
This was a change, but not a huge one. Their daycare had a pretty good blend of fun and education. I dropped them off in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon. I made a point to know their teachers, their classmates, and the staff. This rapport made it very easy to keep up with them even when I was not around them all day. I missed them but life goes on.
In the fall of ‘08 Jacob entered kindergarten. During a parent/teacher conference, his teacher mentioned she was beginning to suspect Jacob might have some sort of learning disability. She pointed out that he was obviously bright and gregarious but he was also lagging behind his peers on some tasks. She said it wasn’t having much of an impact yet, but she noticed that he noticed. She stated, as kindly as possible, that she feared it would undermine his self-confidence and she advised us to have him screened.
He had noticed that events were cowards: they didn't occur singly, but instead they would run in packs and leap out at him all at once.”
Later that fall my wife, who worked for Circuit City corporate offices, was let go. It was part of a cost saving measure to keep the company afloat (this failed and the company collapsed entirely the following January). This was the beginning of a tough couple of years for the world and our family. My wife was out of work for seven months. We spent our entire savings and dipped deep into our retirement. When she did find work, it was so far away that I was forced to leave my job. We moved. We gave up our house. We started accepting food from a local charity. We eventually filed for bankruptcy. The upside, shocking as it might be, was that I was able to spend a lot more time with the boys.
My dad helped me see this silver lining when he came to visit us once. I was complaining about our sorry financial state and that I had been unable to find a job in our new city. He told me to cherish this time. I thought he was nuts. He said that he missed most of my growing up because, as poor as my little family was at that moment, we had a place to live and food to eat. My wife's new job came with insurance. We were doing okay. He was still teaching me things.
When the dust settled, we were able to get Jacob properly screened. By this time he was in second grade. After a lengthy conversation about processing speeds, age appropriate development, standard deviations and the like, the psychologist told us that Jacob had Attention Deficit Disorder. She said that, because of his intelligence, he was able to compensate better than most, but she warned us he would most likely need intervention and assistance in the future. The greatest thing she gave us, however, was a set of tools to work with Jacob’s (and later Geoffrey’s) teachers. She gave us language and tips to help us win over Jacob’s teachers and reduce the potential resentment that could arise from our strong involvement and advocacy in his education.
We eventually moved to Springfield to be closer to family where Jacob received his second diagnosis of Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, adding additional challenges to an already challenging school career. Geoff officially started school the following fall and, as you might expect, at a parent/teacher conference one of his teachers pointed out that he was falling behind in reading. This led to Geoff’s diagnoses of dyslexia and ADHD.
That was eight years ago. We have been to a lot of meetings, talked to a lot of teachers and administrators, asked for accommodations, and insisted our boys be treated as complex whole persons. I wish I could tell you how everything worked out, but the work is still in progress. What I can tell you is that being kinda nosey, bugging my kids about their school activities, homework and the like, being an active and engaged father interested in learning together, has created a ton of trust.
The lessons from my father about the importance and fun of learning have been the foundation from which I have been able to build a strong relationship with my sons, supporting them in their own learning, and in life. It has permeated every aspect of our relationship and we are stronger for it.
Shannon Wortham is dad to two sons and a librarian for the Springfield-Greene County Library District.
In this blog, Joel continues to explain many helpful things about gaming which he began in last week's blog. For a refresh or review, see the blog post associated with March 7, 2019.
Which leads me to my next topic Fortnite. One of the reasons that Fortnite (a first person shooter) is so popular is because of the social aspect it has incorporated. Both kids and adults are getting online and playing with their friends in groups with the sole purpose of beating everyone else in the world. One other reason that Fortnite is so popular is because you can play it on just about any device that has an app or can download a game. Kids and adults are playing Fortnite on everything from their phone to their PlayStation or X-box. Fortnite has built on the success of other franchises such as Call of Duty and Halo which incorporated a social aspect into their online play modes. They give players the ability to customize their characters and even do silly dances after defeating an enemy. The developers are constantly changing the game so that it keeps the interest of their customers and their work is paying off. Last year Fortnite grossed 3 billion (yes that’s right BILLION) in profits. You can buy Fortnite shirts and backpacks both in the store and online. It is quite literally a billion-dollar brand which is staggering considering that the game has not been out for more than a couple of years.
For my last topic (Spring Break) I am going to leave you with what I hope are a few helpful tips and or reminders. The first is this, when it comes to kids and gaming the two are drawn to each other. Most kids do not have the developmental capacity to set healthy limits for themselves when it comes to forms of entertainment such as video games. They need you to lovingly help them to know and understand what is both healthy and helpful. If you are not sure, do a little research or ask your child’s School Counselor. I can personally guarantee you that they have answered that question before and should be able to suggest some good articles or books on the topic.
Second, as spring break approaches start setting expectations now for what healthy limits look like for both video game and media consumption in general. Research some activities that you would be comfortable with them doing over spring break and give them some options ahead of time.
Third, for your sake and the sake of their teachers force them to get some physical exercise somewhere (gym, park, backyard, etc.). Unstructured time doing some sort of physical activity is important for both their mental and physical health. Ask any teacher who has taught for more than a week and they will gladly share with you the benefits they have seen when kids can get out and play.
Lastly, whether it is playing video games with your kids, taking them on a walk, a hike or even a trip to the mall. Spend some quality time with your kids. There is absolutely nothing that can serve as an adequate substitute for the love of and time with a parent. If you want your kids to be successful in life there is a mountain of research I can show you that says a loving, secure relationship with their parent or guardian is the most important factor. It doesn’t matter whether or not you understand the game they want you to play with them or activity they want you to do. The time and connection you build during those games and activities is what will make the most difference.
Joel Hunter is a father, school counselor, and a video gamer. He shares insights about responsible gaming with your children and provides perspective from the sides of the parent, the counselor, and the gamer.
It’s hard to believe, but just ten years ago, I was a fast food, frozen pizza eating bachelor. I rarely did any real cooking of any kind. When I met my future wife, Emily, I quickly fell in love with her two children, and her cooking. For the first five years of our marriage, She did 95% of the cooking and baking for our family of five, after our youngest was born in 2011.
Our oldest, Leah, who is now 15, would enjoy helping her Mother bake at a young age. Alex, now 14, had no interest in being in the kitchen, while Herbie, now eight, was always sneaking into the pantry to find snacks.
In 2015, my wife was in a serious car accident. She was hospitalized for four months while recovering from a traumatic brain injury. I quickly became the head chef in the Cody household. This also meant that my two oldest, Alex and Leah, had to learn a few things in the kitchen as well. I had to lean on them to take care of some lunches and dinners as I was constantly back and forth to the hospital to see Emily.
Once Em was released to come home to be with us, she also needed to re-learn a lot of the daily things she used to do with ease. On the weekends, we would cook breakfast and dinners as a family. This was great for her TBI recovery, while the kids also learned how to cook more than a hot dog and frozen pizzas.
Last July, I broke my leg a couple weeks after Leah tore her ACL. We had surgical procedures two days apart from each other. Leah was down for a month, while I was bed ridden for a couple months. While we had a lot of friends and family bring us dinners, Emily and the boys were in charge of breakfasts and lunches, and did a fantastic job taking care of us.
It is definitely never too early to get the kids in the kitchen, so they may learn the basics. If they enjoy it, they will want to learn more as they get older.
Herb Cody is a husband and father of three. He is a part time Uber driver and full time caregiver of his spouse, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after an auto accident November, 2015. Herb loves football and is a St Louis Cardinals fanatic. He and his family live in Nixa MO. Herb can be reached for questions or comments at email@example.com You can check out Herb's own blog at, www.thecodylife.weebly.com
“They could crack an egg by themselves when they were two.”
That’s how Paul Allen proudly describes the cooking ability of his daughters, Norah (8) and Azrah (6).
It’s clear Paul believes in getting his offspring started early.
Paul is a world class chef, having cooked his way around the world on yachts owned by the rich and famous. He trained at The Culinary Institute of America and is a former Ritz-Carlton chef. There's no question that he knows his way around a kitchen.
These days, though, Paul makes his home in Springfield, Missouri where he focuses his energies on Farm 2 Counter, a business providing fresh, homegrown food on a weekly basis to persons living in 13 cities in southwest Missouri. Every Friday customers receive a small, medium or larger personalized delivery of locally grown or locally produced meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables.
“You usually can’t taste the difference between organic and non-organic food, but you can tell when something is fresh and in season from something similar you might buy at the store.” And, Paul insists, fresh foods make all the difference as the basis for a good meal. It’s something he learned scouring local food sources in various ports of call in faraway places.
“Whenever the ship docked,” he explained, “I always made a point of going on shore and exploring the fruits and vegetables grown there.”
Today, cooking is a family affair. When Paul’s wife, Ashley isn’t caring for Lilly, their eight-month-old daughter, she cooks as well. In fact, these days the entire family often gathers in the kitchen spending time with the people they love most, making a meal they can enjoy together.
“No thank you. I’ve had an excellent sufficiency. Anymore would be a superfluous animosity. However, your cuisine would please the most fastidious gourmet.”
These are the words my father taught us to say when we had had enough to eat. We learned this expression when my sister exclaimed, “I’m so full I’m about to bust,” at the dinner table.
“Young ladies and gentlemen," he said, “do not express themselves in this way.” And then he offered the above alternative. We really were not certain what it meant, but we memorized and used it because it was a lot more fun to say—specially to extended family and visitors, than the “about to bust” declaration.
My father’s admonition was mostly tongue-in-cheek. He didn’t really expect us to use the “excellent sufficiency” statement on every occasion. After all, we were farm kids and dinner was hardly a formal affair. Nonetheless, my parents expected us to learn and practice good manners. Polite conduct, they believed, would help us make our way in life.
And so we learned how to sit at the table, the proper way to use silverware, to place our napkin in our lap, and how to ask for something we wanted. No one picked up a fork until everyone was seated and grace said. At the end of the meal, we requested to be excused before we left our seats. We were expected to eat at least a small bite of everything and express our appreciation to the hostess (typically our mother). Rude or rowdy behavior was strongly discouraged, but good conversation was welcomed.
By today’s less formal standards, it might seem as though those farm family dinners were restrictive, but I recall them fondly. As the five of us (my sister, brother, mother, father and I) enjoyed a meal we all helped produce, we often laughed, talked and shared stories of our day. I’m sure I took it for granted at the time, but years’ later friends remarked to me about how much they enjoyed sharing dinner time with us. Good manners, that is, the courteous way we were trained, encouraged and required to treat each other, were part of this.
My husband and I also thought it important to teach our children good mealtime manners. We were familiar with the research on the importance of family dinner time to a child’s well-being (e.g., children do better academically who eat dinner with their families several nights a week). I’d like to say it was a joy to teach them table manners, but it wasn’t always fun or easy. Children, it seems, have many peculiar habits related to food, eating and “natural gas.” I’m not certain why belching and farting is such fun activity when the family is gathered, but this was the way of things at our house. We tried to get them to “squelch a belch” or “silence flatulence” and they told us they were about to explode. Eventually, we ceased our efforts to stop them, borrowed from my father’s creative instruction, and simply required them to do one of two things: 1) Go outside and run around the entire house three times while we watched from the window; or 2) Stand at the far end of the house inside and count to 100 loud enough for all of us to hear before returning to the table. Either way, the inconvenience of interrupting one’s dinner to exercise or recite greatly diminished the fun of farting at mealtime.
Today when our family gathers, there are six adults and eight children. Learning and demonstrating good manners is part of that activity. We enjoy each other’s company. We linger at the dinner table. We compliment the host. The adults are in pretty good form when it comes to courteous behavior; the kids have a ways to go, but they’re learning. It’s not easy to teach children how to conduct themselves at the dinner table. Sometimes it feels both frustrating and fruitless, but learning how to do so can go a long way to creating and increasing self-confidence in our young people.
Think about how you want your children to relate to others. With what kind of people—adults and children—do you prefer to spend your time? Do your children have the skills to competently manage an enjoyable meal with others? How would you like them to behave? Get together with your spouse or support system and talk about how you can work together to make 2019 a year of good manners.
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s face it. Celebrating the holidays can be very stressful and depending on your family’s background and traditions, the tension can last for weeks. Even if you are able to keep plans for your festivities reasonable, you still have to cope with the behavior and expectations of others. Just trying to find a parking place near your favorite store can be a hassle on December days when every space is taken. This kind of stress is peripheral to the pressure we may feel from family to perform in a certain way (gatherings, gifts, etc.) on specific days like Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Some folks I know spend a majority of their time shuttling their offspring between households of extended family regardless of weather conditions, sleeplessness and exhaustion because it is expected they will do so. A perfect storm of stressors begins to build for many families around this time of year and often reaches a boiling point right at the time we long to be “merry and bright.”
Because this “holiday hoe down” happens every year, we ought to be smarter about planning for it and preparing to alter the course of our behavior, but most of us don’t. Bill Doherty, author of The Intentional Family, refers to this phenomenon as “Christmas amnesia” and notes that it is akin to “women forgetting the pain of childbirth soon after delivery. It is an amnesia that helps to populate the earth and keep the tradition of family Christmas alive.” We could make plans to do things differently, to allow for demanding people and difficult situations, but we often disregard our discouragement, delay making plans to do something different, and delve back into the same dilemmas a year later. This year, why not plan to do something different.
Be Honest about Discouragements
There’s no time like the present to take a few notes about what discourages you most. You may not be able to extricate yourself from some holiday hassles this year, but the hope of doing something different next year can help sustain you. While the feelings and thoughts are fresh, write them down. This will be critical in March and April when Christmas amnesia is likely to set in.
Plan Early to Do Something Different
You know that celebrating the holidays can have its anxious moments. You’re aware there are some people—often those to whom we’re related—who will be difficult. If you are the person in charge of seeing that the holiday happens for your clan (Doherty refers to you as the “Christmas Coordinator), then recognize you need help. The key to all these realizations is planning for changes before the season heats up and then letting others know early and often about the changes that will occur. What might that entail?
Developing Solutions for Old Dilemmas
If you are the Christmas Coordinator you’re very likely to assume a martyr role as the holiday approaches, doing more and enjoying it less, while your spouse and family sit on the sidelines and watch you work. Here are some suggestions to assist you in altering that behavior.
1) Involve other by asking for help with specific tasks. Instead of saying, “I need help with the shopping;” say “I need you to purchase the gifts for your brother and sister. I’ll give you the list at least six weeks in advance.” Rather than bemoaning that you “always have to do all the decorating,” say “I need you to get all the boxes out of storage and set up the tree the day after Thanksgiving.” Others are much more likely to respond when they know exactly what they need to do to assist and how much time it might take.
2) Respect the old, but try something new. As families grow they include others, e.g., a new brother-in-law or sister-in-law, who will have new traditions. Take the time to discover how they celebrate. Do they exchange names for gift giving versus buying something for everyone? Do they swap “white elephant” presents in lieu of something more serious? Consider how you might honor the traditions of new members while trimming back some of the old.
Discuss gift exchanges and holiday travel well in advance.
If you want to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas morning in your own home and this challenges the expectations of others, tell them early (e.g. in July) and often (repeated monthly if necessary) about your plans. Expect change back messages on the part of other when you do this, but hold firm.
It’s not easy to make changes in family routines and rituals, but it is possible. Challenge yourself to think about the memories you want both you and your loved ones to have as they recall Christmases past. Will what you’re doing now cause them to remember you more like the happy and fun-loving Buddy in the Christmas movie Elf or someone more akin to the Grinch who stole Christmas? It’s really up to you.
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at email@example.com.
Do you ever wish you could remember more things about your life when you were little?
I am a father to one son named Hayden. He’s 8. I’m 48. Yes, I’m the “older dad.” But being older, I believe it has caused me to not take for granted this amazing gift that God has given us.
Since he was born, I have wanted to make absolutely sure that I cherished every moment with my son. Sure, I have moments when he drives me crazy, moments when we argue, moments when I have screwed up and said things that I should not have said to him. In those times when I’ve messed up, I’ve made sure to tell him I was wrong, I made a mistake, and I’m sorry. (I believe it’s good for children to see their parents mess up, and then humble themselves and apologize.)
But the majority of the time, I do my best to make sure my son realizes that he is one of the greatest things that has ever happened in my life.
I believe one of the main reasons that I try so hard to spend as much quality time with Hayden, is because I lost both of my parents when I was in my mid 30’s. I took for granted the time I had with them, while they were here. For the last 13 years, I’ve deeply missed having them around. Especially the last 8 years with my son, and all we’ve experienced.
One of the small things I miss the most is simply not being able to ask my parents about certain things from my childhood that I can’t remember, so I can share those stories with my son.
For Hayden, that won’t be a problem when he is grown up. Thankfully, a dear friend of mine gave me the idea of writing in a journal every day, once my son was born.
For the first 5 years of his life, I added to this journal every day. Whether it was something he did that day, something that was going on in my life, something big that happened in the world, simple words of wisdom, or even just telling him I thanked God for him that day … I typed into that journal every single day.
The last few years, I still add things, but it’s not every day. Mainly big things that happen, that he’ll want to remember.
I now have 351 pages of memories in this journal that he’ll be able to look back through when he is older.
For the dads reading this who have babies or young children, I encourage you to start a journal. I believe it will be one of the great gifts that your children will treasure as an adult.
For those of you with grown children, I encourage you to spend more time talking with your kids about memories from their childhood. It will be quality time that they (and you) will love.
Some of us put so much pressure on ourselves to be great parents, that we set unrealistic expectations that we can usually never achieve. But when I think about it, my greatest memories of my dad are simply the times he spent one on one quality time with me. It didn’t even really matter what we were doing. I just knew I was enjoying it and so was he.
Spending undistracted, engaged, quality time with your children is the best thing you can do. And it’s these times that will create amazing lifelong memories for your child, and for you.
Paul and his wife Christie are parents of one son. They enjoy being at the lake every chance they get, being involved in Hayden’s sports, and serving at their church in Nixa, The Bridge. Paul worked in the Media Industry in southwest Missouri for 20+ years and has recently started a consulting business. He can be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
My wife Jill and I have been married for almost 22 years and have two teenage boys. Hayden is 15 and a sophomore at Kickapoo High School and his brother Caleb is a 13-year-old 8th grader at Cherokee Middle School. When we look back it has all gone by so fast. People always tell you it will but, when you are living it every day it can be just a blur. From changing diapers, learning to talk and walk, sports, homework, church and now soon to be drivers and girlfriends, WOW what just happened!
When I think of all the conversations we’ve had with our boys over the years it’s amazing. We’ve always tried to be open and honest with them, but also tried to keep it age appropriate. Sometimes you can offer up too much information when all they are really after is just a simple answer to satisfy their curiosity. But there are times they can go deep with their inquiries.
I remember when Hayden was younger and an early riser like me (but now that he’s a teenager sleeping in is a common occurrence). Most Saturday mornings while Jill and Caleb were still asleep we’d going riding around together—no real destination just coffee for me and maybe some breakfast for both of us. We’d talk about all kinds of things just as they came up while we were cruising around town for an hour or two. It was just simple basic stuff, but what great memories for me and hopefully for him. I think most of the time he taught me more than I taught him. Kids have a way of breaking it down and keeping simple; adults tend to complicate things. Remember everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten and kindness matters.
This past summer I had the chance to drive to several baseball tournaments with Caleb. Just me and him while Jill was running with Hayden to his baseball games. Divide and conquer. Those of you with kids involved in various activities know what it’s like. It was a blessing to me to get to spend more time with him. Talking, (listening to music most of it his, but some of mine too), and staying in a hotel together as roommates. While I like to watch him play and compete to watch how he responds to and handles game situations, e.g., winning and losing I was most proud of him as a teammate and watching him develop and gain confidence in himself. Now when I hear some of the songs it brings back memories of the summer road trips together.
Lots of our conversations with the boys now have to do with sex, drugs, alcohol, death, friends and even politics. It’s grown up stuff that sometimes I don’t always understand or have all the answers. But together Jill and I do our best to have a discussion to help them think through it and hopefully make good decisions. They must understand the consequence and the impact it will have on their future and career opportunities. We sometimes hear the locker room language during the sex talks. All the things they hear on the bus at school on social media and even on TV or YouTube. It’s sure not Leave it to Beaver anymore with Ward and June explaining things the Wally and Theodore.
I think it is extremely important to include Jill in the conversations as they happen, although she would sometimes like to bow out. When the topic of sex comes up she’ll roll her eyes or give a heavy sigh and ask, “Do I really need to be part of this?” I feel they need a woman’s perspective. It’s important to hear from their mom what girls think and feel about boys and men.
Death is another topic we’ve always been very open about with our boys. We’ve lost close family members and friends over the years. When my brother battled leukemia several years ago and finally died in 2010 we included the boys in our regular visits with him and openly discussed his disease with them. They really seemed to understand it more at times than we gave them credit.
Communication is key. It is so important in any family or organization to have open, honest and respectful conversations. Not that we are experts. It can get heated in our household at times. Tempers flare at times with teenagers. My wife is good about making sure we eat together regularly as a family. And when we go out to dinner NO cell phones are allowed. It works most of the time.
Having frequent conversations is so important. You don’t always have to have an agenda. Just make sure you take the opportunities to talk when they arise, and they will. I know they often do around our house and especially when driving in our vehicles. And remember to listen to our kids. They will tell us what they want to know and they can teach us lessons. I know my boys do all the time.
Dennis and his wife, Jill, are the parents of two sons. When not staying engaged with his sons and their schedules, Dennis volunteers time as a Good Dads Board member. He can be reached for question or comment at email@example.com.