“Without the support and encouragement of my family, I may not be where I am today. My parents and sisters have always been there for me to take me to early morning training, come to my competitions, help me stay positive and give me the love and strength I needed to take me to the Olympics. Family is so important and National Family Week is a great reminder to all of us that we should be thankful for our relationships and always put aside special time to spend together.”
Rebecca Adlington, Double Olympic Swimming Champion
Putting this newsletter together, we were disappointed to discover that because of major events such as the Queen’s Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics, NATIONAL FAMILY WEEK IS NOT RUNNING THIS YEAR. Energies will be channelled into making National Family Week 2013 a memorable and special one.
However, we felt that nationwide events and publicity aside, it is always a wonderful thing to celebrate our families, big and small. For that reason, we’ve put together ten ways in which you can celebrate your own Family Week!
1. Create a family altar
However our families are made, each member is treasured. Why not create a place in your home where you have framed photos of family members, past and present. This is a great way to begin wonder-filled stories with your kids – perhaps you have a photo of Great Uncle Albert about to board the boat to Australia, or a photo of Granny with her fellow Land Girls during the war. Family history makes up the rich tapestry of our lives and weaving it into stories for children brings history to life and fosters a sense of identity. Some families keep a nature table in the home, celebrating the turning of the seasons. With a family table, or altar, you could use things found in the natural world that represent loved ones: feathers for gentleness; wood for strength; seashells for curiosity etc. Crystals can be chosen and words that evoke that person placed near a photo of them. If a distant loved one needs extra help or love, it’s particularly special to be able to sit at the altar or table, have some quiet time, and focus your attention on them and their needs. Especially where families are spread out across countries and continents, this is a lovely way for children to have familiar faces and loving thoughts part of their everyday environment.
2. Make something together
Keep meaning to build a tree house, but just haven’t found the time? Make Family Week your week of making something together. Draw up plans, discuss options, buy/borrow/forage materials, and then get started… Imagine at the end of the week climbing up the ladder into your family tree house! Or try crafting a quilt, drawing up your family tree, painting a mural, growing a mini garden, building a go-cart, erecting a camp, or making a film. Choose an activity that all the family can get involved in, and make it a shared project from start to finish.
3. Enjoy a Family Celebration
Celebrate the ways in which your family came to be. Perhaps you are one of Britain’s step-families, or a family separated by continents. Perhaps you came to be a family through fostering or adoption, or you are a small family of just two or three, or you are a family making your way after loss or change. Whatever your story, make time to celebrate the preciousness of your connection. Humans are social creatures and ritual and celebration help us understand our place in the world. Consider adding a new Family Celebration to your calendar – what about the day you got your dog? Or an Allotment Day? A Day of Connection for those overseas to Skype one another or send messages of love. You might like to make this a week-long celebration of family, love and connection, one you celebrate every year. Making time for one another like this validates us and helps us switch off from the stresses of everyday life.
4. Connect with families worldwide
For a registration fee, your children can start a mind-expanding pen-pal adventure! International Pen Friends (IPF) offers kids and adults the opportunity to connect with pen friends around the world and with over 300,000 members in 192 countries, you’re sure to find someone with shared interests! Writing to someone in Uganda or the Philippines is a great way for children to learn about children and families around the world. Who knows, you might discover traditional customs or celebrations that you decide to integrate into your own family life?
5. Make one another feel special
Even if you’re the kind of family who regularly makes time to love and connect with one another, it can be really fun to find ways in which to surprise with a love message! Tucking love notes and little messages in lunchboxes and handbags, under pillows, inside books, mugs, pockets or the fridge, in clothes drawers and toolboxes, and even a Post-it on the computer are all ways in which to put a smile on someone’s face. During Family Week, you might want to make a sealed box for each family member with a slit in the top, in to which you post something you love about them every day, or something they did that made you feel proud or happy. Younger children might contribute pictures or words. At the end of the week, each family member has a Box of Love! You can then either read them out to one another around the table or read them quietly to yourselves and keep them somewhere safe for a little boost. For children with behavioural difficulties and/or low self-esteem, this can be a very affirming activity and help them value their place in the family.
6. Cook a Family Meal
The Green Parent recently ran a feature on how to make the most of family mealtimes. One way is to get everyone in the family involved in some way, whether that’s making placemats or mixing ingredients. Having a set mealtime which you share as a family is an ideal opportunity to gather together, to share the day’s stories and connect after busy schedules. During the course of Family Week, you could write a menu for each night of the week, perhaps making every family member’s favourite dish. Budget your meals together and make shopping for ingredients fun by exploring your local farm shop and talking to shopkeepers about your recipes. Perhaps you’ll create a Family Feast for your Family Week Finale! Get everyone involved making a part of it, light some candles and make it a very special family gathering.
7. Learn something together
With school dictating the curriculum, it’s easy to forget that every experience is an opportunity for learning in a child’s life. Research shows that children learn best when allowed to do so at their own pace in a non-judgemental, loving, inquisitive environment. If there’s something your child/ren are particularly interested in, why not make it a family adventure to find out more? It could take you to one of Britain’s wonderful museums – doing experiments at London’s Science Museum or taking a tram down the cobbled streets of the Edwardian village at Beamish. Perhaps you’ll end up in the library gathering books for your project, or getting in touch with your local Wildlife Trust for a fantastic nature event. Or wandering with a sketch book at an art gallery, pottering along the seashore with a bucket and spade, or digging for treasure in your back garden! Engaging with our children’s interests in this way is one of the most successful ways of sending out a positive message about learning, and for children who struggle in school, can be an incredibly freeing and uplifting experience. Go on, find out something new as a family!
8. Design a Family Scrap Book
When kids are older, they will delight in a family album of shared experiences. Days whiz by and funny stories, family sayings, side-splitting anecdotes and magical moments get lost in the day-to-day. Start today; write down something funny the kids said, take a photo, make a handprint. Most families won’t have the time to add something every day, or even every week, but once a month, once every six months, make time to sit down together and get crafty. Write about holidays, nature adventures, new teeth, jokes, and family folklore. Kids will love decorating the pages with their own drawings and you can stick everything from ticket stubs to autumn leaves in. Plenty of future fireside reminiscing and laughs woven into every page!
9. Help other families connect
Not every family is fortunate to have the emotional, physical or financial resources to be able to connect with one another. All families have ups and downs, and some can be devastating. Perhaps you know of someone in your community who is struggling as a parent because a loved one has died, a relationship has broken down, they have an illness or disability, or they’re in desperate financial straits. There are many ways in which the foundations of our family can become rocked, and reaching out to other families in times of turmoil can be the support that holds fragile family relationships together. Maybe it is a case of taking a friend’s kids out for the day, cooking some freezer-ready meals, or simply giving someone a ring. Remember to keep an eye on your own energy levels and don’t offer to do more than you can, in reality, cope with. Sometimes just a hug is enough.
Volunteering is also a fantastic thing to do as a family; look online for loads of interesting and inspiring opportunities to spend time together whilst helping your local community.
10. Write letters to faraway family members
Nothing beats the pleasure of finding a written letter on the doormat. We’re so used to pinging off an email or text, catching up on Facebook or online chat, that we forget the simple joy of opening a letter and seeing familiar handwriting and perhaps a photo or two of loved ones. If writing a whole letter seems like just another arduous task to tick off an endless to-do list, why not choose a postcard together from your local corner shop – even a few words lets a faraway loved one know we are thinking of them. Brighten up someone’s day!
Or, if you don’t have time for anything else, have an ‘unplugged’ Family Day
Perhaps it’s come to the end of Family Week and you’re beating yourself up that you didn’t get around to doing anything different. Don’t! All of us get caught up in getting the day to day stuff done, and that can feel like an achievement in itself. Instead of feeling guilty, why not schedule a day where you turn off the telly, phones, computers, and all the other distracting screens around the home, and just hang out together as a family. Read a book, get some art materials out, go for a walk, just spend some time talking and connecting. If you can manage to fit a day like this into your weekly or even fortnightly family schedule, you’ll start to feel the benefits of quiet, connective family down-time, or ‘unplugged’ time as some families call it. Making this time also opens you up to more connected listening and awareness parenting, and tunes you to your family’s innate rhythms. Enjoy!