BY LINDA SWANSON, RETIRED ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINICIPAL
I wonder what it is that allows us to enjoy the simple things in life? I mean things like: a hug, bubble gum, pushing children on a swing, hearing familiar laughter, sharing a good book, watching the sun set or rise, ice water with lemon. I guess it's the joy or comfort we receive from things that didn't take much to achieve, aka. simple. I just finished reading a book written by former president Jimmy Carter. At the beginning of each chapter he quotes Jimmy Townsend. One of most thought provoking statements was this: "Finding a way to live the simple life is today's most complicated problem."
So what do you think of when you ponder simple fun or enjoyment? Our daughter loved and continues to savor anything spontaneous. Yes, planning, management and routine are very necessary when raising children; however, it would also be foolish to ignore all the opportunities that spontaneously present themselves at unplanned instances throughout our life time. Take a pajama ride - that's when just as your youngsters are ready for bed you jump in the car to go kiss an extended family member goodnight. Or, right after a 3...2...1 count down everyone races from the car to the backdoor. Sing a praise song when a sudden feeling of thankfulness erupts - we use the doxology.
Incorporate exercise into your weekly routine. For some reason we forget that exercise can be fun. It's just a matter of fitting it into our routine. Take a walk as a family, add to that finding five things that begin with a particular letter and memorize them until you arrive home. For older children add or subtract the house numbers as you pass by. Use the walk to pick up a needed item at the grocery store. Talk, walk and ask questions - you'll find out lots about your child's opinions and thoughts. That's communication at its best. Join another family for some favorite outside kid's games like hide and seek, red light green light or even hopscotch. All of this will make you laugh; an added beneficial perk.
Begin each day with enthusiasm! Turn on the music, or sing a song while waking up your children. This is a great time for a morning hug. We always had hug arounds - that meant everyone in the house "hugged around in a circle". Have a word of the day to discuss at breakfast or have a "pot of jokes" for someone to draw from and read to everyone. A little togetherness at the start of the day can turn the entire day into one that is unforgettable.
Perhaps good or not so good, we often think of a food or beverage treat as a simple way to have fun. I actually mentioned two of those out of the eight I listed at the beginning of this article. Something simple my mom did that was a special treat during my childhood was the squirt of orange juice in a dish of fruit cocktail. Part of the fun of that was the fact that it didn't happen often and it was always served with waffles!
So, create a simple food treat, season your popcorn with a little cinnamon, add peanut butter, raisins or cheese to your celery. Decorate your crackers with a little spread and veggies. Put a drop of food coloring in each glass before dinner, pour the milk or water once everyone has gathered at the table - what a great surprise! These simple acts are different from comfort food and can create a simple pleasure. Making it good, simple fun is when you keep the snack healthy!
Always extenuate the positive. At dinner, upon the 7 p.m. alarm ringing (this keeps it scheduled) or, just after the bedtime tooth brushing is completed, have everyone tell three good things that happened that day. Or pick a positive emotion from the "pot of feelings"; laughable, silly, corny, or exciting. Share something that happened describing that feeling. If a sad event surfaces, allow your child to share it but then visually, with their hand, erase it from their brain.
Schedule an imagination night and let them run wild. Provide a big box of materials so that your child can use their imagination. Dress up clothes are a great way to get started. Include band instruments. They are as easy as wooden sticks, any kind of bell and some beans or macaroni in a taped box. A variety of paper, even mural size with crayons, markers and scissors makes for great creativity. Crush the paper into balls and have an indoor snowball fight. A variety of different sized boxes gives many opportunities to assemble, ride or hide.
Building relationships happens when you do things together especially when you make them a weekly or monthly tradition. Traditions plus togetherness are really quite easy. My nephew and his wife have a living room floor sleep over with their two and a half year old son. Everybody likes getting together for popcorn and a home "movie" or snapshot review. When I asked my husband to recount a "keep it simple act" from his childhood, it involved a weekly tradition their family did together. Try eating a meal backwards, dessert first! But you must come to the table wearing something backwards. Offering to help a child with an unusually difficult task, getting everyone involved really makes it simple as well as comforting. How about a talent show? If you need more participants, invite some relatives or friends to participate. Remember, parents participate as well! In the end, you've kept it simple and you've nurtured family relationships, not to mention the memories.
I recently heard an 83-year-old speaker insert this information into a conference lecture I attended. "My father, never told me he loved me, parents just didn't do that back then." he continued in defense of his dad, "I knew he loved me, we used to go fishing together." Am I suggesting parents need not say "I love you."? No, I'm saying the practical lesson is this: simple acts show you love them.
Linda Swanson, retired Southwestern Elementary Principal. She earned her B.A. degree from Houghton College and M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Fredonia State. Mrs. Swanson is a lifelong resident of southwestern New York State. Her early teaching experience was at Randolph Elementary. She currently enjoys substitute teaching and volunteering at Z.E.A.L., an after school tutoring program at Zion Covenant church and also a volunteer for Love Inc.