Family Tree: Understanding My Context

Family Tree: Understanding My Context

    “A person is always situated in a context, relating to what is above and below, right and left, and front and back. This context determines his or her position. Your life will turn out better or worse depending on whether you properly create relationships with those above you and below you, with those to your right and to your left, in front of you and in back of you.” From True Families: Gateway to Heaven (p 1)   This passage might be hard for a nine year old to understand, much less a seven year old or a three year old. So to break it down, we made a little family tree to be able to explain it in very specific terms. As always, we decided that the best way to do this was by making it a family craft activity! This was how it went for us:
  1. Since it was Christmas season, our family tree took the shape of a Christmas tree. First I took a large piece of paper and cut out a Christmas tree shape and had the kids draw and cut out ornament shapes from colorful paper to decorate the tree.
  2. My daughter made the star at the top and drew in glittery gold letters “God.” A good start.
  3. We then wrote the names of our (immediate) family members onto post-it notes and put them on our trees. We left space so that we could add in our extended family members in at a later time (another project!)
  4. We used special glittery pink and silver washi tape to draw out the lines of connection between each family member. Right now there are blank spaces but we will be filling in those soon.
  5. One further step – we had every person write down what they were grateful for. Our three year old was grateful for our family and, fittingly, Washi tape. 
Once we completed this tree, we could point to each line and name and say to Emily, “You are the older sister of your three younger siblings; the daughter of mama and papa; the granddaughter of grandpa and grandma on both papa and mama’s sides; and then niece of your aunts, uncles; cousin of your cousins, etc. That is your context.” Emily’s eyes lit up and she exclaimed,”Ahhh…!” What was wonderful was that, as comparatively big as our family might be with four kids, when we looked at our extended family tree we could see the more extensive network of loving bonds that went outwards to our cousins, aunts, uncle and grandparents. Looking at the pink and silver lines on our tree, we could see those above, below, left, right, front and back, our little microcosm became that much more complex and wonderful. Personally, I grew up in a small family with very little contact with my relatives as my parents had immigrated to the United States before I was born. This being as such, I never had strong ties or relationships with my grandparents and cousins and so I never understood the wonderful world of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmas and grandpas. Now as a parent, I’m very happy that my children have very strong bonds of love and trust with their relatives and hope to keep them strong through constant communication and exchange. This is our family tree at the moment. What would your family tree look like? Happy Holidays!  
Storytelling Brings the Family Together

Storytelling Brings the Family Together

Parents and elders have been storytellers since the dawn of humankind, passing on wisdom, knowledge, caution, or simply entertainment. And what is amazing is that we cannot grow out of being the listener. There is always something we can learn from in the words and stories of others.

Have you ever watched your younger sibling, maybe your students, niece or nephew, or even your own child as they were discovering that those beautiful depictions of their hero or heroine on epic adventures were not always fantasies woven in their storyteller’s mind, but rather the ability to interpret scribbles on a page? In wonder, they grasp the book in their own hands, squinting and proudly declaring, “Now I will tell the story to you!” Made all the more adorable when the entire book is upside down.

Children are drawn to the sound of language, learning to love being read to before even noticing the existence of printed words. Reading books out loud to children is essential to stimulating imagination, creativity, and comprehension skills in preparation to become the storytellers themselves.

Reading with others is a great bonding activity. It’s a chance to bring up topics in the story and hear how the child is doing, how she interprets the world, her dreams, and aspirations. Children (and adults!) automatically find the commonality and differences between themselves and characters in a story. It helps to ask questions and engage with your young listener when you can or just relax and enjoy the reading session because even the act of reading together will benefit everyone involved. 

It is also an opportunity to create a family ritual. Intentionally spending time to read and learn together feeds into our personal excellence both inside and outside the home while building a common language, so to speak, and points of reference between family members.

So, go ahead, read together and share stories, from books on science and history to tales about dragons and lands far away. Incorporate diversity and listen to what that special child in your life is interested in reading about as they grow because whatever the topic, they are bonding, expanding their knowledge and vocabulary, enhancing concentration skills, and learning to love learning!

Alternatives to Screen Time

Alternatives to Screen Time

Ah, the convenience of technology. Smartphones, tablets, entertainment subscriptions, and online video streaming is making it easier to keep kids busy when mom and dad are working hard running to work, taking care of other siblings, cooking meals, or anything else on the endless task of keeping the family healthy, wealthy and wise.

In an age where some jokingly refer to the TV as “the babysitter,” it’s beginning to become difficult to remember a time without our modern conveniences. Some may furrow their brows at the idea of the access children have to technology and entertainment. “Kids these days!” they exclaim as they see an oblivious teen almost crash head on to a street pole on the sidewalk with their eyes on their phone.

Kids these days…

Parents and children playing video games together

What about kids these days? Kids these days are great! In a world that sometimes likes to take the pessimistic view of modern technology, let us take a different approach.

The truth is, technology itself is value-neutral. There are great ways and absolutely terrible ways to utilize it, depending on the values developed by each person within their family. Technology itself is not bad. We can talk with and even see loved ones from halfway around the world and have an endless library of knowledge at our fingertips thanks to modern technology!

However, it is also important to recognize that too much screen time can adversely affect our children’s appreciation of the world they live in. Instead of focusing on what limitations we can set on children when it comes to technology, we can think about alternatives to screen time that you can participate in as a family.

Here are some things you can encourage as an alternative to screen time. Some activities don’t even require more than the child herself. Encouraging kids to find creativity and contentment in unaccompanied activities (that don’t involve a screen) will help them be self-motivated to mature and expand their skills, knowledge, and creativity.

  • Family game night: board games, card games, charades— nothing like some friendly competition to spark some energy.
  • Exercise, teambuilding, fun… what’s not to like? Parents can teach kids how to play or encourage them to sign up in a community team.
  • Go to the park: from playgrounds to National Parks, parks get the family outdoors for some fresh air and exercise
  • Kids saying they’re bored? Tell them to take a hike… and go with them of course. Don’t forget to dress for the weather and bring some tasty snacks. For younger kids, go on a simple nature walk to a more level-ground trail.
  • Arts and crafts: There is an endless array of possibilities online, including holiday and educational themed activities. Need a creativity “renaissance”? You can sit down with your child and draw or paint a portrait of each other.
  • Toys that build: Blocks, logs, gears, you name it— stackable/buildable toys promote creativity and problem-solving, not to mention it’s cool to just build the tallest tower ever.
  • Baking together with mom and daughter

    Cook together. Have a picky eater? Learn more about your child’s taste (while helping them build an essential life skill) by picking a recipe and cooking together. Involving them in the process might also help them appreciate the hard work others put into their own meals and make them more likely to finish what’s on their plate. They were the master chef after all.

  • Read. Read. (Okay, maybe this one will have a screen— looking at you, tablet owners) There are SO many fantastic reasons to read together with young children and to encourage silent reading for older children.
  • Have multiple children at your house? Whether they are all yours or their friends as well, you do not have to resort to a movie to please the masses. Here’s something fun. Encourage them to create a skit to be performed in front of a prestigious audience (that’s you, mom and dad). Let them borrow clothes and create props with arts and crafts supplies… or their sibling’s favorite stuffed animal, with permission of course.
  • Puzzles! From jigsaws to sodoku, puzzles are nice, usually calm, activities to stimulate the brain and give you a little piece (get it?) and quiet.
  • Have a jam session. If you have a little musician in the house, practice some songs together and perform for the rest of the family. Music has so many benefits for children of all ages. Even if you don’t want to risk an expensive instrument quite yet, for little fingers you can create homemade music makers at home.
  • Got a green thumb? Get out in the garden. Some kids love getting in the dirt and watching life grow day by day with the seed they got to plant themselves. Bonus: harvesting vegetables or fruits is a wonderful experience itself and provides delicious, fresh produce for the whole family.

There’s a big, wide world of adventure outside your screen. What’s on your list?

Leading My Pack

Leading My Pack

Dad was away a lot this summer.

He had a number of very large projects that took him away to the other side of the world for months at a time.

When he was away from home, he missed his wife and baby badly. His son was not quite a year old. He missed the feel of baby’s weight in his arms at night. He missed the drool and toothless grins that greeted him when he walked through the door at night. He missed his wife’s voice and smiles.

This year was difficult. Things that he usually could count on, things he thought would already be worked out by this time in the game, were still up in the air.

There was a point where even he, the perpetual optimist, wondered if he would be able to pull off this year’s programs.

On one such evening, after a hard and seemingly fruitless day, he called home to check in. His wife talked about baby’s latest milestones. Baby was trying solids now, and finally learning to move forward when he crawled. It was good to hear baby’s squeal and gurgles in the background. “Thanks dad, for all that you do,” his wife said before saying goodbye.

Before he clicked off his phone, Dad saw the wallpaper of his wife and son smiling out at him. “My son is depending on me,” dad thought.

He was being asked to trailblaze unknown territory, just as the leader of a pack at the turn of the season. In the front of the pack, dad was being asked to face his insecurities and fears. At times he felt lost, inside and out. But it was up to him to embrace his fear, overcome his uncertainty, and try every route in order to find new opportunities. Someday, baby would have to do the same when he led his own pack in an uncertain world.

Right now, baby’s trailblazing consisted of moving two feet forward and trying to swallow butternut squash. But soon, he would need to learn self-control and self-sacrifice, build strong relationships and eventually tackle social issues in school, his community, his world. At those times, dad’s advice and example would be critical.

Dad took a deep breath, “I can do this,” he whispered. “If I can, so will you.” He flipped off the light for the night, his heart full of resolve and optimism that no matter what faced him the next day, he would find a way to make success, even if it seemed impossible.

He would lead the pack to greener pastures.

Baby was watching him.

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

“In order to grow good vegetables, you need good soil with lots of various nutrients. Likewise, we have to think about the kind of “soil” we’re providing for our own education” – Teacher Tami (92-year old Japanese author and cooking teacher)

The importance of reading aloud

In our common quest for ways to strengthen our relationships with one another and support personal growth and development, reading aloud together as a family is one of the best and easiest ways to get started.

In The Read-aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease outlines the academic and social benefits of reading aloud to your children. Above all, he sternly reminds us that we simply cannot expect schools to be the primary place of education for our children.

Put in numbers, the average U.S. student will spend about 900 hours in school in contrast to the 7,800 hours they will spend outside of it. The habits and activities determined by the family (i.e., parents) need to be considered more primary to a child’s education than what they might acquire in the classroom. Trelease cites conclusions from the U.S. Department of Education’s 1983 Commission on Reading to support his claims: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

But the truth is, success in reading is not our goal – although it is a nice perk we can acquire along the way!

Raising families of shared understanding

Closer to our own endeavors, podcaster, author, and mother of six, Sarah Mackenzie, offers the benefits of building a shared understanding with your family by reading books aloud, together. While she draws inspiration from The Read-Aloud Handbook, her goals and her own experiences, are perhaps closer to our own. She confesses her own hopes for her own first child:

I had high hopes for Audrey right out of the gate. I knew that I wanted her to grow up to love God with all of her heart, mind, and soul. I wanted her to do well in school. I wanted a warm relationship with her, always. I wanted her to be kind and compassionate, to do what was right even when no one was looking.

We, as parents, might mirror these same sorts of hopes for our own children. Fortunately for us, Mackenzie reinterprets the educational practices touted in The Read-Aloud Handbook in a way that might be even more meaningful for us as parents. In Mackenzie’s recently published, The Read-Aloud Family, she recounts the ways through reading aloud together with her children has helped her children develop what we might label as a character and a healthy, active family culture of learning and growth.

In exploring books across a range of genres and cultures, her children began to explore moral questions about right and wrong, aspirations and values. In short, the family is able to build experiences, moral resources and a shared sense of certainty about the most important things, together.

In our own families

As Mackenzie recommends, in our own families we can use adventure stories, novels, picture books, nonfiction books, to explore moral values while deepening familial bonds. Reading aloud with the whole family or one-on-one with a child, parents are able to build bridges between the minds and hearts of their children.

Knowing and being able to share thoughts, feelings, and understandings about the same characters, situations, and storylines equip us later with ways to reinforce lessons or to turn difficult moments and decisions into moments for growth and development.

Humanity has always told stories to one another and this has often been the primary way through which they communicated the most important values of one generation to the next. For this reason, the stories we tell or read to our children are perhaps the most important ones to might ever tell.

If we furnish our children’s minds with stories, characters, and understandings of important truths and understandings, we may be equipping them with the strength of character to get them through the hardest times and decisions. We can’t always be with our children and we can’t always protect them. We need to nurture them in the mindset and habits that allow them to become good and strong. In this, they can both withstand the difficulties they will inevitably face as well as to gives them the room to grow into their own unique destinies.

Reading to older kids

Mackenzie also recommends different questions to open up conversations with your kids about the books that you read together. In this, the acting of reading aloud to your children begin to take on magical dimensions – it builds another pathway to open one mind or heart to the other, utilizing questions and conversation to become more fully connected with one another. Imagine the implications of having such a habit and what it would mean for your relationship with your children as they get older!

To this point, while many parents are enthusiastic about the general idea of reading aloud to kids, but most would see it as an activity primarily for the very young and those who have yet to read. Many might feel more awkward to read aloud to older children. But both Trelease and McKenzie are adamant that those children who already know how to read and older should consciously and intentionally be included in this sacred family ritual. Trellis notes that in the aforementioned 1983 Commission on Reading that “[reading aloud to children] is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

Perhaps it is in the most confusing time of adolescence that we want to have space for the family to continually engage with each other as well as to have a common language, understanding, and values to keep the channels of communication open between teens, their parents, and siblings.

How to start?

For obvious reasons, we are concerned just as much about what one might read aloud as with the act. Many families may choose a mix of devotional scripture or faith-based stories for a younger audience. Both The Read-Aloud Handbook and The Read-Aloud Family have a great list of book recommendations. The Read-Aloud Family also includes a few good audiobook recommendations and some simple crafts or quiet activities to keep little hands busy while parents read!

In this specific handbook, we’ve provided one story that we found to be particularly interesting and useful in teaching good values to families. While the story featured here is from the Korean tradition, the discussion questions and pieces exploring different themes in the story is something that can be done with any story.

As part of this, we will go into the elements of a good story and ways to understand how to bring out the important lessons that lay within the best stories. Many of the most beloved children’s stories have within them important lessons for us in our day-to-day lives. Being able to uncover these lessons in stories can also make us more well-attuned to the lessons that lie in our own stories.

While our efforts are still in its infancy, we hope to develop a wide range of recommendations for just this kind of activity with the mindset of building God-centered families. Please feel free to share your own efforts and discoveries!

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

“In order to grow good vegetables, you need good soil with lots of various nutrients. Likewise, we have to think about the kind of “soil” we’re providing for our own education” – Teacher Tami (92-year old Japanese author and cooking teacher)

The importance of reading aloud

In our common quest for ways to strengthen our relationships with one another and support personal growth and development, reading aloud together as a family is one of the best and easiest ways to get started.

In The Read-aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease outlines the academic and social benefits of reading aloud to your children. Above all, he sternly reminds us that we simply cannot expect schools to be the primary place of education for our children.

Put simply, the average U.S. student will spend about 900 hours in school in contrast to the 7,800 hours they will spend outside of it. The habits and activities largely are determined by the family (i.e., parents) need to be considered more primary to a child’s education than what they might acquire in the classroom. Trelease cites conclusions from the U.S. Department of Education’s 1983 Commission on Reading to support his claims: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

But the truth is, success in reading is not our goal – although it is a nice perk we can acquire along the way!

Raising families of shared understanding

Closer to our own endeavors, podcaster, author, and mother of six, Sarah Mackenzie, offers the benefits of building a shared understanding with your family by reading books aloud, together. While she draws inspiration from The Read-Aloud Handbook, her goals and her own experiences, are perhaps closer to our own. She confesses her own hopes for her own first child:

I had high hopes for Audrey right out of the gate. I knew that I wanted her to grow up to love God with all of her heart, mind, and soul. I wanted her to do well in school. I wanted a warm relationship with her, always. I wanted her to be kind and compassionate, to do what was right even when no one was looking.

We, as parents, might mirror these same sorts of hopes for our own children. Fortunately for us, Mackenzie reinterprets the educational practices touted in The Read-Aloud Handbook in a way that might be even more meaningful for us as parents. In Mackenzie’s recently published, The Read-Aloud Family, she recounts the ways through reading aloud together with her children has helped her children develop what we might label as a character and a healthy, active family culture of learning and growth.

In exploring books across a range of genres and cultures, her children began to explore moral questions about right and wrong, aspirations and values. In short, the family is able to build experiences, moral resources and a shared sense of certainty about the most important things, together.

In our own families

As Mackenzie recommends, in our own families we can use adventure stories, novels, picture books, nonfiction books, to explore moral values while deepening familial bonds. Reading aloud with the whole family or one-on-one with a child, parents are able to build bridges between the minds and hearts of their children.

Knowing and being able to share thoughts, feelings, and understandings about the same characters, situations, and storylines equip us later with ways to reinforce lessons or to turn difficult moments and decisions into moments for growth and development.

Humanity has always told stories to one another and this has often been the primary way through which they communicated the most important values of one generation to the next. For this reason, the stories we tell or read to our children are perhaps the most important ones to might ever tell.

If we furnish our children’s minds with stories, characters, and understandings of important truths and understandings, we may be equipping them with the strength of character to get them through the hardest times and decisions. We can’t always be with our children and we can’t always protect them. We need to nurture them in the mindset and habits that allow them to become good and strong. In this, they can both withstand the difficulties they will inevitably face as well as to gives them the room to grow into their own unique destinies.

Reading to older kids

Mackenzie also recommends different questions to open up conversations with your kids about the books that you read together. In this, the acting of reading aloud to your children begin to take on magical dimensions – it builds another pathway to open one mind or heart to the other, utilizing questions and conversation to become more fully connected with one another. Imagine the implications of having such a habit and what it would mean for your relationship with your children as they get older!

To this point, while many parents are enthusiastic about the general idea of reading aloud to kids, but most would see it as an activity primarily for the very young and those who have yet to read. Many might feel more awkward to read aloud to older children. But both Trelease and McKenzie are adamant that those children who already know how to read and older should consciously and intentionally be included in this sacred family ritual. Trellis notes that in the aforementioned 1983 Commission on Reading that “[reading aloud to children] is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

Perhaps it is in the most confusing time of adolescence that we want to have space for the family to continually engage with each other as well as to have a common language, understanding, and values to keep the channels of communication open between teens, their parents and siblings.

How to start?

For obvious reasons, we are concerned just as much about what one might read aloud as with the act. Many families may choose a mix of devotional scripture or faith-based stories for a younger audience. Both The Read-Aloud Handbook and The Read-Aloud Family have a great list of book recommendations. The Read-Aloud Family also includes a few good audiobook recommendations and some simple crafts or quiet activities to keep little hands busy while parents read!

While our efforts are still in its infancy, we hope to develop a wide range of recommendations for just this kind of activity with the mindset of building God-centered families.

What books might you recommend to begin this practice with your family, today?