“I’m baking poppy seed muffins!” I call out from the kitchen. “Who wants to join me?”
Sometimes my youngest son or my daughter stops whatever they were doing to join in. Sometimes no one. Which is actually fine, because let’s face it, it is much easier to bake poppy seed muffins or cakes or cookies by myself than with one of my kids. But that’s not the point.
I flop into my favorite chair in the living room. “So, what are we watching for movie night?” I ask the kids. Because at least twice a month, we have a movie night. Sometimes we rent from Redbox or so what’s on Netflix or pay-per-view. Sometimes we watch a comedy, or something thrilling or adventurous. Very rarely do we watch one of my favorite types of movies, but I don’t mind.
That’s not the point.
It’s about connection. I love spending unplugged time with my kids. By unplugged, I mean that the portable devices are off, the computers are off, and the only video games allowed are the ones that we are playing together. If I didn’t make a conscious effort to spend moments like these with my three kids, then they would probably spend a great deal of time “plugged in and disconnected,” as I like to put it. But I want to teach my kids that connecting with people — really connecting, is the thing that adds value to life.
It’s not always an easy thing to connect with kids. Each one is so different, with different interests and ways of communicating. My 9-year-old, for example, is an extrovert. He really gets his energy from being with other people. So to connect with him, I have to really be “in the moment” with him, actively listening to his stories and giving feedback. My daughter, whose personality is most like mine, is happy to connect in a variety of ways, from going for bike rides to cooking meals to reading teen novels together and discussing our favorite parts. My teen is a little trickier, as he prefers to withdraw beneath his headphones in his world of music, video games, and YouTube videos. But sometimes I flop down beside him and stare at the screen along with him while he explains what’s so cool about it. I’ve also found that my teen will open up and talk about his life while the two of us engage in a game of table tennis or Nerf Ball catch in the living room.
I don’t always make a big deal out of connection time. After all, human contact is supposed to happen naturally. But in this odd age of electronic entertainment, sometimes our kids need a little nudge to pull away from the virtual world and reconnect to people in the real world. As do I.
GREAT WAYS TO CONNECT WITH KIDS
1. Read a book or series of books together as a family.
My kids and I have enjoyed the Harry Potter Books, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the Pendragon series, among others. Sometimes I let my kids suggest the book, and sometimes I do the research to find something that we can all enjoy. Stumped? Try Planet Esme — I’ve used her children’s book suggestions for years with great success. Older readers? Hard to go wrong with the American Library Association’s suggestions.
2. Have a regular Family Movie Night.
In our house, Movie Night happens on Friday Nights, often with popcorn, cocoa, or homemade pizza. It isn’t always easy to find a movie that will suit everyone, so occasionally someone will opt out of Movie Night, and that’s okay, too.
3. Find a reason to head outdoors together.
Hiking, biking, kicking around the soccer ball, flying a kite, tossing a frisbee, playing tennis in the park — there are so many great things to do outdoors with kids. If your kids are the hard-to-motivate type, then make hiking fun by passing around binoculars, setting up a nature scavenger hunt, or trying out Geocaching (more on this to come in a future post).
4. Root for a Team Together
I am still trying to make this one work with my kids. It’s tricky, because I am the only real sports fan in the family. But maybe one day…
5. Travel Together
Part of the fun is in the planning. Weeks in advance, I get my kids involved in helping to decide where to stay, what to do, and what to eat during our trip. When camping, I let them help to pick the spot, plan the meals, etc. The more involved the kids are, the more the vacation becomes “our trip” and not just mine.
6. Try New Hobbies
This doesn’t always mean together. After all, my kids and I share pretty different interests for the most part. But if my son decides to get into advanced yo-yo tricks, then I am happy to connect with him by watching his tricks, suggesting sources for learning new things, shopping for yo-yos, and cheering him on as his skills improve.
7. Explore New Foods
My kids and I have gone through a variety of international cooking phases, from Thai to Indian to French cuisine. We enjoy exploring ethnic markets for interesting foods, picking out restaurants, and, of course, tasting. Some foods turn out to be total flops, but others become family favorites that we return to time after time.
8. Grow a Garden
For us, gardening is a family affair. My kids and I have built a raised bed together, studied garden books, planted, and cared for our small vegetable garden for years. This year, we are planning to continue our tradition at a community garden. It is a great way to connect with each other and with nature while growing our own healthy foods.
9. Family Game Night
This can mean a rousing group game on the WiiU or a good old-fashioned game of Checkers, Connect Four, or Monopoly. My kids and I recently discovered The Game of Life Zapped Edition, which uses an Ipad to turn a great family classic into something extra-special.
10. Make Something Together
This can mean woodworking, model kits, Lego structures, baking a cake and decorating it creatively, making handicrafts, or whatever sounds fun. You don’t have to be talented or skilled. The public library is brimming with how-to books that kids and parents alike can benefit from.
Other good resources for family fun together: