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.

Love in Nature

Love in Nature

As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a love for and time in nature.

Since moving to Japan, we’ve become attuned to the seasons based around the things we can gather and catch. Summer is long-awaited, and despite the abundance of mosquitoes, we look forward to the season as a time of beetle and cicada catching. In the fall, we look forward to gathering acorns and gingko leaves to turn into crafts and toys to proudly display on our shelves. In spring we go crabbing and in late summer we look for crayfish. And of course, in winter we dream of the advent of spring, all the while hoping for a rare glimpse of snow.

In nature, we see the natural rhythms and patterns of life. There are no “social constructs” or of “conditioning.” Nature is what it is; nature makes no excuses, there is no room for debate.

It is this kind of classroom that we want our children to learn the “bigger picture” and to see, experience and interact with the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” It is in the natural world that we can seek out facets of the “Divine image” and to understand that we are a part of a larger ecosystem. In nature, everything has its place and role. It is where we might learn that the most harmful behavior is the kind that does not understand its place. The “invasive species” that live and eat without regard to its surrounding environment creates a blight that must be addressed. We can also see how it’s in the spaces where air and water aren’t able to flow and bring in change that things grow rotten.

Family explores around the outdoor environment

Change and movement allow for growth. And, there is beauty in knowing how the smallest mosquitoes and even the microscopic bacteria underfoot contribute to the entire ecosystem.

It is because of this understanding that many of the FPA programs are designed in God’s greatest classroom, nature. It is here that things are not directly taught but rather become understood through observation and experience.

Whatever the season, parents can cultivate a love of nature in their children, through books, songs, stories but above all, through giving them the gift of experiences in nature.

Creating Healthy Family Habits: Seeking Truth in Nature

The steps to this activity are really very simple.

  • First, plan out a time for your family to take some time in nature. The setting doesn’t matter so long as it is in nature – the forest, a beach, a field – somewhere you can ‘study’ nature. The purpose of this time is one in which we seek out reflections of the “Divine Image” in nature.
  • Take something for each person to take personal notes, questions, sketches, etc. While it’s fine to talk as you go along, you want to make sure that you don’t lose focus on the activity of investigating.
  • Nature crafts inspired by a family trip

    Some general themes to observe:

    • What does nature need to grow?
    • What limits growth?
    • What are the different stages of growth?
    • What is the general dynamic of life in an ecosystem?
    • Did you observe important roles each species plays in the ecosystem?
    • Did you observe instances where the energy did not flow (air, water) – what did that look like?
    • If or when you observe “invasive species” – what are the qualities that make them invasive in that ecosystem?
  • Then, to wrap up you want to take some time to share with one another your observations and questions. What patterns did you see?

This might be a bit awkward in the beginning and we encourage you to try it in different ways until it starts to feel more natural. For some people, it is like training a muscle and we need time and consistency to see or feel results.

It will also take time to be able to draw lines of connection between observations made about nature and the laws that govern nature and the laws that govern the human world. These types of shared experiences together as a family are important as they set a basis for which to later explain lessons from the natural world to our spiritual lives. The more we engage and learn to share and explore with one another about life, universal laws, growth and nature the easier it becomes to share on anything and everything else. We encourage you to treasure these moments and make efforts to make it a central part of your lives together as a family.

Dad and daughter spend time together as a family

For all these reasons and more, this is an activity that can be repeated without end. In fact, all of the activities we include in this book is of that nature. And every time the activity is done, a new layer of knowledge, consciousness, skill, etc. is added – we ourselves have become different. In that way, every time we do an activity, in some sense we are different people from those who did the activity before!

This activity can be applied to many ages, including teens and older. Experience in nature can help detach from the distractions of life and connect to the divine.

Discussion Activity for the Family: Who am I?

Discussion Activity for the Family: Who am I?

Discussion Part 1: Who am I?

Questions:

  • Do you know who you are?
  • Why would knowing “who I am” be important to how we live our lives?

Consider this shoehorn.

Some of you may not know what a shoehorn is. It is simply a stick that helps you get your shoes on more smoothly. In some places, this is a household staple and many people appreciate having it very much. If you’ve ever had a little trouble getting that last bit of the heel of your shoe on just right, this is just the thing you need.

Now, if you didn’t know what it was, you might still find a use for it – a slide for your kids’ marbles or to clumsily swat hapless bugs or others but you might be annoyed at the way it is shaped and wish it was shaped more like a flyswatter so you could actually swat flies…

But one day, someone tells you, “That’s a shoehorn. It’s for when you’re wearing your shoes so your foot slips right in and doesn’t ruin the heel of the shoe.” And you might look at the shoehorn in wonder – now you know why it’s the length that it is, and it explains the reason for the way it curves inward. Now, the little thoughtful addition of a hook curved perfectly for a person to comfortably grasp the shoehorn as they slip on their shoes makes perfect sense. From then on, the shoehorn has a little place of honor next to wherever it is that you keep your shoes.

This is – yet another of many more to come – a silly little story to suggest the more serious idea that – if we know our purpose in life, we can meaningfully make the choices and take actions in a way that allow us to fulfill our fullest potential. We are no longer swatting flies with a shoehorn. We might even imagine that, after we knew the purpose of the shoehorn, the shoehorn itself is much happier now assisting people on get their shoes on because – it was made for that purpose.

It may be a curious metaphor to use but consider an often used but the little discussed phrase “I was born for this!” of “I was made to do this.” When is this phrase used? What do people mean when they say this?

Discussion Part 2: Life, Meaning and Purpose?

Questions:

  • Do you feel you know your life’s purpose?
  • What do you need to know to know your life’s purpose?
  • Do you live in a way that connects to your life’s purpose?
  • Would you live differently if you knew your life’s purpose?

So how does one determine one’s life’s purpose? We come back to the shoehorn story to say – that perhaps the best way to know our purpose, we need to know what we were made for. I.e., we need to know our Creator.

And in fact, in a not-so-secret secret, the spiritual traditions have long taught humanity through the ages of a global interconnectedness between all people, rooted in our common origins in a Divine Creator. Read the following quotes from below:

  • Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? (Malachi 2:10)
  • O, mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you might know each other. (Quran 49:13)
  • All the people of the whole world are equally brothers and sisters. There is no one who is an utter stranger. There is no one who has known the truth of this origin. It is the very cause of the regret of God. The souls of all people are equal, whether they live on the high mountains or at the bottoms of the valleys. (Ofudesaki 13:43-45) Tenrikyo
  • But a single man [Adam] was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his fellow, “my father was greater than your father.” (Misnah, Sanhedrin 4.5) Judaism
  • I look upon all creature equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear. (Bhagavad Gita 9:29) Hinduism
  • Even science has begun to show this, calling the fact of a “Genetic Adam and Eve” and recording the birthplace of all humanity in Africa.

If we all share a common origin from one man and one woman – and we are one family it might make us then think – If we’re to live as One Family Under God, what should my family, as my personal template for other social relations, look like?

We ask these things not expecting people with perfect families to answer them perfectly and we don’t need to come from or have perfect families to work towards healthy, happy families. In fact, if we come from less happy homes we might know all the better the reasons we would want a healthy, happy family for ourselves.

Craft Activity and Lesson: Seeds of Strength

Craft Activity and Lesson: Seeds of Strength

Craft Activity & Lesson

Age Group: 12 & Under  

As kids, we’re oftentimes told “no” “wait” and “later” and, for some, it might be one of the most frustrating things about being a kid. You’re not allowed to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. Yet as parents, we know we must set these limits and expectations in order that our children can, someday, set these limits for themselves.

This is an activity we might use to help kids think about these small frustrations differently. Rather than looking at each frustration individually, we might redirect kids to think about them as taking small steps towards self-mastery. We usually associate strength with invincibility, superhuman capacities but in reality, we want to associate strength with strength of character and virtue because it is in this much more difficult but worthwhile endeavor that we’re able to manifest our fullest potential as sons and daughters of God.

Materials: paper, coloring materials and stickers

Directions

  • We start first with a simple discussion about seeds. How do seeds grow? What do they need? (Sunlight, air, water, nutrients)
  • Today we’re planting some seeds. Seeds start out very small and by looking at a seed, we don’t necessarily know what kind of plant it is going to be. Our seeds will become trees – but what kind of tree will it be? You can decide – it can be a pine tree or an orange or apple tree or even a tree that doesn’t exist – a tree that grows cars or the like. Decide what kind of tree you want to plant! Draw the outline of this tree on a piece of paper and don’t forget to outline some of the “fruits” of the tree so you can remember what kind of tree it will be.
  • Talk about how sometimes we get frustrated about things – we aren’t allowed to do things, we have to wait for things. But when we’re able to overcome these feelings and still be grateful for all the things we do have, we grow our own seeds of character. We’ll use this chart to track our progress. Every time we have a little victory – we can take a sticker to fill up the outlines our trees.
  • Display the picture somewhere to serve as a reminder. You might want to ask your child/children if they had a little victory that day and if they want to share it with the rest of the family. Celebrate the little victories with a sticker to add to the picture. Even if he or she wasn’t able to get a victory that day, gently nudge and encourage them towards the good.
  • Once the tree is filled, consider making a special time during family time for the person to receive recognition for his or her accomplishment. It is also a great way to encourage him or her to reflect on their progress and make new determinations going forward.

As a parent, you might consider making your own tree and sharing your own ups and downs. Most times we focus on teaching our children but the best way to teach them is to become the kind of people we hope they might also strive to be. Sharing – appropriately – our own challenges helps them see growth as a meaningful, lifelong process.

Also, we want to think of this entire activity as a fun, visual way to hone a positive habit in our everyday lives. Like training wheels, we want to use this concept of “seeds of strength” as a way to cultivate the habits of self-mastery in ourselves and in our families.

Connecting with God Everyday

Connecting with God Everyday

This is a recent reflection from a mother about the importance of building in daily habits that help us connect our families to God and His hope for humanity.

My daughters just started ice skating this summer. Every Saturday morning they had class.

They started on the side of the rink, moving slowly, inch by inch. Gradually they let go of the siding and wobbled across the ice, their arms flapping up and down to steady their weight. I would watch from the side, holding my breath between falls. With the help of their instructor, two months later, they can now glide around the rink safely.

Early on, I realized the importance of supporting their ankles in their skates. I observed that their ankles would fold inward, making it painful and hard to stand on the ice, let alone move on their skates.

One class, I called them off the ice and coached them to try to stand straight on their blades. One of my daughters complained that it was hard to stand straight, her skates kept collapsing.

I knelt down to check out the situation and found that her skate was loose. The extra room between her skate and foot made it hard for her to control her skates. It was also rubbing painfully against her foot. I could see if I didn’t tighten the skate, she would end up with at least a blister, at worst a broken bone.

I loosened the laces. Then carefully, I adjusted each layer. I made sure her socks weren’t scrunched down but pulled tight against her skin, then I smoothed the tongue of the skate up against the top of her foot. Finally, I carefully pulled the laces tight, row by row, making sure that the skate was snug around her foot.

As I pulled the white lace, I realized, this is how it is with God. When we allow a gap to come between God and us, when we stop seeking to understand His principles and values, when we don’t take time during each day to connect to His heart and His dream, we become like the loose skate. We don’t contribute to the joy and excitement of gliding across the ice, rather we pose danger and even pain.

That is why building in daily habits to connect to God throughout our day is crucial to understanding our identity, but also our overall sense of well-being. Having habits such as prayer, a study of spiritual scripture, discussion around our life aspirations and family values are valuable avenues for every family and individual inside that family to touch on the most important relationship in our lives.

But these things are not automatic. Like everything important in life, they take effort and discipline to develop and maintain. But, like the important things in life, when we don’t consistently invest the effort, we are less happy and become disconnected from our purpose and identity, and source of life and happiness.

As parents, but also as husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, we should regularly check in to see how our spiritual habits are doing and refresh them if need. Just like I do now every time before my daughter goes out onto the ice, I check her skates to make sure they are snug.

I tightened the last row of laces on the skate and asked my daughter to stand. She stood on her tightened skates and smiled, “It feels good!” She tried standing, now with no gap between her feet and the leather, her ankles stood steady. Happily, she pushed off onto the ice again.