Think back to something you loved about your childhood. I’ll bet you called up a treasured family tradition or a memory of holidays with people you love. So much of our identity is wrapped up in the way we grew up and the way our family did things. Traditions help us tell the story of who we are.
I love the holidays. Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas….you name it, I love it! We have traditions to commemorate nearly every major holiday and I love the way our family scrapbooks are a road map of our celebrations from year to year. Now that my sons are grown, they still participate—with their own children in tow now—in the things that make each season special. Traditions help us connect the generations.
Several weeks ago as we were closing up the pool and winterizing the camper, our five year old grandson was really bummed. He perked right up when I reminded him that when swimming and camping season was over, it was pumpkin time. Traditions give kids a frame of reference for the changing of the seasons and a rhythm for our lives.
We can’t wait to visit Fulton Farms next week. We’ll see the farm animals, play in the mini corn maze, get pictures with the “How Tall This Fall?” ruler and take a hayride to the pumpkin patch. Everyone—Nana and Pops included—gets to select their favorite and struggles to carry a perfect, enormous pumpkin to the wagon. I love that we have pictures of our grandkids enjoying the same family traditions we have had since our boys were little. Traditions unite us with one another.
When Halloween gives way to Thanksgiving, we’ll enjoy having family from out of town come in for a big dinner with all the trimmings. We might do some Black Friday shopping just for fun and then we always go downtown for the lighting of the big tree on that evening. Afterward, you can count on leftover pie and hot cocoa to warm everyone up. Traditions strengthen the bonds of families and help us pass on our values to younger generations.
We try to work in some new things here and there. We might go see the Christmas lights at the zoo or drive through a live nativity display, but the tried and true traditions are at the very heart of each season for me. My daughter-in-law’s family decorates Christmas cookies as a family. My family always traipses out to the tree farm to find a live tree. Every family is different, but the importance of having shared experiences and building memories together is the key.
Even small things that you always do together will take root and form special memories for your family. One of my treasured possessions is the fork and knife set that my grandmother always used for carving turkey and ham for family dinners. The knife isn’t even that sharp and the bone handles are not my personal style, but when I hold that set in my hands, it helps me recall gathering with cousins and aunts and uncles and my precious little grandma. Traditions evoke an emotional connection to our loved ones.
Be intentional about the customs you are creating with your kids. They don’t need to be lavish or expensive, just a time for you to do things face to face with one another. In a few short years, their childhood will be just a memory. Make it a good one.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost something. As a nation, I think we’ve forgotten our manners. Maybe it comes from ordering our dinner every night in the drive through line. Or maybe it’s just because we are too tired to add all of the vocal niceties that good manners require. Or maybe, it’s because we are so wrapped up in “ME” that we’ve forgotten how to be “WE”.
I can’t tell you how many kids come through our snack line and say, “I’ll take some fruit snacks” or “Give me an apple juice.” At the beginning of the year, we start training them to start every request (not ORDER--request—‘cause that’s how we roll) with “May I please”. They usually look at us like we have two heads the first few times we stop them and make them start over.
We spend a lot of time every day coaching kids on how to interact with adults and peers nicely. “Get out of my way” should be, “Excuse me, please” and “I want a pencil” should be, “May I please have a pencil?” We also make them wait to speak when we are talking and avoid interrupting unless it is an emergency. Is this nitpicky? Maybe. But I can tell you that when we stumble upon a child with good manners, they stand out in the crowd. I imagine that it will serve them well throughout their lives when they go to a job interview or call a customer service help line.
This issue screeched into the forefront of my mind this morning when a third grader saw a bus pass by while we were waiting on the buses to pick up the kids for school. His knee jerk remark was, “Hey Dummy! You were supposed to stop here!” Yes. A third grader. Talking about an adult bus driver. Do you think maybe he’s heard a parent making remarks about other drivers in the car? Kids are ALWAYS listening, folks.
It also never ceases to amaze me how much kids are paying attention to boring things like politics. They hear us—and adopt our attitudes. We have become so partisan and vitriolic that it can’t help spreading to our kids. Most of the time they don’t even understand why they hate one politician or another, but they know what the “right” side is. I know we all have strong opinions about the direction our country should be going. I know that we all want our own way and we think that our way is the only way. But do you think we might learn something by hearing the perspective of another side? Maybe there’s some common ground in the middle of all the divisiveness but we can’t even concede to that because we are so wrapped up in finger pointing and name calling. Even if we can’t find any common ground, can’t we be polite to other humans?
Maybe this should be a wake-up call for all of us. When our ugly words seep into the brains of our Kindergarteners, we need to take a look at how we talk to one another. Don’t we want our kids to talk politely to others? If that’s the case, shouldn’t we be the BEST example in front of them? And I’ll guarantee you that there is nowhere that you can privately say those ugly words that your child isn’t listening. They may be playing in another room, but I promise that they can hear you.
Whether you are running this country or running your household, the example you set before your kids is the most powerful force on the planet. You know the best way to change the world? Change the children.
Does the thought of adding one more toy to the playroom make you cringe? When my kids were younger, the day after Christmas made me feel defeated and overwhelmed. I made a decision a long time ago that I would not be part of the problem for my nieces and nephews and now, my grandkids. I’m not saying that I don’t ever give my grandkids toys. Certainly, as a parent or grandparent, we love to demonstrate our affection through gifts. My personal rule is that anything I purchase for my grandkids can be taken home or left at my house (mommy’s choice). If I’m not willing to house it, I don’t buy it.
When my nieces and nephews were little, they were buried in toys. The last thing they needed for a birthday was another toy. My sister had been depositing money into a savings account for my kids’ birthdays for years. That may not have been such a welcome gift when they were 7, but when they went to college and had enough stashed away to pay for books for their first semester, they appreciated the forethought.
I wanted to do something that they could appreciate as a child and still not add to the ridiculous number of toys they already had. I decided that I would start giving them “experiences” instead of toys. I loved the one on one time I got to spend with each of them and my sister loved that they didn’t accumulate any more junk for her to deal with. Here are some ideas that you might find to be great alternatives too:
1. Tickets to a show. (Paw Patrol LIVE, LaComedia, Disney on Ice, etc.)
2. Family passes to Boonshoft or a local zoo.
3. A visit to Sweet and Sassy for a little girl to have a mani/pedi/updo.
4. Take a pottery class or go to a pottery painting place to make tea sets or piggy banks, etc.
5. Attend one of the kids’ paint parties at the Mayflower Arts Center.
6. Pay for dance lessons or a sports team registration and buy the gear they need.
7. Buy a musical instrument and pay for lessons.
8. Buy a bow and take them to Saturday morning archery lessons at the Tackle Shack.
9. Buy a subscription to National Geographic Kids or another magazine of interest.
10. Buy a trampoline or swingset for the backyard. Even better—build one with them!
11. Buy a pool pass or membership for the YMCA.
12. Take a special trip. It could be a few days or just an overnight excursion.
13. Buy a movie pass and make a monthly date.
14. Take a trip on the Lebanon Railroad. (Younger kids love the trips with Curious George, etc.)
15. For older kids, take a riverboat cruise.
Even now that our kids are older, I still do this. Last year’s Christmas gift to my grown sons and daughters-in-law was plane tickets to a family vacation in Europe. I also still take my nieces to LaComedia for their birthday every summer and it is a tradition that they look forward to all year. The dinner and show are great, but the time we spend on that evening is the real treat. (And these are gifts that I give myself too!)
I’m one of THEM. In a minute, some of you will be nodding your head, others will be sighing and quietly hating me. Here goes: Christmas is coming! I’m already working on Christmas projects and my shopping is well underway. Go ahead, get the groaning and grouchy remarks out of the way. But when you’re finished I’m going to give you some toy shopping advice.
First things first. Spend a rainy Saturday going through the toys that you already have and weeding out the things they don’t play with. I’m a grandma, so I can say this and no one can be offended: If your kids have grandparents , they have too many toys. And if your kids are in charge of making a Christmas gift list, you might as well just write down every junky thing that is advertised on Nickolodeon. Ugh. Those hot toys that your kids had to have last Christmas but dropped in the bottom of the toy chest in January have earned a space in your “donation” box. Forget that they cost a small fortune and be realistic about what you hang onto.
I’m not a fan of single use toys. The Paw Patrol Lookout Tower is a toy that is single use. It takes up a lot of space, and when Paw Patrol is outgrown (it WILL happen someday—I promise!) that toy is practically useless. I much prefer toys that are open ended, like a good set of blocks. They can be made into sky scrapers, dollhouses, roads, fire stations, etc. and kids from preschool through grade school can play with them. The number of things you can build with a sturdy set of unit blocks or a solid collection of Legos is endless.
Classic games and puzzles are always a hit. For younger kids, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly Junior, matching games, and wooden puzzles are a safe choice. Playing a family game around the table or putting puzzles together is a great way to spend an evening that doesn’t involve television or other technology. Games that teach color recognition (Candy Land) for preschoolers or math skills (Yahtzee) for older kids are a double bonus!
To foster creativity, art supplies or journals are also a great idea. Gel pens, artist quality colored pencils, detailed coloring books, high quality paper pads, good watercolor paints and “how to draw” books are excellent for nurturing budding artists. Bead kits for making necklaces, shrink film (remember Shrinky Dinks when you were a kid?), and basics like pipe cleaners and yarn for open ended projects are also art kit essentials.
Before you add something to your shopping list, ask yourself these questions:
1. Where will this be stored and how will I manage it? Toys like Legos that come with a thousand tiny pieces should also come with a storage container. Once that box is torn up and the bags are ripped open, you’ll be glad you thought ahead about where you were going to keep these toys.
2. Will this toy stand the test of time? If it is a fad and will only be cool for a week or two after Christmas, steer clear.
3. What do I have to get rid of to bring this new thing into my home? If your playroom is already full, you need to be realistic about what you can keep. Having too many toys makes playroom clean up unmanageable and creates extra stress for you and your kids.
Be watching next week for my follow up to this blog post—Gifts That Don’t Need a Box.
Hi! I'm Janet and I've been the Director of the Before and After School and Smart Start Preschool Programs at the Troy Rec since 1994. My hubby and I have been married 30 years and we have two grown sons. Each of them is married and blessing us with grandchildren left and right. Life is good even when the nest is empty!