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As the last in this series about helping your kids be creative, I wanted to start the conversation about fun project ideas to do with your kids over the summer.  I have grouped my ideas into general broad categories, so please feel free to add yours too!  You can find directions and guides for most …

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One of the Tweeps I follow on Twitter is a gal whose Twitter handle is @RaisingCEOkids.  She is a wealth of knowledge and advice for how to raise kids who are leaders, capable of self-directing and make wise choices.  Check out her website for some great resources, including her books.  Sarah’s blog can be found …

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Today is the 7th day of summer vacation.  I have already heard from my kids that they are “bored.”  Know what my response was, “Good!”  Are you shocked?  They were. I have many discussions with my friends about this topic at this time of the year.  How do you handle boredom? Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train …

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While I was out harvesting what will likely be the last of my summer vegetables last week, my mind wandered to what life must have been like when people really lived off the land.  There are the obvious differences: no smart phones, online games, rushing about, or hauling kids to four practices in one night!  Life was difficult, as providing for one’s family from the land requires hard, manual labor and facing great difficulties.  However, life was, in a word, simple.  It revolved around family, community and church.  People knew their neighbors and helped when they needed it.  People were connected and community meant something.

So, how do we find this simplicity in today’s hustle-bustle world?  Does it require us all to leave our desk jobs and work the land?  I think not.  Even more importantly, how do we teach our kids to value family, faith and community?  We have to find that path for ourselves, as adults, and then model it or our children.  I’ve thought of some basic things that we can all do to simplify life while also improving their involvement in communities.

  1. Serve the community.  Volunteer at a local nonprofit, get involved with outreaches into the community, or serve with your church.  Many communities have organizations that funnel volunteers to smaller nonprofits.  So, find something you care about and get involved in that.  For families with young kids, this can be difficult as many nonprofits do not allow young children to serve with their parents.  Here are a few ideas though: walk dogs at the local Humane Society or pet adoption center; collect canned goods from neighbors to give the local food pantry (call first to get their wish list!); collect spare change for an overseas orphanage (my kids are doing this for Joseph School in Haiti); find a less-well traveled road or a park and clean up all the trash; or ask older neighbors if you can rake their leaves.  Be creative and do it together.  You will make memories and teach important principles to the kids.  And remember to celebrate their achievements afterwards with some serious family high-fives.  If you want more ideas on this topic, see my blog titled “Serving With Kids.”  http://wp.me/p1FAtE-1o
  1. Live on a budget.  Most people have to do this anyway in the last few years because of income issues or job loss, but even those that don’t have to should do it.  Why?  Living on a budget forces us to make decisions about how we will live each month.  Living on a budget makes us set priorities as the adults in the household and helps us all to work together toward a common goal.  Set a financial goal for each year and work as a family to achieve it.  Maybe the goal will be to repay a certain amount of debt, give a special offering for a favorite ministry, or just put money away for a rainy day or kids’ education.  Whatever the goal, keep the kids informed on progress and celebrate as a family when you make it.  This also teaches the kids that money is something to be managed and stewarded –and that it doesn’t grow on trees.
  1. Eat at home whenever possible.  Even single people can do this easily with the proliferation of healthy 30-minute meal cookbooks and single-serving recipes available on the internet.  And for families, I know what you moms must be thinking, “How can we possibly make dinner with all those activities?”  Perhaps, we should examine if the kids really need to be in all those activities – maybe something needs to leave the family schedule?  Having dinner together helps kids realize that you care about them.  It gives them the perfect time to discuss their day, ask questions about what is going on in the world (or in their world), and helps them know you value them.  It also sets up good eating habits for later and helps to fight obesity (home-cooked food is generally less fattening and more healthy than fast food).  I have become the master of the 30-minute healthy recipes and I have about ten that I regularly make.  The kids have their favorites and they know beyond a shadow of doubt what is healthy and what isn’t.  And let me make a quick point about what most of you will need to do first – because it was the first thing I needed to learn also.  The most liberating moments in my life have been when I have said “no” to something: either another activity or some commitment.  Learning to say no in an appropriate and strategic manner can help us to bring simplicity to our lives.
  1. Be engaged in your local church or synagogue.  Faith communities help cement values for our kids as they see other families living by the same values they see at their house.  These communities also give our kids the opportunity to make friends that have those same values and to see the role of the church in the community.  When Nashville experienced the flood in 2010, my kids got to see the church in action, serving the community and helping with those who had been flooded.  They still talk about it over 18 months later.
  1. Start a backyard garden or sew some of the kids’ clothes.  Not everyone is a gardener, like I am, and I am not a seamstress.  That is why Wal-Mart exists in my life.  Gardening, sewing, knitting or other types of “home economic” activities helps kids to see that food doesn’t come in a can or plastic container and that clothes aren’t so easy to make either.  This helps them appreciate what they have and the effort that went into making it.  Teach them how to do what you do also.  Those are skills they can enjoy for the rest of their lives, and may come in handy sometime in their lives.  Our great great-grandparents probably had no idea that their kids and grandkids would face such a terrible depression in the 1930’s.  We cannot possibly know what our kids will have to face either.  Teaching them a basic skill like gardening, knitting or sewing might make a huge difference in their lives later and help see them through difficult times.
  1. Turn off the electronics or at least the TV for a weekend.  I know this will be a real shock to some to not have the Blackberry or iPhone constantly buzzing at you.  Slowing down our thinking is one of the critical ways of training our minds toward discipline and the constant noise of our culture works in the opposite direction.  Our never-ending, in-your-face communication and the prevalent media addiction are breeding an impatient generation.  I even caught myself tapping my toes in impatience at the microwave one time. So how am I combating this in my own life?  I regularly go on an “electronics fast” – no phone, TV, computer / laptop, or radio.  You know what I find?  I go to sleep earlier, enjoy a good book or time with the kids, pray, get outside or catch up on household chores.  I also find that I am not enslaved to the email, text, or phone communications and that I am more peaceful in my interactions with the kids, even when not practicing this discipline of a fast.  It is really liberating.  You should try it for a day!

I hope these helped you to find ways to simplify your own lives.  Try one and let us know how it impacted in your life.  There are many other ways that I have not listed here, so if you have a life-simplifying strategy, please share it.

I am growing in this and find the more I do to simplify, the better I am hearing from God.  All the noise and clutter of our lives crowd out the still small voice of the One who knows us best and loves us most.  If the only benefit of simplicity in our lives is that we come to know God better, I would say it is worth it.

I’ve been on a journey to find out how I can serve in the community WITH my three small-ish kids: ages 9, 7 and 5.  The older two can serve at many different local nonprofits, but these don’t welcome my 5 year old.  And trust me, she needs to learn the lessons of serving others as the diva, youngest child of the family.  I thought I would share what I have found and a few really easy, but creative ideas in case your local nonprofits aren’t flexible with kids.

 

Each community is different, so you would need to check on the requirements locally.  But, here are some types of nonprofits that might accept younger children for volunteer service with their parents:

–       Humane Society (walking the dogs, petting cats)

–       Food pantry (bagging or serving families coming in)

–       Homeless shelters that accept families with kids (socializing with the children)

–       Church-based projects, like fall festivals or holiday parties, clothing drives, food drives, clean-up days

–       School-based projects similar in nature to those at the churches

 

When all else fails, we just have to get REALLY creative to teach the littlest ones in our families about the value of serving the community and the personal rewards we gain when we serve.  I thought of some creative ideas and have implemented a few with my kids.   Enjoy serving the community!

  1. Collect canned goods for the local food pantry.  Call them first to see what they need so they don’t end up with 20 cases of diced tomatoes when they really needed some tuna.  Take your wagon around the neighborhood or ask other parents at the kids’ activities to help.  Bring the list and a brochure or picture of the food pantry.  This time of the year, food pantries are stretched seriously thin as family budgets devote more to heat and fuel costs, eating into funds available for food.
  2. Call your kids’ school and find out if a family is in need of help with Christmas gifts or warm coats for their kids.  Get a list and help the kids ask neighbors and friends to help with an item or funds.  Involve the kids, but keep the family’s identity unknown to them.  We’ve done this at church almost every year for the last ten years and the kids love to go shopping for someone their own age.  If there are no families in need at school or church, the Salvation Army offers angels every year.  See their website for details (www.salvationarmyusa.org) or at JC Penney’s website.
  3. Collect spare change in an old paint or coffee can and donate to an overseas orphanage.  I stole this one from The Joseph School(thejosephschool.org), an orphan-education program in Haiti.  We are doing this now and you would be amazed at how much spare change we have managed to collect in a few short months.  Take the can around at work or help the kids go door-to-door at Halloween with the can and you’ll be even more shocked.  Change in a paint can could total more than $100.

    Paint Can to collect coins

  4. Go to the park on a Saturday, but bring a few big trash bags and clean up trash first, then play.  Keep recycling separate!  My kids are recycling freaks and I bet yours are too.  My littlest is really good at spotting small pieces of plastic hidden in grass.  To keep them focused on the task, I stay with the trash bag in the middle of the field and send them out to find 5 items each time.  Then we move general locations.  If you do this along a walking trail, have them come back every 3 items so that they don’t inadvertently drop the trash they have already picked up.  Make it even more fun by making up a list of trash types for each kid to find, sort of like a scavenger hunt, and check them off as they find them.
  5. Find an older neighbor who might have trouble raking their leaves – and offer your family’s services for free.  Bring the trash bags, rakes and any other needed equipment, then put the leaves in the designated areas for pick-up by local services.  You can even make this a multi-family or mom-daughter / father-son event for a few friends.  Kids love playing in the leaves, so be sure to budget plenty of time for raking and re-raking the piles a few times!  Small kids can be the ones who stand in the bags and compress the leaves down further.  Bigger kids can rake and bag.  Bring a loaf of bread or a casserole as an additional blessing.
  6. Call the kids’ school to see what easy projects need to be done there – this might include light gardening, trash pick-up, sweeping sidewalks, or raking leaves.  Recruit a few families to participate and make it a fun weekend afternoon for the kids with a picnic lunch or snack at their own school playground as the reward.  The kids will think it is really fun to be at the school on the weekend and they will see the results of their work the next week.

 

If you have more ideas, let us know with a comment!

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