Keeping kids entertained can come with a hefty price tag and can often do more harm than good to their personalities. With video and computer gaming on the rise, more and more kids are losing their social skills and becoming less involved with their community and healthy activities. Character building exercises can be cheap, fun, and easy if you use a little imagination and have the right guidance.
- Take a trip to the local animal shelter. What kid doesn’t love animals? And what kid hasn’t begged their parents for a puppy? Most children only see the playful and fun side of puppies and leave the dirty work to the parents. Animal shelters in most areas are in need of volunteers on a regular basis. Dedicate one day a week or month to be a volunteer day and your child will learn the responsibility it takes to take care of an animal. Volunteers are usually asked to play with the animals, take them for walks, and tidy up the cages. Be sure to explain to your child that shelters are just temporary homes or “pet hotels” until they find them a new home. This will curb the heartache when an animal they may have grown attached to is adopted. Many shelters also have a “resident pet” that may have been around so long that the staff has basically adopted it as their own. Encourage your child to become friends with this animal so as to avoid the disappointment of turnover in the shelter. Be sure to check with the staff ahead of time to check which animals are safe for your child and won’t intimidate or startle your child.
- Ask your child help you out in the kitchen. This is also a great way to introduce kids to new foods. Children are more likely to eat something if they’ve seen exactly what goes into it. Give your child fun tasks and tools like using a salad spinner, measuring out dry ingredients, and stirring dough batters. Just be sure to leave the chopping and cooking on the stove for the adults. Even clean up can be made into a game. Assign them a task such as drying dishes or putting away clean items and let them know that if the kitchen is clean after dinner they get to choose a dessert recipe.
- Get to know the city workers in your area. Do you know your mail carrier by name? How about your garbage man? You may see these workers on a daily or weekly basis but may never take the time to get to know them. Introduce your child to your mail carrier and let him or her ask them a few questions if they’re not in too much of a rush. Most would be glad to give a couple minutes of their time to a friendly face. This will encourage your child to take pride in his community. As Dr. Seuss said, “A person is a person no matter how small.” Explain to your child that it is important to treat people equally, no matter how big or small a role they play in their lives.
- Visit a nature or conservation area. Forget waiting in line at the zoo and paying the high price of admission, check to see if your community has a wildlife refuge or conservation area. Nature centers usually have information centers with knowledgeable staff eager to educate a hungry mind. Explain the importance of maintaining a beautiful Earth to your child through cause and effect. Have you child compare the untouched nature in a conservation area to the land in your neighborhood. What’s different about the two? What animals live in the conservation area that do not live in the city? Wildlife refuge centers are a great way to show your children how important it is to respect nature and the world they live in.
- Make a “me” collage. This activity helps to build self esteem and identity. Kids take a photo of themselves and surround it with clippings from magazines or newspapers of their favorite hobbies, activities, values, or things that they think describes their personality. Try to avoid material objects such as toys or games they would like. Have your child present their board to the family and explain what they like about their board and how they plan to carry out their activities and hobbies in the future.
- Spring cleaning and clothes donations. Instead of sifting through your child’s clothes after they’ve outgrown them and hauling them over to the local Goodwill store, encourage your child to get involved in the process. Ask your child what each piece of clothing means to them, the last time was that they wore it, and if they could think of someone that needed it more than they do. Explain to your child that in order to get new things, you must first get rid of old things that are not in use. If they are not using an old doll or sweater, they must try to keep it in the cycle of use so that someone else may get as much joy as they have from it. This promotes fairness and caring for those with different needs than theirs.
- Visit the farmer’s market. Foods straight from the farm are not always as appealing to the eye as the ones on display at the grocery store. Showing your kids that the glossy, pretty, and perfectly symmetrical foods at the grocery store aren’t always the tastiest is an important lesson to learn. Introduce your child to new fruits and vegetables they may have never seen or tasted before. Most farmers are more than happy to educate you on their growing process and teach a curious child about the health benefits of their crop.
- Make a comic book about their own super hero. This could be a person in their life or someone they have made up. Ask your child what they like about the character and what makes them a hero. If they were a super hero, what sort of super powers would they have and what would they do with them? How can they incorporate some super powers into their own life? If the character is imaginary, ask them who in their life most resembles their character. What do they respect about this person or character?
- Tell tall tales to uncover the truth. Tell your child a story about something that happened to you with 5 things that are true and 5 that are untrue. Ask them which things were the truth and which were made up. Let your child make a story of their own with true statements and false statements. Ask them what they think about lies and people who tell them. Do they have friends that don’t tell the truth? What do they like or dislike about that, and what are the consequences of not telling the truth? Make sure your child knows how important it is to be honest.
- Keep a dream journal. Put a notebook by your child’s nightstand and encourage them to jot their dreams down as they awake in the morning. Ask your child if they would like to share their dreams with you. What do they think that their dreams mean? Do they represent something they want or like about their lives or something that they are afraid of? Some children have difficulty expressing and identifying their feelings, and with your help that can make better sense of their dreams, goals, and fears.
Author: Sarah Antrim