Every moment matters, and during the summer, we (ideally) have a little more time to share moments and make memories together. To celebrate the official start of summer in New York City, we are sharing three ways to create moments that foster conversation, engage creativity and create space for your children to connect with you and with others, and to share their stories and ideas with confidence.
Write to a Summer Pen Pal
Sit down with your child to choose a pen pal to write to throughout the summer. Your child might opt to write to a friend from school who is away at camp or on vacation, a grandparent, a cousin, or someone special in their lives.
Writing to a pen pal, whether it is through snail mail or email, gives your children the opportunity to express themselves, to share their stories and relay their observations. Receiving mail (especially traditional mail) is exciting for kids. It gives them something to look forward to, teaches them about delayed gratification, and shows that someone took time to listen to, care about, engage with and respond to their words. This is a powerful gift that builds confidence and helps your children develop their voices.
Make sure that you know and trust the person with whom your child is communicating before embarking on a pen pal project. If your child is corresponding by email, review cyber safety rules before logging on, and confirm that your child has the correct address for his/her pen pal.
Start a Family Book Club
A family book club is an ideal way for kids to connect with parents and siblings. It gives you a shared activity to do together that revolves around observation and communication – key elements of meaningful moments shared through stories (both those you read and those you tell).
Take turns selecting a book for the family to read and discuss. Let your kids pick the books first so that they can share something they love with you, and can lead the initial book club discussions. A family book club helps with skill building during the summer (we see you, Summer Slide) but even more, it creates a pathway to conversation. Book clubs are safe spaces to connect over ideas and events that you read about. Inevitably, this gives your children the comfort and the confidence to talk about issues or concerns they face in their own lives in a way that feels more natural, and more open, than direct questioning about how they are doing or what they are feeling on a given school day afternoon.
Consider holding each of your book club meetings in a different location – the living room, in the backyard or out in a park, in one of your children’s bedroom to allow them to play host. Changing your environment helps to set different tones for conversations and can make those conversations flow more energetically.
Put a New Spin on Old Games
Reinvent Game Night in your home by kicking up the creativity and re-imaging favorite games based on your child’s or your family’s favorite hobbies, characters or teams. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start!
Played like traditional charades, but with categories unique to Minecraft, this serves as the perfect way to bring your kid’s screen life into real life. Your kids will be happy to take the lead on this one, sharing their insight on their favorite game. You will learn more about something they love and why they love it.
Giving children the opportunity to be experts on something creates memorable, enjoyable moments for your family. It also gives them the chance to flex their leadership skills, to build confidence, and to realize that they have things to teach you and that you are willing and open to learn from them. That is the hallmark of open dialogue and good conversation in families.
Create a tic-tac-toe game that replaces the Xs and Os with your child’s favorite storybook characters. To make the pieces, your kids can draw or print out images.
During the making and playing process, you will be amazed to see how your child begins to talk about the characters and the stories, why they like them, what happens in the stories, and how they connect to their own lives. Children are natural sharers and they love to welcome us parents into their world. The busy pace of life often makes that difficult, but slowing down even for a moment to share a simple project and play a simple game like this can be the missing piece of meaningful, simple connection that we often struggle to find.
Build Your Own Chess Set
Ideal for older children or larger families, building and playing with a customized chess set can be a fun, creative summer long activity full of moments for the whole family to enjoy. Using items found around the house, from the recycling bin to the craft closet, build a chess set around a theme your family enjoys.
You might make a set based on rival baseball teams, characters from favorite TV shows or movies, or places that are special in your family history. Once again, the act of making the pieces and the game board is full of opportunities for communication and connection. Working on a creative project together forges your bond as a family and builds your child’s leadership, listening and teamwork skills.
This summer, take as many moments as you can to try activities like these to give your children the space they need to connect and share with you, and to give yourself the gift of time well spent.
- Elizabeth Eames, June 2018