We have been programmed, by society, to be task orientated where success comes by what we do. This is not the New Testament way where success comes by walking with Jesus. Jesus looks at our heart and in keeping with this, it is the inner man that we need to be developing. It takes deliberate commitment to raise our family with this different mindset.
Looking back over the years these are the activities that I feel have built relationships in our family. They are also the activities that I fall back on when I feel we are floundering in the busyness of life. They make way for both aspects of relationship building in our home; they build the foundation for all learning as they develop our children’s character. Plus they slow down the pace of our home allowing us to focus on each other rather being caught up with focusing on the externals as life often teases us with.
Spending time together in the Word prepares our children’s hearts for their own relationship with God. As we read and talk about God’s Word our children are becoming familiar with what He has to say, they start to see how God is the foundation of what we are as a family, they begin to see how all conversations come back to God’s truths. As you fill your home with worship music your children begin to sing songs to the Lord themselves. As you start every day with prayer, close every day with prayer, and pray inbetween times your children start to see that you have a personal relationship with God, and that they too can talk and listen to God to build their own relationship.
Beyond the spiritual there are also many foundational academic skills that our children will learn as they participate in family worship day in and day out. The skills of reading, listening, speaking and thinking are being modeled and always encouraged during this time.
Teaching our children life skills gives them the tools to be responsible and caring people in this world. I believe the answers for many of our intrapersonal challenges (knowing who we are) will be answered as we teach our children to serve others; to see the needs of others and be available and able to meet those needs.
Responsibility and Service start at home with family relationships. Encourage your children to do tasks for each other, even little things like picking up someone else’s toys, will be the beginning to this outlook on life. As they see the tasks around the home that will bless siblings and parents they are in training to see the tasks that will bless the community.
A question we must ask our self is….Is our life so taken up with the academic side of education that we ourselves are not available to serve others? If this is so, it is unfortunate as the children are not learning the character trait of availability and they are learning to put studies before people which in the adult world often looks like our job before the needs of those around us.
Surrounding your children with a culture of books will not only build memories but also will lay the foundation for learning. You don’t have to buy the books, though I encourage you to buy whatever your budget can afford as to have the books around you, at your disposal builds a strong connection to those stories.
Of course having the books on the shelf isn’t what it is all about – we have to interact with them. Reading aloud to your children will not only build in them an understanding of reading, that words written on the page mean something, reading aloud to your children creates memories. Reading will increase your children’s vocab, it will develop their imaginations, and it will facilitate a good proportion of their education.
Though I encourage my children to read independently, and to learn from their reading, I don’t want to give up reading aloud to them. By the time they are independent readers our reading aloud time isn’t so much for their education (pursuit of knowledge and wisdom) but rather about family spending recreational time together.
We may think this is an obvious one but really we need to be as deliberate about talking to our children (and them talking to us) as we are deliberate to read or play with them. There are statistics out there that give a scary outlook on how much time families really spend talking to each other. If we are not careful our talking to each other can be more about instructions (getting things done) than relationship (getting to know each other).
There are two tools that I use to generate conversation. One is to ask for a retell (a narration). This can be to hear about an event, or an experience as well as a book or movie they have seen or read. The second tool is to ask questions; this is where I require my children to think. I try to base many conversations on values, character or principles so that my children are thinking on this level. Of course not all discussions are of this type but if you are looking to deepen conversation in your home then I am sure these tools will help.
Conversation is always a two way thing. Talking and Listening. We need to establish habits of listening to our children, active listening, and then when our children are older they will be assured that whatever they want to share with us we will listen to respectfully.
Creative activities have many hidden benefits – fine motor skills, math skills, language skills even social skills but most significantly spending time with your child and making something together is relationship building – and it works for both boys and girls, regardless of their ages and regardless of what you make.
My children have had materials for arts and crafts at their disposal from very young ages plus we make sure we have several planned time slots a week for creative pursuits. I must admit though their most creative works come from the free time roaming and exploring with the materials I have at easy access.
In our family creativity is expressed in words, in cooking, in painting, sewing, building, photography, computer graphics and the list goes on. Surround your children with materials that they can use to “make”, take a deep breath over the mess, and teach them to cleanup!
Our young teen son has expressed his reluctance to let go of his childhood. Don’t we all wish this at some stage? And why should he (or us for that matter) leave behind the fun and thrill of play. Play is one of the most comprehensive, all inclusive, learning activities. As our children play they are testing values and ideas that they see in real life. Their imaginations are fully engaged giving them a glimpse into endless possibilities. Play teaches our children to deal with relationships and exposes character issues. Play is invaluable to their childhood and development.
The other aspect of play that needs to be a part of family life is playing board games, or table games. We have had many fun times laughing over the antics of a board game. I have delighted in watching my children grow into playing board games without me. Not because I don’t want to spend the time with them but rather it is a sign that it is a part of who they are – they turn to games to entertain themselves, to spend time with each other and with friends. It is a good thing.
As with most of these relational opportunities board games also establish many of the other outcomes we desire for our children; mathematical thinking, reasoning skills, creative thought, verbal expression, and even life skills.
Our family likes to go camping and as soon as we get out in the bush life seems different. It is quieter for sure and we have just ourselves (and our books! – yes, we take books camping!!) Seriously though, when we find ourselves outdoors, whether it be camping or for a day trip, or even just for a drive life slows down. Regardless of how many times we have been to a nature spot we look around us and are amazed at God’s wondrous handiwork. Being outdoors gives our family lots of time for talking, or even being quiet together, building memories, building relationships.
When we are out and about we take a lot of photographs which we scrapbook later at home. Some of the kids like sketching and often sit there with their Nature Journals. The “school like” activities that we do aren’t important – it is the observing and showing each other our discoveries that makes being in nature a relational activity.
These activities seem so simple. It is easy for the cry of Education (capital E) to crowd in our heart and wipe out these seemingly simple family activities. I urge you not to do so though. Be assured that when these activities become the core of your family life you are training your children in character, developing a love of learning, preparing them to be life long learners. The most important thing to do as we try to reign in our busy-ness and focus on relationships within our own family is to understand that when we give of our time, give of our own innerself, to our children we are investing in their life and the dividends will be multiplied untold. .
Live life with your kids!