A new year means a new calendar. What should be a harmless collection of boxes and numbers often becomes a family’s dictator as parents juggle carpooling, classes, field trips and birthday parties. Where, in all this back and forth, do we find time to pass our values on to the next generation? How do we carve out quality time and make lifelong memories?
Bernice Lerner, acting director of the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University, points out that imparting values is something we do whether we want to or not, as our children are watching us constantly.
“Your children will learn what you value by witnessing how you conduct yourself in the smallest deeds, from how you behave at the dinner table to how you deal with confrontations,” she says. Still, she maintains that creating memories and traditions, whether they be weekly or annual, are important to a child’s character development.
For 2005, why not resolve to look at your calendar in a new light? See each month as a new opportunity. Make each month fun and memorable while setting aside time to do things that teach your children important values. Don’t worry if activities don’t go as planned. Remember that when we look back on our childhoods, it is the aggregate of traditions that we remember and value. January Financial responsibility Americans’ personal debt is rising along with materialism. Credit has replaced cash. Bankruptcies are booming. But it’s still possible to teach fiscal responsibility.
Susan Beacham, founder of Money Savvy Generation and financial columnist for Chicago Parent, urges parents to teach children how to make good choices with their money. “When you teach your children to save, you are teaching them how to delay gratification and to control their impulses. These are the skills which adults need to lead successful lives.”
She points out that there are only four choices to make with money: save, spend, donate and invest. When you help your children through these choices, you are teaching them to plan.
Kathy Pruger, senior vice president at Forest Park National Bank in west suburban Forest Park, encourages parents to enlist personal bankers in the process. Take your child into the bank and talk with a banker about savings options. Forest Park National offers What Is Money? activity books to minors who open accounts. The books, structured for ages 4-7 and 8-10, use coloring and matching games to teach financial concepts. Better yet, work with your child’s school or scouting troop to arrange a bank tour.
Forest Park National offers groups a 90-minute tour of all areas of the bank, including the teller areas, the president’s office and the back offices where they witness the incredible speed of the proof operator, who is responsible for checking all of the tellers’ transactions.
“The big excitement comes when they enter the vault and see where we keep the currency. It’s great to watch their faces as we show them the difference between $1,000 as a stack of $20 bills and $1,000 as a stack of singles,” Pruger says. All kids leave with a gold coin and a better understanding of how their money is handled. Call your local bank to see if it offers tours. February Appreciating differences Our children interact with people from different races and cultures on a daily basis. Learning to accept and appreciate our multicultural world will be a key to their future success.
For a different kind of museum experience, visit the Bronzeville Children’s Museum at 96th Street and Western Avenue in Evergreen Park. The first and claims to be the only African-American children’s museum in the country, its mission is to educate and expose children to the rich contributions, culture and heritage of African Americans and the people of Africa. Keeping its mission focused allows the museum to really concentrate on telling a story well. While there is plenty of information to read and process, there are also interactive exhibits that bring the lessons to life. The current exhibit on George Washington Carver (which you can preview on the museum’s Web site, www.bronzevillechildrensmuseum.com) provides new information to kids and, most likely, some adults. The museum operates on a tour basis, which makes it most appropriate for children with longer attention spans (older than 4). March Valuing the arts My public grammar school offered chorus, band, art shows and school plays—all things that are in short supply at cash-strapped schools. So it is more important than ever to help your child develop an early appreciation for the arts. Some kids may groan at the idea of sitting through an opera, but you can work with your child’s teacher to create an amazing experience.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Education Department offers backstage tours for students in grades three through 12. The 90-minute tours include visits to the dressing rooms; rehearsal spaces; costume, wig and armor departments (kids can even try things on); a ride in the scenery elevator; and a walk across the six-story-high catwalk.
According to Jesse Gram, education associate at Lyric, this kind of tour gives kids tangible knowledge about how opera works. “Instead of learning the definition of an aria, kids are experiencing how many artists, artisans and administrators it takes to bring opera to the stage.” After an exciting backstage tour, you and your child will be eager to witness the onstage result. Dates book early, so plan ahead. April The joy of work “You kids just don’t understand the value of hard work,” was one of my grandfather’s favorite sayings when I was little. From the time my sons were quite young, I have tried to illustrate the relationship between working and our ability to buy the things we need and want. I talk openly about my pride in what I do.
My boys have a vague idea that I work on the computer and we occasionally get to visit the office, a huge treat even though they must be on best behavior. It’s my husband, however, who is excited that for the first time in 2005 he will be able to participate in “Take your son or daughter to work day.”
Since 1993, when it began as “Take your daughters to work day,” the last Thursday in April has provided the opportunity to introduce children to the world of work. Companies participate on a variety of levels, including special tours and educational activities.
Even if your company doesn’t sponsor specific activities, you can make the day great with your own personal tour of the office, introductions to your co-workers and special projects for your child to complete at work. Just make sure that your child is welcome even without company sponsorship.
My husband, a commercial plumber, can’t wait to show our oldest son his office, his building and his friends at work. They both look forward to putting a “face” on the people and things we discuss at the dinner table. Since he and my sons love building things together, he relishes the opportunity to take our son with him to the high-rises where he works.
Keep in mind that it is the parent’s responsibility to prevent boredom. Plan a work project in advance that you can accomplish together. Try to set aside a workspace for your child, even the corner of a desk. Ask your child to run age-appropriate errands such as photocopying or faxing. Make a big deal out of lunch. Be sure to praise a job well done and discuss your feelings about what you do. May Lifelong learning Even though it seems as if our kids spend much of their time in school, extracurricular learning gives them an opportunity to broaden their horizons and learn new skills. Show your children that learning never ends by joining them to take a class.
Mom-and-tot classes are very popular, but continuing to learn with your children into the ’tween and teen years benefits you both. Classes provide the quality one-on-one time we try to carve out for each of our children.
Show that you value their interests by giving them a say in which class you take. Try to choose a subject new to you both—cooking, guitar, juggling, dance, foreign language, knitting. Park districts, libraries and community colleges are great places to begin your search. June Healthy eating All parents are concerned with providing children with a nutritious diet. Healthy shopping is a big part of that. But food doesn’t grow on a supermarket shelf, contrary to what many kids believe. June is a good month to demonstrate where food originates by planting a vegetable garden together.
Head to the garden store and let your children choose which vegetables they’d like to grow. Then carve out a little space from the yard and start digging. Starting with small plants rather than seeds makes the day’s work more visible and tangible for children. They can actually see their effort in the ground instead of waiting for seeds to bear fruit. Allow your children to be responsible for weeding and watering “their” plants. Talk about how things grow and how their work will pay off in a delicious meal.
Intertwined into this summerlong project are lessons of patience and delayed gratification. And the pure physical labor is good for kids and parents both. July Caring for all creatures Educating children about conservation and caring for the natural world seems like a daunting task. Where do we begin? Consider adopting an animal at the zoo. Both Brookfield and Lincoln Park zoos offer affordable animal adoption programs. Packages for Brookfield’s “Share the Care” program start at $25 and include a color photograph, a personalized certificate and an animal fact sheet. For an additional donation, the zoo also offers plush animals to accompany the dolphin, polar bear, tiger and wolf packages. There are also special “Share the Care Nights” at the zoo for some participants.
Once you and your child have adopted the animal and received your materials, head to the zoo for a visit. Help your child make the connection between her gift and the zoo’s ability to feed and care for “her” animal. A strong connection and sense of ownership add depth and perspective to all your zoo visits. August Optimism We are inundated with news of scandals, accidents and crime. It is easy to raise a cynic. But there is good news in the world every day. Great people do great things. New discoveries are made. Diseases are cured. This month, challenge your family to find one good piece of news each day. Younger kids can find good news in children’s magazines or in observations about the daily world—“Liam shared his cookie with me today.” Older children can read the newspapers daily, a challenge that encourages them to sift through the news critically and gives them an introduction into sensationalism in the media. Then post the headlines and other good news on a “good news board” that can be used to begin discussions among family members. To make the most of this, Boston University’s Lerner recommends focusing on the actions of human beings. “Let your child analyze people’s choices to see if they are wise, just, kind or compassionate.” The “hows” and “whys” of good deeds are much more pleasant dinner topics than war and taxes. This project reminds us that there is good in the world. September Recycling Kids come with clutter. There’s just no getting around it. But fall is a good time for everyone in the house to learn to let go of some of the extras. It is especially difficult for children to let go of their possessions, even toys they haven’t played with for years. Sneaking them out of the toy box under cover of darkness is not the answer. Plan a family yard sale and agree to donate all the earnings to a charity chosen by the children as one more incentive to get them invested in the project. Sort possessions with your children and be sure to point out which things of yours will be sold. Explain that we need to remove some of the clutter to make room for new items. It’s also nice to point out other children might enjoy playing with toys your child has finished using. Make posters together telling buyers that all proceeds are being donated to charity. Price everything together and allow your child to have his very own sale table. At the end of the day, tally your sales and allow your child to make the donation. The gratitude of his chosen charity will likely make all the hard work and sacrifice an annual tradition. October Enjoy nature The first weekend of October, our entire extended family caravans to pick apples. This is a tradition stretching back to my husband’s childhood and is one we hope will extend to our grandchildren. The best part of this day is celebrating family togetherness with no toys, television or presents. It’s just about being together and enjoying nature, watching all the kids climb trees, the older ones helping the younger ones, and then biting into delicious fresh apples. The views are lovely and the timing is excellent for pointing out the beauty of the changing seasons. My family makes a full day of it by packing lunches and picnicking together at a nearby park. November Giving thanks There really is more to Thanksgiving than a delicious dinner. This truly American holiday gives us the perfect opportunity to stop and reflect on the gifts we have been given. A family art project is a great way to share our thoughts and have fun. From construction paper, I cut out a large circle, then a smaller one for the head and a triangle for the beak (nothing fancy). Then I cut out a bunch of feathers from different colors. As a family, we take turns writing one thing we are thankful for on each feather. Then the kids glue the feathers to the turkey’s body. Even my 2-year-old was able to tell me things he loves. For older kids (and adults) it is a good time to remember to give thanks for more than just a new video game. We include the intangibles, such as “the support of our extended family.” Each feather is a good discussion point about what is important to your kids and why it is meaningful to give thanks. The finished product also makes a fun holiday decoration. I date each turkey and store it as the best reminder of all we are thankful for. December Compassion and generosity It is very easy to become caught up in the materialism and spectacle of the holidays. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying every moment, this also is the perfect time to share with the less fortunate. Teaching children compassion and generosity is a case of leading by example. Consider adopting a family for the holidays. United Way organizations, churches or city social service agencies often coordinate these programs. We choose a family of four (like ours) and receive a description of family members (ages, clothing sizes, interests and Christmas “wishes.”) Then we shop for them, wrap their gifts and have them delivered. Sharing and caring about others are the core values I hope to instill in my children. Explaining poverty to young kids is not easy, but the importance of compassion for others makes the explanations worth it. I have had to deal with questions such as, “Why doesn’t Santa help the poor kids?” Luckily, my reasoning that we all have the responsibility to be Santa’s helpers has worked so far. I am hopeful that eventually my boys will understand the joy of giving as well as the joy of receiving.
Alena Murguia, who lives in Berwyn, is the mother of Patrick and Connor and works part time for Chicago Parent.