Got the Winter Blues? Time to Plan a New Project!
January 25, 2012
Julie A. Riess, Ph.D., is the Senior Advisor on Child Development and Education at Families and Work Institute. She is a developmental psychologist and the director of the Wimpfheimer Nursery School at Vassar College.
This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal by Gannett Publications on January 22, 2012.
Two years ago, my son started a “365” project. He wanted to improve his skills as a photographer and made a pledge to himself to take at least one picture a day for the calendar year. On New Year’s Eve, 2010, we watched them as a slide show on our TV. We had had many sneak previews, including following along on his Facebook photo album. Yet the whole show, a year in pictures, was poignant in a new way.
There were some obvious things that made us smile, such as family blowing out birthday cake candles or the annual posed picture at our family’s summer vacation spot. Surprisingly, the more salient photos for me were the unexpected moments in daily life. There was the light switch in a darkened room at 11:59 p.m. (determination to keep the project afloat on a day he forgot to take a picture). There was the half full glass of water on a nightstand, from when he was sick in bed. There was a photo of a train window and another of car tail lights, as he traveled to interviews for graduate school.
Research on children’s memories, including interviews with children, often highlight the snapshots of our daily lives more than the center stage events. Memorable moments come in all shapes and sizes, yet the details sometimes tell the story better than the canvas. It isn’t as much about the trip to Disney World as discovering the little chocolate on a hotel pillow. It isn’t as much about a new bicycle as the moment a parent let go and you didn’t fall.
As we live inside more in the darker days of winter, taking on a project or a hobby can be re-energizing as an individual or a family. Adding a sequencing and goal element to it can be rewarding and full of learning or teachable moments. The day-by-day nature of a counting project can help capture the snapshots that will become the album. Here are some ideas for starting a new project adventure with your child(ren) this winter.
· Pick a number as your target. For young children, a project that is as short as 1-2-3 is a big step! 7 days, 10 days, 30 days are all reasonable possibilities with elementary school age children, as long as they are excited about the experience.
· Remember that your number doesn’t have to correspond to counting days. It could be counting events, objects added to a collection, etc. The target number and what you are counting should be meaningful to the child’s current level of understanding.
· Pick a project! Though the possibilities are endless, here are some jump starter ideas.
o Pick a new hobby and agree to work on it every day for a few minutes. This might be building a model car, collecting nature objects, painting in a bound journal, or baking!
o Help your child pick an activity that he or she wants to get better at. This might be something like board games, a sport, or a challenge (building the highest house of cards). Remember to keep the focus on your child’s interest and motivation.
o Pick a family activity that involves adding pieces to the whole. For example, keep a notebook (or a recording device) at the dinner table and have everyone add one sentence to a story each night for 7 nights. Or give everyone in the family a disposable camera and have each person take a picture of their day for 24 days. Print them and try to put them in a sequence together. Better yet, have each photographer create a story from the photographs. This is a great way to practice perspective taking and enjoy different viewpoints and ideas.
o Plan a family adventure. This is a fun way to get ready for a family trip or just a day at the museum or the movies. Make a list of questions and work on one question each day. Where do we want to go? What will we need to bring? What will we need to pack that day (everything from a backpack to a suitcase works!) What might we do when we get there?
In each of these examples, the parts work toward creating the whole. It involves planning and counting skills, patience and perseverance, group cooperation and problem-solving, accepting mistakes and celebrating success. Most important, it provides focused time with each other, building memories moment by moment that last a lifetime.