Exciting Conclusion (Family Rules, Part 4)

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This week we come around full circle on creating Family Rules. In Part 1, I wrote about the importance of knowing what the rules are, and the consequences of not making them explicit. In Part 2, we discussed Values and Morals and how we express them, whether we intend it or not. And in Part 3, I compared the family to a team (by the way, our softball team played its first game last night. It was a lot of fun, thank you).

Throughout this series of posts, I have been stuck trying to figure out what our Family Rules actually are. I couldn’t say, and neither could the various parents and parenting educators I had talked to. So finally I did what I probably should have done in the first place, and asked my kids. They did not hesitate. Below are some of the Rules for my family, and questions and answers about them.

First of all, some FAQ I just made up.

Q: Are your Family Rules written down?

A: No. Turns out they don’t have to be. Though it is recommended in Nurturing Parenting that they are actually written and ideally posted on the wall somewhere, our Rules have been instilled through sheer repetition over the years. My girls know them well enough that I have to ask that they not constantly recite them to each other.

Q: Are your Family Rules connected to your Values and Morals?

A: I think so. At least, I could comfortably make that argument. But really, they mostly arose from situations in which my wife and I felt them just come up.

Q: Do my Family Rules need to look like yours?

A: No. It’s your family.

 

With this in mind, here are some of mine:

 

Eat What You Like, and Leave the Rest.

This is the cardinal food-related Rule, though my kids were able to come up with several corollaries, among them “Finish What is on Your Plate Before Taking More,” “Ask if Anyone Else Wants More,” “Wait Until Everyone Has Finished Their Firsts,” and “There Will Be More Food at the Next Meal.”

 

Use Your Words.

Often alternated with the question, “Did You Want to Ask for Something?” with the implication “Because I Didn’t Hear You Do That.”

 

No Means No.

This is fairly self-explanatory. And since I have daughters, I pay a lot of attention to this one.

 

There Are No Mistakes in Art.

My nine year-old, who is a very talented artist, disputes this Rule. But she is not writing this post.

 

So, there you go. This is my Family, so these are our Rules. I hope that this helps you to articulate your own. If that doesn’t work, maybe you could ask your kids.

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The Good Stuff

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As adult parents, we tend to expend a lot of thought and energy on the way our parents raised us, and much of this is focused on the negative. We are determined to do things differently with our children, to avoid the mistakes our parents made with us. Of course our parents made mistakes, assuming they were human (we’ll go with that assumption). And of course we are making our own mistakes. Sometimes we’re okay with that as long as they’re different mistakes.

I know that I do this. That’s why I wanted to take some time to focus on some of the things my parents did right, and that I am glad to pass along to my own children (keeping in mind that those right things may or may not have come about any more deliberately than the things that didn’t work. After all, if parenting is a science it’s certainly not an exact one).

Here are some things I appreciated and remembered from my own experience as a child, and that I hope to honor by passing along.

You’re welcome to eat what is being served. That’s really up to you. The sticking point with me was onions. They appeared in spaghetti sauce, they featured in meatloaf. When we ordered pizza, they were practically the star. Given that I loved all of those items, I learned to make peace with them, or do the work of moving them out of the way. This can also be translated as “not every meal can be your favorite.” After all, we know there will always be food next time.

Go play outside. Really. Spend a lot of time outside. Have fun. I’ll call you in for supper.

Let ‘em read. He seems to be really into that book. And he’s quiet, and not destroying anything. And yes, we’ll go to the library today. And yes, you obviously can’t live without your 37th Choose Your Own Adventure book. It’s not up to me to be a critic.

Wash your feet.

Here is something my dad actually said: “Whatever you do with your life, make sure that it’s something you love to do.”

And here’s something my mom told me, or at least this is how I remember it: “I worry about things a lot too. But if there’s something I can do about it, I know I’ll find a solution. And if there’s nothing I can do, there’s no point in worrying.”

And: “I love you.”

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Deliciousness

 

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I’m going to let you in on a secret family recipe. We call it cheesy egg toast, or egg and cheese toast, or sometimes just deliciousness (as in, “What’s for breakfast?” “Deliciousness.” “I know what that is,” etc).

There are a variety of reasons why it is so successful. For one thing, it’s incredible fast and easy. For another, it’s a great way for me to get a certain daughter to eat eggs without complaining (she knows who she is).

But most of all, it’s the perfect meal in whose preparation everyone can take part. The little ones can do the toasting and buttering; the eight year-old can grate the cheese (generally, they all taste some to make sure it’s okay); the eldest can scramble the eggs and take it out of the oven. Sometimes keeping the kids occupied during this time is of paramount importance. Am I right?

 

Deliciousness

Some bread

Some butter

Some eggs

Some cheese

 

  • Toast bread. Butter it.
  • Turn broiler on low.
  • Scramble eggs. Grate cheese.
  • Place toast on a cookie sheet. Scoop a portion of eggs onto each piece (we use an ice cream scoop because why not). Sprinkle cheese on top.
  • Place cookie sheet under broiler until cheese melts. Serve.
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The One About Breakfast

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Breakfast is important for kids. Right? Are we on the same page? As the parent who gets up early with the kids, it is my job, post-coffee, to make breakfast.

If they are going to school, especially, protein is what they need to boost brain function. I am a cook of (to put it generously) limited ability. Thus, I try to get some protein in there and call it good. As much as I would like to just throw cheese or bacon on top of whatever we have lying around, I have come up with a bit of a repertoire:

  • Eggs (only two of my four children like them scrambled, so I usually boil them).
  • Granola, with yogurt or milk.
  • Oatmeal, with butter (real butter) and milk (whole milk, or cream if we have it); brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. With nuts and/or diced apple on the side.
  • Toast with butter (we like butter) and almond butter.
  • Rice pudding (leftover rice with milk, ¼ cup sugar and a teaspoon or two of vanilla). With sausage if we’re feeling lucky).

A favorite in our family is the alarmingly named dutch baby. It is a bit sweet, in the way of pancakes or crepes, but it also cleverly contains no less than six eggs. It’s, like, real food. I used to bake it in a large cast iron pan, though we were recently given six tiny ones, and the recipe divides neatly among them (I put the little pans on a cookie sheet when I stick them in the oven). Enjoy!

 

Dutch Baby

2 tbsp butter

6 eggs

1 and ½ cups milk

1 cup flour (we use a gluten-free baking mix, sometimes split with almond flour)

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 425.

Melt butter in a cast iron pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine other ingredients and mix well. Spoon mixture into the pan and place in the oven; bake for 20 minutes. Serves six.

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Out of the Ordinary

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I’ve written a lot on this blog about the importance of routines. We try to make the events of the day—meals and snack times, transitions, chores, bedtimes—as regular and predictable as possible. The more things kids can rely on, the more secure they will feel when things happen that are out of the ordinary. After all, the best way to tell if routines are working is when something happens to disrupt them.

A lot of things are different this week. My wife is away at a weeklong homeschooling conference. The four girls are with my mother-in-law in Newport for a few days; I will be home with them for the rest of the week. This is kind of a big deal for all of us. I am especially a stickler about bedtimes, if only because it’s such a cornerstone of our home life and because we have put so much time and effort into finding a way to do it that works most of the time (though I’m sure there are some control issues at play in there as well).

We sent along a rough schedule of a typical day’s events and hoped that the spirit of it, if not the letter, would be followed. Here are some excerpts:

  • Morning activity: We usually stay close to home during this time, go for walks or do arts and crafts. They will need a morning snack.
  • Afternoon activity: This is usually our going out time. They will need a snack!

As you can see, there is emphasis on regular feeding. At home we have breakfast, then a morning “tea” (sometimes known, hobbit-style, as “second breakfast”), lunch, afternoon “tea” and dinner. That’s food being offered just about every 2-3 hours, with quick snacks in between if needed. I am pretty sure that if my mother-in-law varies the rhythm of the day—with periods of activity followed by periods of rest—then any other problems can be solved by throwing food at them.

They are going to have fun. They will take trips to the beach, the lighthouse and the aquarium. They will go to the park and the toy store (they enjoy hanging out in toy stores, and don’t expect to walk out with anything. If I knew how this was accomplished, believe me, I would tell you). They will sleep as well as they will sleep, and I understand that I have no control over this. I never do. Working on letting it go.

What I do know is that when I bring them back home, they will have had several days of new and unfamiliar rhythms, and they will be…off. And though there are some things we will need to get done, including swim lessons and grocery shopping, we will be spending the next few days just trying to get back into those familiar routines. I expect anything, up to and including tantrums, large-scale meltdowns, and general low-level crankiness. What they need is a slow and gentle shifting of gears. Luckily we will have some time to do that.

Also, snacks. Lots of snacks.

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Freedom From Choice

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In our culture, we associate freedom with choice. In many cases, freedom of choice has turned into freedom as choice. But this freedom can become overwhelming; in fact, it can come to feel like the opposite of freedom.

As a music fan, I actually miss having read about some elusive album and feeling the excitement of coming across it years later in the used bin at a record store. Now, of course, I can find pretty much anything I have ever heard of online, and download it instantly. It’s just not as much fun. The sense of anticipation and mystery has been replaced by a sense of…shopping. In a similar way, I often feel paralyzed scrolling through my list of movies to stream on Netflix and coming away with nothing to watch.

This is a thing, and it’s called decision fatigue. As adults, we can cope with the increasing array of choices by working to limit the number of things we have to choose. In order to live a more efficient and healthy life, we have to hold on to priorities and consciously set aside a large number of choices.

Now imagine that you’re a toddler, and you’re expected to choose what to wear today.

Something I still struggle with as a parent is presenting expectations as questions: “Do you want to wear a skirt or a dress?” “Are you ready to brush your teeth?” “Do you want to play outside?” Children of any age, up to and including teenagers, are not equipped to make the number of choices with which they are presented on a daily basis. They are not ready to engage in the sifting and prioritizing that we as adults take for granted (and which can sometimes still be a struggle).

Children need our help. And we can help by knowing when to give them a choice and when to make one for them.

This goes along with the routines and rhythms that are so important to the daily life of a child, and can free up the energy for them to learn and grow in a way that is more appropriate for young brains.

It starts with the basics: limit the number of choices by limiting the number of things from which to choose.

  • Have only a few items of clothing available, according to the needs of the season, and store the rest. Kids who are old enough to get dressed on their own will appreciate having a reliable outfit for the occasion.
  • Keep toys in bins and rotate them out. Play is important for child development, and a child that is surrounded by toys will just be confused and frustrated. The effect on attention spans and behavior is pretty easy to see.
  • Come up with a limited menu and rotate meals. We all look forward to Meatball Monday and Taco Tuesday, and they are events in themselves. Of course it’s important to introduce new foods on a regular basis, and these can be slipped in to the routine. And you can set a day of the week aside for trying something different.

The great thing about this deliberate limiting of choices is that it is compatible with not having a lot of money. Definitely a bonus.

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Winter Is Coming

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Parenting is hard. It’s difficult enough without having to worry about getting by.

And yet: it’s getting colder, utility bills are mounting, and our children need warm clothes. The economy could be recovering faster. Do you know where to look for help?

The Holiday Resource Guide on the Parenting Success Network site is a great place to start. I want to highlight some of the other organizations in our area that can help get your family through the Winter.

Services offered by CSC include the Linn-Benton Food Share program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides financial help with utilities as well as free education on weatherization and energy conservation in the home.

“As your state-designated community action agency, CSC is here to help. We offer a number of services in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties. These services focus on essential day-to-day survival, such as food and housing, as well as developing new skills that lead to independence through education, training, and work.”

Fish of Albany provides emergency services including food, clothing, school supplies, rent and utility assistance, and help with transportation.

“Fish of Albany, Inc. is a cooperative effort begun in 1972 by civic leaders and churches to fill crisis needs for food. Incorporated in 1973, Fish has evolved to address changing community needs. It is run by 6 staff and over 30 volunteers and is funded by local churches, private donations and gifts from United Way and foundations. Annually, Fish volunteers and staff provide services to well over 22, 500 people. “

211 info is a phone-based resource that can connect you with a variety of local programs.

“Last year more than 425,000 people contacted us by dialing 211, searching for resources on 211info.org, texting their zip code to 898211 or emailing us — all toll-free and confidential. We also have bilingual staff who can take calls in Spanish; all staff have access to an interpreter service with more than 140 languages. We’re everyone’s front door to nonprofit, government and faith-based programs. There are roughly 3,000 agencies in our database providing over 50,000 programs to people throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.”

I refer these and other services regularly to my clients at work, and I have found that they are helpful, friendly and willing to tell you about other services if they are not able to provide exactly what you need. I have also used them myself. Working full-time and supporting four children and a stay-at-home spouse, I have taken advantage of Community Service Consortium’s Utility Assistance Program at the start of each year.

No one has to do this alone. Seeking out local resources can help us place the focus where it should be: taking care of our families.

Stay warm out there.

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A Kitchen of Their Own

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Everybody eats.

That’s why a play kitchen is a crucial part of our childrens’ education at home. Through playing at cooking and serving food, our kids can practice the skills they will need as they get older. They can learn about nutrition, how to prepare a balanced meal, and how to interact with others around food. Kids like to imitate the work we do around the house, and a play kitchen can provide an entry into helping grownups in the “real” kitchen.

Who can benefit from a play kitchen? It is traditionally thought of as a toy for girls, but given that everybody eats, and everybody can prepare food, it is just as important and just as valuable for boys.

You can spend as much or as little money as you wish. We have a simple wooden kitchen with a stovetop, a sink, some cabinets and an oven. Most toy stores carry more elaborate models with a microwave, a kitchen clock, and various dials and thingamajigs. But you can use most anything to make a play kitchen, and the kids will be glad to help. A cardboard box, with circles drawn on top for burners, works just dandy.

There’s no need to buy play food, either. My girls recently stocked their pantry with food they made from clay and painted; they frequently use wooden blocks, paper cutouts, water, dry rice and beans, mud (preferably while outside, though this is not always the case) and pure, all-natural imagination. They love to play with empty containers such as butter boxes, yogurt cartons, and cupcake holders. We often “hand down” old utensils, plates and cups.

Kids love to help out with food preparation. Even toddlers can stir batter, combine ingredients, chop vegetables, fruit or, say, cheese sticks (closely supervised, of course, with a butter knife or crinkle cutter: safety first!). My nine year-old daughter has mastered baking from a recipe, and can scramble eggs like a champ.

Involving kids in kitchen work is a great way to introduce math concepts through measuring and timing; to show them where ingredients come from and how they work together to make a meal; and to model cooperation and sharing work with others. The added responsibilities will make them feel proud and useful. Best of all, if kids are picky eaters they are much more likely to try, and enjoy, foods they had a hand in making. Inevitably, they practice these skills in the play kitchen as well.

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Healthy and Happy

I think if you asked any parent, they would agree that they want their children to be happy and healthy. We all want our children to have the gift of health and to live long and happy lives. All of us are coming from different places when we make decisions in regards to healthy lifestyles and how we implement them in our families. We were all raised differently and it can often be interesting and challenging to parents who may have been raised with different values around what “health” looks like and its’ importance.

A lot of us are also very confused. Should we take on the French philosophy of feeding? Should we eliminate gluten? Should we eliminate all food with dyes? What amount of exercise do we really end and what kinds are best?  The questions can be limitless and so can the information that is out there.  There are many new diets being introduced by the week and constantly changing ideas of what parents should or should not feed children. Many children today lead very sedentary lives with video games and media being a top priority. Included in this media are the messages sent about what is attractive in our society and what our society as a whole values.  It unfortunately usually doesn’t take long for children to form an opinion of what they think their bodies are supposed to look like according  to the messages that they see and hear. One of the messages youth often key in on is that being extremely thin is the ideal.

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This is “The Becerra Bikers” a few years ago after a family ride.

 

Though maintaining a healthy weight can certainly  be a part of a healthy lifestyle, I have realized more and more that automatically equating health with weight and size can be misleading and even harmful. I think that most of us probably know at least one person who is very thin but doesn’t live a very healthy lifestyle. When we see a person who is overweight, we might also make assumptions about the lifestyle that person leads. I know that I can think of examples of several people in my life who although  they may be a little overweight, they are actually very active and really value eating a healthy diet. It simply is not fair to make assumptions that people who are thin are automatically healthy people and that on the flip side people who aren’t super model thin aren’t.

In my Healthy Sprouts class that I taught through the Healthy Youth Program, we talked to families a lot about how we are all unique and come in different shapes and sizes.  Instead of putting the majority of the focus on size, it is important to focus on health for everyone!  Teaching our children how to care for their bodies (and modeling how we care for ours), is a huge gift! Every family is unique and faces different challenges, and there is not one size fits all package for any family. Through my research as a former nutrition educator for the Healthy Youth Program and my experiences as a parent, I have a few tips that might be helpful as you try to figure out what “healthy” might look like in your own family.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Because motivation, temperament, and activity level varies between each child, we might sometimes have to think outside of the box on how to make this process fun for each child. One of my children is so far not very excited about doing team sports, but she loves to ride her bike places and is open to doing yoga classes. I really do believe that there is a form of exercise for everyone. Walking, dance parties, organized sports, biking and swimming are a few of the many options when it comes to types of exercise we can encourage. This is something that I am trying to do a better job of with my own family, but my kids have been very receptive when we exercise together as a family.
  • Really think about the messages that you send your children based off of how you talk about your own size and body. Are you constantly weighing yourself in front of your children? Do you sit and talk with a friend about dieting or criticize your own body in front of your children? Children are extremely smart and perceptive, and I have really been contemplating the messages I send to my children by my actions and the things I say. When you put yourself down in front of your children, you are putting down a person who means the very most to your child!
  • Do your research. As you are deciding the specifics on what is best for your family, remember that not all information or internet sites are created equal. Often times sites have ulterior motives as they are trying to push their products.
  • From the years I spent teaching parent/child baby classes, I can see how common it is in our culture to compare body shapes and sizes early on. Though it usually starts as an observation or in fun, parents are often comparing their children’s size to their peers. Grandparents might joke about or constantly bring attention to the fact that one grandchild is much larger than another, even as babies.  I once had a mom break down in class once when she recalled how her family referred to her as the “fat” sister. She said that they were constantly joking and criticizing her and pushing her to lose weight. In tears, she told us that she will never do these comparisons or put this kind of pressure on her own daughters.
  • Eat dinner together as a family whenever possible. Family meals are a time to not only share food but also to share about our days and to check in with each family member. I inherited my childhood family table, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of the many times my family gathered around that table. And to be able to do the same thing with my family feels very special!
  • Be mindful about how much and which kinds of media you allow enter your home. Though we won’t be able to always shelter our children from everything, we can do our part to have a healthy relationship with media. When we do see commercials or ads, we can talk about the fact that even these pictures aren’t usually accurate pictures of what the person really looks like. They are often photoshopping and changing models to fit the societal ideal even more. There is room to have many meaningful conversations about health and body image.
  • Be more gentle with yourself. It is extremely important to me that my children have a healthy self-image, yet I can be so hard on myself when I haven’t been exercising as much as I would like. It can also sometimes still be hard to accept the fact that my body, that has grown and birthed 3 children,might not quite go back to the way I would like it to, even when I am exercising and eating well. It truly is a miracle that my body was able to grow these 3  children that are now in my care each day. I should be celebrating the beauty of this as I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you approach health and body image in your own families. How are your ideas influenced by the way you were raised? What fun tips to you have for other families based off of what has worked well for you? I wish you and yours health during this new school year and in the years to come!

 

 

 

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Outside Everyday!

While visiting The Oregon Coast Aquarium this weekend with my children, I read a quote painted on the wall in the children’s area that said : “If we want children to flourish, we have to give them time to connect with nature and love the earth before we ask them to save it” (David Sobel). We have also been learning more about Helen Keller this summer as a family, and I love her quote that says: “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” Both of these quotes really speak to me as I have really been making a stronger effort this summer to have my children outside as much as possible. We have been swinging, bike riding, berry picking, hiking, swimming (in pools and rivers),gardening, playing in the yard, and going on family walks as much as possible. I’m sure that many of you have been doing the same with your families with maybe even more additions to my list.

I have personally observed that my own children seem so much happier, fight with each other less, and behave better in general when given opportunities to connect with nature, whether on a hike at Bald Hill or in our own yard. Children of all ages really can flourish when we slow down and prioritize outside time every day. When given the opportunity to move outside freely, children encourage growth across all developmental domains.

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

Much of my motivation to get my children outside more often came after reading Richard Louv’s book: “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” If you are not familiar with this book, you can listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR. In his book, Louv explores many of the contributing factors to less outside play today, which include media use in the home as well as parents perceived yet inaccurate assumption that we are raising children in much more dangerous times than when we were children (thus not allowing children to roam and explore). I know for me, one of the biggest barriers to getting my children outside can be weather. I have no problem getting my kids outside for long periods when the weather is nice, but it can definitely be harder for all of us to be motivated on a rainy day in February when I’d quite honestly rather stay inside and bake pumpkin bread, even if my kids would be up for time in nature.

Though I am making a stronger effort to make outside time the norm in our family, we are far from perfect when it comes to getting enough outside time. In fact, it seems like we adults can sometimes have a harder time finding motivation to get outside than our children.  I have found, however, that there have been some things that have helped my family in our efforts to get outside more:

  1. Choose to bike and walk when possible. Though we live too far from my children’s school to bike (and lack a route that is safe), we have made more effort to walk and bike when possible. We only live a little over a mile from a movie theater, so we have been trying to walk or bike when we see a movie instead of hopping into the car. We also try to ride our bikes to the park and to church when I have my act together.
  2. Make sure that you have the right clothing and gear. There is a saying that says, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” Having the right kind of clothing for weather can make all the difference in the world of making outside play a positive experience. Because nice outside gear can often times be expensive, look for used clothes at thrift stores and consignment shops if this is a concern for you. Another way to cut down the cost is to buy gender neutral clothing so that you can pass clothing down between brothers and sisters.
  3. Find kid friendly hikes and other outdoor activities in your area. With most of us being connected to social media these days, it would be very easy to pose a question to find out the best local spots nearby. One of my favorite things to do as a family is to walk the short boardwalk loop at Jackson Frazier Wetlands. If the weather is particularly bad, this short loop does not take very long and even toddlers can walk it.
  4. Make outside time a part of the routine so it just feels normal. I have thought about setting a rule that media use does not happen that day unless my children have first been outside breathing fresh air.  Limiting media use in general can also leave more time and motivation to get outside.
  5. Let your children participate in gardening. My kids love spending time in the garden and take so much pride when they have actually helped to plant and nourish the food that then nourishes our bodies. And as an extra bonus, my children are more likely to eat food from our garden than they are store bought food.
  6. Enjoy outdoor activities with other friends and family. I have found that my children are far less likely to whine or complain about going outside in the cold when they have other kids to run around with.
  7. Listen to your children and follow their leads on what they like to do outside. Children are going to feel more excited about spending time outside if they have input on what the activity is. Some children might enjoy the challenge of geocaching or having a bird guide with them while they walk so they can identify the wildlife around them.
  8. Slow down. Sometimes during the school year it can be hard to even find the time to get our kids outside when we are running children around from one activity to another. Make sure that no matter what activities your child does, they still have some time left for free play and spending time in nature.
  9. If you live in the Willamette Valley, make sure to attend “Get Outdoors Day” each year. We went as a family for the first time this year, and my children were so happy exploring and participating in all of the activities for hours

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at "Get Outdoors Day".

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at “Get Outdoors Day”.

Some of my best family memories from my own childhood and with my own family have been enjoying nature together. We would love to hear what you love to do with your families outdoors and how you make exploring nature a priority!

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