Family Traditions Create a Family Story

My boys love stories. When one of the boys seem more demanding, more whiny, or is asking me to help them with something I know they can do, I know they are wanting my time and attention. So, we take time out together with a story. We do the same at bedtime. My boys have a hard time slowing down and going to sleep. Once again I turn to taking time to read several stories to help them calm down.

Stories are a way to create a cohesive and positive family experience during the holiday season. Stories are also a way to introduce children to the family spiritual belief system, long before they are ready to make a cognitive commitment of belief. Using stories during the holiday season is a way to meet both goals — create a shared family story, and share the parent’s spiritual beliefs. A family story, including spiritual beliefs, is shared among parents and children through family rituals and traditions. “The existence of and the participation in family rituals also seem to contribute to the individual’s identity within the context of the group. Through these rituals an individual may receive affirmation of his/her group membership, while at the same time being esteemed as a unique and special being,” (Smit, 2011). The desired outcome is that, through the experience of these rituals and traditions, each person in the family will experience a sense of belonging, of how precious they are, and will begin to incorporate these rituals and traditions into their life story as well.

During the holiday season we are with my extended family, and we will take the time to have a family game night. This is a way to include grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles in our family story too.

Allowing time during the holiday season for each person to share what traditions they enjoy, and then incorporating them into the family plan, includes each person in the family narrative. To revisit and participate in the traditions each year provides the potential for each family member to continue to experience a sense of belonging. Taking time, like on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, for each person to share their experiences, their story, of what it is like to live in their family, also allows the parents to hear what experiences of being in a family the children remember. This is particularly powerful as it helps address issues regarding belonging and exclusion in the family, and gives the opportunity for parents to make changes in order to increase a sense of belonging in a family.

However, the more frequently the traditions occur, the more likely a child is to remember them and include them in the narrative of their family experience. Finding ways to include daily, or weekly, or monthly traditions is a way to increase family cohesion, even if children are argumentative or don’t want to cooperate. Simple ways to emphasis rituals include the following:

  1. Have specific rituals upon arrival and departure of family members. When families greet each other and bid farewell to each other consistently, with affection and love, in spite of the presence of negative emotions, an increased feeling of belonging is created.  
  2. A family experiencing change or trauma can ensure children feel safe and a part of the family by following an expected daily ritual, such as a bedtime routine that includes time with Mom and Dad before bed.
  3. Traditions and rituals, such as Friday night worship, to welcome the Sabbath and to talk about their week, can be helpful to each family member as they try to find meaning in their shared experience.
  4. Having a weekly event such as the Sabbath — including time together, food, and maybe even other friends and family — is a respite from the mundane, and creates “sparkling moments” that create a shared history among family members that is easier for each person to remember.

Shared rituals help to provide an anchor for the relationship, reminding each family member they belong. “The structured parts of a ritual anchor us to our past, whether that is our personal past or that of our family of origin, community, culture, religion, or humankind,” (Imber-Black, 2009). It’s never too late to start traditions. Even if you have children who are teenagers, you can start new traditions, maybe by asking an adolescent what is important to them. Responding to a child’s idea, by allowing it to change your plans, to include them in your rituals or traditions, is a powerful way to demonstrate a child belongs. By making these changes, parents are providing a safe haven. In fact, through the use of positive and inclusive rituals, the family is able to create a shared narrative and experience transformation, even where chaos or trauma may have occurred.

The simplicity of a shared history allows each person to experience the strengths of the family. As the family experiences a shared narrative, each person has an idea of where they came from, who they are, and what their future may look like.

 

References:

Smit, R. (2011). Maintaining family memories through symbolic action: young adults’ perceptions of family rituals in their families of origin. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, (May), 355-367.

Imber-Black, E. (2009). Rituals and spirituality in family therapy. In F. Walsh (Author), Spiritual resources in family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. (Original work published 2009)

White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.

Growing Roots, Bearing Fruit

This year we are homeschooling a kindergartener. In typical classrooms we would be teaching our son, at five-almost-six years old, how to read. In reality, from a sensorimotor perspective we started to teach him to read a long time ago.

We read books together.

We visit the library together so he gets an idea of the reading opportunities available.

We bought him a balance bike when he was two-and-a-half years old.  

My son mastered how to ride his balance bike by four years old. In fact he was so good at riding it, he wore it out before he turned five. This spring his cousin took 30 minutes sharing her bike with him, and I received a video of my son riding a bike with pedals, no training wheels. There are specific neurological areas of development that need to occur, and skills that need to be mastered before a child is ready to read. Learning how to ride a bike with pedals, no training wheels, is one of those neurological skills which points to readiness. These are areas as parent-teachers we can and have supported.

There is one thing that we are waiting on. My son hasn’t expressed the desire to read yet.

There are many things that I want to try to see if they help him learn to read. I have sensory ideas. I have ideas for learning to read outside. I have ideas for including grandparents, cousins, siblings in learning to read. Until my son is interested in reading, though, I keep finding ways to make reading interesting, and to focus on his sensorimotor development. We are also taking steps to help our younger son start to learn how to read. This spring he started riding his first balance bike. 

From a developmental point of view, these are foundational neurological pieces that are stepping stones to advanced academic skill. The end goal of course is for the student to experience the “fruit” of their academic labor, demonstrated by sustained attention, cognitive reflection, and the ability to memorize and recall information. There are sensorimotor skills that are needed first to strongly root a child through practice, experience, and relationship that the child will need to understand abstract academic skills. An article I read in The Atlantic, “An Unfinished Quest in Education,” discussed how children going into school, but lacking sensorimotor experiences, has made it more challenging for them to learn. As parents in a homeschool setting, we have the opportunity to provide sensorimotor experiences as part of their learning, and introduce specific learning skills as a child needs them.

In younger years children benefit from shared experiences — which can really be as simple as reading or cooking together, to build the relationship between parent who is also teacher, and child who is also student — and lots of time to play. In older childhood and especially adolescence, when a student is stuck, having the experience working through challenges together will be helpful in working through abstract academic skills.

Things to watch out for are signs of a behavior, relational, or emotional imbalance (mental health problems or concerns). There are often interventions a parent can put in place at home. Sometimes the family may benefit from guidance of a mental health professional who can provide support for the parents, the child, and the whole family.

Throughout this school year, I’ll provide ideas on how to help a child’s neurological “roots” to flourish, because this is the hard work, the work that leaves me wondering if I’m preparing my child appropriately. This is the work I need support on, and where I want to provide the support to other parents. The very activities we choose could influence our children for a lifetime. We are shaping our son’s interest in reading, interest in exercise, and his relationship with us and learning. There is a lot going on right now that isn’t evident, but is just as important — or maybe more important — as the “fruit” of academic learning.

Reference: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/06/an-unfinished-quest-in-education/486074/

Maturing the Parent, Teaching the Child

Here we are at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. Our oldest is starting kindergarten. We have a lot of ideas about homeschooling, what we want our children to experience during this journey, and how we will get there. However, to borrow from Stephen Covey, we are going to “begin with the end in mind.”

Our curriculum for this year is Destinations. My husband and I went through the process of identifying our goals for educating our children. We identified 28 goals that are important to us, and seven overall goals that will be the focus of the work we do. The other 21 goals will secondary, or tertiary, and we will document on them when we notice them, but they aren’t the priority goals. I look at our goals, and think this will be harder than I thought. We aren’t simply focusing on the tasks of learning, like reading, mathematics, and writing. We want our children to live these goals, with our ultimate success knowing that our children have a personal walk with God.  As parents we also have to learn how to model the actions we want our children to imitate, because they do imitate us already.

When it comes to being parent-teachers, we get to work together on the expectations we have, our parents have, and others in our support system might have for the education experience of our children. The education process has reinforced the notion of teamwork. At the same time, my husband taking a primary role in educating our children challenges societal norms. Sometimes these challenges are easily overcome. Other times the challenges take some time to work through. Educating a child becomes as much about the maturing of the parent, refining routines, learning or relearning skills, and being or becoming the type of person we want our children to imitate…as it is about teaching a child. Having education goals keeps us from being pulled in too many directions, and allows us as parents to intentionally model what we want our children to imitate — even as they imitate many other actions that we aren’t intending to model.

For educational learning specifically, we follow a Montessori approach right now, a hands-on method where the children are able to interact with their environment without specific direction. We provide different opportunities for learning. We know which learning tasks that are necessary such as reading, writing, and mathematics. How a child accomplishes the learning tasks will likely vary. A Montessori approach gives us the opportunity to observe our children, notice learning preferences, and let our children teach us about their own interests. The children create, problem solve, and share with us their experiences and successes. We are able to develop a relationship with our children, without focusing specifically on behavior management like sitting still, focusing, and staying on a task for a predetermined amount of time. While important skills, we can get to them at a later time. For now, it’s about modeling, observing and enjoying each other.

References:

Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. London: Simon & Schuster.

Dickerson, E. (n.d.). Check These Out:. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://showcase.netins.net/web/nurture/