The following suggestions are excerpted from the Family chapter in my new book SOUL CELEBRATIONS AND SPIRITUAL SNACKS. There are many more ideas in the chapter, but some of them take place outdoors so they have been eliminated for this article. I offer these activities with the hope that some of them may help parents and children alike find value-oriented fun together while confined to the home during this difficult time.
1—Make a Wish Tree. Outside Japanese Shinto shrines, there is usually what is called a “Wish tree” where people can affix a piece of paper on which is written a personal favor, hoping that Buddha will grant it. In a secular environment, this activity provides an opportunity for introspection without actually realizing it. When family members place wishes on a “tree” (which could be anything from a real plant to a manmade construction of some sort) either for themselves or for another family member, it lets the whole family understand the needs of others in a creative, loving way. This results in surprises that are fun and shared compassion that encourages value-oriented family understanding, discussions, behavior, and harmonious unity.
2—Create a family Coat of Arms. By concretizing values and goals into a written mission and then a visual Coat of Arms, as royalty of the past were wont to do, a modern-day family can explore and cement their unity in a similar manner. Creating something artistic and meaningful that can also be aesthetically pleasing, a family-affirming Coat of Arms (or in today’s terms, a "logo") to hang on a wall can express a spiritual togetherness, shared values, and ideals. It’s fun and self-revelatory as well.
Have each family member jot down what they think the top value of the family should be. Next, see if there are any matches — there will be — and then, as a group, select the most important ones and formulate them into one sentence that succinctly sums them all up. This exercise alone can be enormously meaningful as each family member sorts through the family’s value system to select the most important and fundamental ideals that pertain to everyone.
Next, select symbols that visually express the most important values now identified and agreed upon. You’ll need a different symbol for each value you want to include, so this exercise is also self-explorative and self-expressing. Once the family has agreed on symbols, arrange them into a composition. No one need be an artist to do any of this. Just play with different arrangements as a team, using pen or pencil on paper until the whole family likes the look of the symbolic Coat of Arms. Then decide appropriate colors. Finally, using colored pencils, felt markers, paints, or whatever medium preferred, render the logo in color on thick paper and paste that onto a firm surface. Or compose the “logo” on a computer, searching for and then employing already existing images of chosen symbols and changing the colors at will until you all like your completed Coat of Arms, then print it. Or select separate images anywhere, cut them out, arrange them, and paste on paper or board.
When finished, frame the Coat of Arms. Your family now has a beautiful visual version of your shared values to enjoy; plus, the creative endeavor will sharpen and enhance family unity forever.
3—Together, read novels appropriate to the ages of children. This carries on from bedtime reading when children are young for the same purpose of fostering imagination and conceptualization. Once all members are of an age, reading novels aloud together (different chapters read by different family members) can be a great source of family togetherness and spiritual union. Selecting novels with serious, value-oriented themes that appeal to all members is itself a wonderful joint adventure. Then, taking turns, parents and kids can express their own individuality via vocal emphases, all the while mesmerizing others into stories that express the ideals of the entire family. Discussion afterward can also bring family members together in a loving manner.
4—Explore the "high arts" together on TV or the Internet. Enjoy a symphony, the ballet, opera, painting, and sculpture, and then discuss—Most museums have virtual tours of art on their websites during this period that provide many images worth viewing and discussing. Movies with substance can also offer ideas for discussion.
5—Hold a family scavenger hunt. Everyone makes a little gift (inspiring creativity) that would delight any other member and hides it somewhere in the house. Then the whole family goes hunting, and as each person finds a gift they shout out "Got it!" or "Hurrah!" or some such. When everyone has found a gift, all sit down to ice cream and cookies for show and tell.
6—When engaging in board games—depending on age, Scrabble for example is not only fun but educational--have a big group hug at the end of the event so that all revel together in the closeness of exercised excellence.
7—Once a week have a different family member create and prepare a "snack" (with help from little ones if there are any) to surprise the whole family with shared gustatory delights.
8—Create an Idea Basket in which family members can place subjects they would like to discuss. Then whenever the time is right, just pick one piece of paper from the basket to establish the topic. Everyone gets comfortable—maybe some fruit or treats of some sort can accompany this get-together—and discusses the subject. This activity strengthens openness and cooperation (and fun) between family members, and it also provides room for individuals to approach subjects important to them in a warm and understanding atmosphere.
Forced family togetherness does not have to be boring or frustrating. It can be a time for activities that encourage openness, creativity, and sharing, so make the most of it. . . and enjoy.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation (www.art-21.org). She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "Soul Celebrations and Spiritual Snacks." Read Alexandra York's Reports — More Here.
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