by Sue Schwartzman
It is hard to squelch your kid’s excitement as the final school bell announces the official beginning of summer. Kids grab their air-light backpacks, and fly out the doors excited to be free from homework and “required” activities. It is the annual ritual of shedding the stress and replacing it with excitement and anticipation of an upcoming summer filled with fresh adventure and unstructured time. Summer signals a much needed change in pace for the all of us-longer days, more light, more time to talk, explore, think and just be in the same space as those we love without the pressure of having a school project or a test to study for.
Start with making opportunities to have conversations
So how can you make the most of this precious time? Begin by making the most of simple moments like sharing a book or watching a movie. These experiences prompt conversations and trigger deeper exploration of family values with your kids. Become more action oriented by trying one of the following activities: work in a community garden, help your kids create a lemonade stand for their favorite charity, or clean out their closets and bring the clothes to the local shelter. It is not enough to do, watch or read – the trick is to talk about the experience and share how your beliefs are reflected in the themes of the books, the movies you watch, or experiences you share. Don’t be shy about sharing where your values come from. Some suggestions for books, movies and volunteering can be found below.
There are also many summer experiences that you likely already take part in, like visiting grandparents, exploring a museum, or traveling, that are ripe opportunities for value based discussions.
Here are some good ideas on how to create shared experiences
1. Share family history stories between kids, parents, and grandparents. Just by having the conversations, you open the door for kids to talk about what matters to them. You can encourage your kids to select a story recording method that works for them: some may want to tech-up this project by using a mobile phone to record the stories and then pair the stories with old photos and music from the same era. Some may want to illustrate the story themselves. Let them do what they need to make it theirs. Be sure they have a chance to tell their story too.
Three good story starters to ask are:
- What life experiences – historical or familial – most formed who you are?
- What are the values that motivate you to be charitable?
- What are you passionate about?
These questions are taken from the “Grandparent Legacy Project” – a step by step guide to sharing your heritage and available at 2164.net/store/tool/the-grandparent-legacy- project
2. Create A Scavenger Hunt – Whether you are traveling in the states or having a staycation, opportunities abound to discover new things and initiate important conversations. Walk on Main Street by your house or in the city you are visiting and try some of the following:
- Do a quick scan and count the pieces of trash you see on the ground between two points. Who do you think is responsible for keeping the streets clean? City workers, citizens, a company? (If you are traveling, ask how this is the same or different from where you live?)
- Set distance perimeters (over the next mile or next six blocks) and observe the people. Name two things that pop out to you. It can be an observation about the people or the land. What is unique/special about this territory? What might this say about the community? Are there any community needs made obvious by what you see? Is there a need for homeless shelters, food banks, grocery stores, mental or physical health centers, access to social services? If there are no social needs apparent, ask the locals some questions about social services and where those in need of shelter go. How many public drinking fountains, showers and restrooms do you pass? Where do people go if there are few of these facilities around?
3. While waiting in line at the museum or aquarium, have your kids count the total number of names on the donor wall. Do they recognize any? Is there more space on the wall? Why is that? Ask the kids why they think the names are on the wall and why people gave money to be there. Have them go to guest services and ask if there are discount tickets available for those who can’t afford a ticket. Have them ask if the building has special parking or accommodations for those who need it ( the elderly or those with physical disabilities)
4. Traveling Abroad – If you are traveling in Eastern Europe or Israel, let us know and we can arrange a site visit at one of the Federation’s amazing projects. Visit an Ethiopian community garden, an Arab Israeli preschool, a new Jewish Community Center in Poland, bring a smile and some food to elderly Holocaust Survivors in the Former Soviet Union.
Last summer, Evan, one of our Teen Foundation alumni, visited a high school that his board funded, the Rodman School in Kiryat Yam. Evan saw first-hand how a high school is transformed through community support and partnership with World Ort.
5. Read a book – read together or read on your own and talk about the book.
- What Zeesie saw on Delancy Street by Elso Okonn Rael and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. (elementary school or later pre-school)
- Mitzvah Magic by Danny Siegel (elementary age students)
- The Power of Half – One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back by Kevin and Hannah Salwen (6th grade-high school)
- Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America [Paperback] by Barbara Ehrenreich (high school and older)
6. Watch a movie – save time to talk about it after and invite your kid’s friends to join.
- a. Pay it Forward – PG13; Discussion Questions: Does doing a good deed for satisfaction sake, or to feel good, lessen the deed? What motivates our actions? What does Judaism say about the motivation for tikkun olam or responsibility for fixing the world?
- The Pursuit of Happyness – PG13; Discussion questions: How is Chris the same or different from the image of a homeless person in your town? Was Chris’s decision to live on the streets while trying to get ahead a good one? Why or why not? What do you think his son learned from the experience?
- Freedom Writers – PG13; Discussion Questions: Who are the people in your life that motivate you to succeed? How do we sometimes give in to attitudes and behaviors that we know are not “healthy” just because everyone else is doing it? Why is there an inequity of resources in public high schools?
- The Mighty – PG13; Discussion Questions: How do we select our friends? How do we embrace or react to people that are different from us?
7. Volunteer – Here are a few agencies to check out.
- Check out Urban Adamah – work outdoors in nature
- The Jewish Home – make the day for one of our seniors special, just by visiting
- Jewish Children and Family Services – deliver meals to those in need.
- Come up with a family project designed by the kids, using their interests and skills
8. Play Games– There are Values Cards and Picture your Legacy Cards that spark conversations at the dinner table or the picnic table, even from the most reluctant participant. These cards are terrific for people of all ages. Some example questions from these special card decks are below along with a link of how to purchase them online:
- What are the values that most motivate you? Power, Tradition, Innovation, Beauty, Freedom, Love, etc. 2164.net/store/tool/motivational-values-cards
- Select one of the colorful images that represent how you aspire to be in the world. You will be choosing from nature pictures, people pictures, and tech pictures- all provocative and mean something different to each player. Each person’s reason for choosing the card is always telling. 2164.net/store/tool/picture-your-legacy
I do not have all of the answers to your parenting questions, but I do know that best way to transmit values to the next generation is to act on your values, talk about what you do/ did and why, and allow your family to experience working on a cause together. It will give you a common framework to talk about values and it will provide your kids the tools and language to talk about and process sensitive issues throughout the year.
Sue Schwartzman is Director of Philanthropic Education at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, San Francisco; [email protected]