Living creatively and joyfully with children (even indoors)
The book Parent Trek was commissioned by MCC to be a resource for adults interested in helping children “develop the capacity to live creative, generous, joyful lives in a world of limits and great disparities.”
“Our culture often encourages children to see themselves as consumers, to value individualism above community, and to believe that more is always better,” author Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi writes in the preface. “If children are to challenge the status quo, they need a clear idea of how their lives fit with what they believe.”
That need is as great today as it was in 2001, when Parent Trek was published by Herald Press. And many of the suggestions remain as relevant today as they were when the book was released.
Top photo: Around the world, crafts are an important part of children’s programs, including in this MCC-supported center for children in Cochabamba, Bolivia, shown in 2013. MCC photo/Nina Linton
MCC photo/Nina Linton
We invite you to explore a collection of ideas taken from or adapted from the book. They were compiled in March 2020. Some have been adapted and some additions were added for this time when many families are remaining at home because of the threat of COVID-19.
Spending time together (indoors)
Savoring God’s creation
MCC photo/Emily Loewen
“The term ‘sharing’ sometimes refers to a gift from one who has to one who has not. When we share faith with children, we each offer the other some of what we have. My children offer me a link to an enchanted world. I offer them stories in which they can root their experience and explore new possibilities,” writes Rick Zerbe Cornelsen in Parent Trek.
Try church rituals in your home
Light a candle, read a Bible verse for the day or week. Make a banner that reflects the season or upcoming time in the church year.
Make up your own sung prayer
Put a Bible verse to a simple tune. Sing songs from Sunday school that your chlidren know. Or sing the first verse of a well-known hymn for a prayer.
Teach the Lord’s prayer
Use it as a table grace or bedtime prayer and spend time memorizing it. You could also spend time around the table memorizing Scripture.
Try a new table grace
Get ideas from songbooks, devotionals, hymnbooks or Psalms. Try a silent prayer before meals or spontaneous prayers from family members. Let children lead the prayer, or take turns with each family member leading the prayer for a meal.
Hear others’ faith stories (virtually)
Use technology to invite grandparents, extended family and maybe church friends to share with children stories from their lives and experience.
Involve children in actions growing out of faith and simple living choices: household tasks, recycling, sharing with others and learning home skills.
Answer “why” with a story
Give children reasons for your beliefs and choices by telling stories of Jesus, of your family history and of Christians today or long ago whose faith illuminated their choices.
Take turns naming something each person is thankful for at the table or during bedtime prayers.
MCC photo/Nina Linton
Spending time together (indoors)
Need some extra ideas for what to do inside the house?
Suggest real things for playthings
Flashlights, backpacks, a scarf, blankets and binoculars can set the scene for an in-house adventure. Suggest scenarios. Maybe you’re going camping, you’re explorers, you’re snowbound in winter.
Give old toys new life by shifting locations. Move kitchen items to the bathtub, indoor toys to the outdoors, dress-up clothes or games to a guest bedroom.
Shift locations (take two)
Write different spaces around the house on popsicle sticks or slips of paper. Each person draws one and then goes to that space for reading or quiet time.
Make playthings out of found objects
See the potential in yogurt containers, clothespins, rubber bands, sticks from the yard.
Give children old clothes, fabric scraps, plastic pipe or wood scraps from projects.
Have a night of no electric lights
Use only candles and kerosene lamps. Play games, read stories and talk about life before modern technology. Remember that many people around the world are living without electricity or running water. Talk with your children about how life might be different if they lived without electricity or running water.
What kind of game could your child invent? Or story? Or supper? Take time to savor the final creation together.
Build a house
Got cardboard around? Invite children to build a cardboard house or use other materials to build or draw a home. Build a fort out of blankets.
Do science experiments in the kitchen
Make volcanoes with vinegar and baking soda. Find new uses for funnels, cookie cutters and lids. Supervise children’s creation of their own snack concoctions.
Make a family pizza
Let each family member add the ingredient of his or her choice. Or use pizza dough to make personal pizza creations. What shape and toppings will each person choose?
Have a music night
Invite everyone in the house to sing together or play an instrument. Invite children to invent instruments. Think pots or pans, kitchen utensils but also maybe sticks or rocks. Maybe you want to dress for the occasion? Consider connecting electronically with family members for a mini-concert.
Factor in grandparents and relatives
Make cards or crafts for grandparents or other relatives. And ask for their help in figuring out ideas for the house. Pick up the phone, send a text or connect electronically for a quick brainstorming session with family and friends.
MCC photo/Paul Shetler Fast
Savoring God’s creation
Nurture in children a joy in caring for God’s creation.
Celebrate the seasons
Make an outdoor expedition and look for signs of the changing seasons. Explore changing leaf color, blooms, migrating birds and new growth. Go out with a sketch pad, or collect leaves, seed pods or stones to make a collage or simple sculpture.
Spend quiet time outside with a child, just being still and listening and thinking. Use all your senses (smell, hearing, touch). Reflect together afterward. What new things did you notice?
Take time for wonder
Slow down and rediscover the wonder of God’s creation. Learn from children and examine nature with curiosity, enthusiasm and awe. Find joy in flowers, stars, the changing phases of the moon.
Get dirty together
Let children work in the garden with you. Examine bugs, plants and animals together.
Empty the compost with your child
Use the chance to talk about trash or the cycle of nature. No compost? Work together to organize the recycling, or to care for your soil. Talk about the environmental choices you make and why. As you do, reflect on the role that people can take in caring for God’s creation.
Carry the Psalms
Either take the Psalms along as you go outdoors with children, or reflect on verses when you get back in. As you read the Psalms yourself, consider what you might look for in tomorrow’s walk.
Find nature guides
What resources do you have at home or can you find online for learning about God’s creation? What can children learn and teach to the adults in the household about the neighborhood birds and trees, or a faraway national park?
Let children contribute
Solicit their ideas on how your family can better care for the environment. Consult them when making family or church decisions that affect the environment.
Make a campfire ring
(Probably an idea to save for later, when travel is more possible, but we liked it too much to leave it out) Gather stones from travels, family milestones and friends far away to make a campfire ring. Use it as a place to start and end trips and undertakings with prayer.
Build a fire together
Already have a fire ring, or space for an outdoor fire in your yard? Build a fire together. Think about what you can cook over the fire. An entire meal? Experiment with bread, or stick to s’mores.
MCC photo/Owen McCullum
We want our children to be able to stand strong as God’s own handiwork – not molded by a consumer or individualistic culture, but transformed by an inner sense of what is right.
Let children contribute to the job
Encourage them to learn new skills; be patient with mistakes and messes. Allow them to be the leaders when possible. Take turns of who is “in charge” of a project.
Make a space for children to offer their abilities and new things they are learning. Encourage children to share music, art, knowledge and games with others in your home, and electronically with family members. Record videos to share with family members and encourage them to make their own to send back to your children.
Repair or make something
What in your house needs to be repaired? Invite a child to learn with you as you work. Teach a child to sew on a button or mend torn fabric. Consider what other lessons you might offer – from knitting and sewing to using tools.
Teach children how to cook
Encourage learning about healthy food, how to prepare vegetables and fruits and the various costs of convenience food.
Read a map
As stories, books or movies bring up different countries, have children find them on a map.
Think about how you can teach children to be cautious and smart in new situations, not paralyzed by fear. Ask them what questions or fears they have about the current situation.
MCC photo/Meghan Mast
Even in a time of keeping physical distance from others, we seek to help our children develop empathy, to be able to graciously receive as well as give and to feel the discontent that pulls them to work for justice for all God’s creation.
As you talk about this time with your children, ask them to think about how they can encourage family members and friends. Make a card? Take a photo of a drawing that you can email? Make a simple, cheerful video? What would children want to make? Who could they share it with? Write messages of love with sidewalk chalk around your home or neighborhood.
Offer an affirming word
Words matter. Send a word of encouragement to children in your family, extended family, church or school. Let them know how much you appreciate or enjoy them.
Make a giving list
At holiday times, many people make wish lists. Can your family make a giving list? Who would you like to give to now? And how will you give? With donations? With time? With a card or phone call?
Notice what children are saying through words and body language. Let them know you understand their feelings even when you disagree.
How can you find ways to laugh together in this time?
Build circles of relationships for children
A loving community helps give children a sense of identity and belonging. Even in this time of social distancing, how can you continue to create ties with others electronically? Many families, churches and other groups are meeting virtually. Show your children that the people who love them are still here and care about them.
MCC photo/Ryan Rodrick Beiler
Throughout the various sections of the book, Parent Trek offers invitations for parents to reflect and ask questions about their own lives and values. And it offers ideas for inviting children to reflect on the culture they live in, and the lessons they see in their own families.
Ask what’s important
“What is important to us as a family? What do you think we think is important?” Ask your children this question. And be patient with answers. In Parent Trek, Titus Peachey recalls asking this. “After explaining that we simply wanted them to speak from their own observation of our lives, we were quite astonished by the first answer: ‘Well, it’s important to hurry up!’ This was certainly not our own perception of what we valued most highly. The second answer was that, ‘It is important to spend time together.’ This relieved our anxieties a bit. Try this exercise … you may learn some surprising things.”
Bring in the big picture
Use children’s questions or comments as a springboard to talk about poverty, suffering and ethical issues in the world you want them to learn about.
Talk about why
Talk about why your family has made certain financial or lifestyle choices. Don’t assume your children will know.
Break down advertisements
Look at ads with children and discuss them. What is effective or creative? What might be deceptive? How do ads sell a lifestyle to promote a product? Work with your children to make up your own ads for values you support. Share them with family or friends.
Another lens on TV
Pretend you are from Mars. Watch TV through the eyes of an outsider and try to figure out what this culture values and what its people are like.
Include children in family or church budget discussions. Let them see where money goes and why, and solicit their opinions. Explain to children how God provides for us and we pass along his gift to others.
Reduce housework by living in no more space than you really need, or simplifying possessions. Consider whether time at home gives you a new chance to sort through toys, clothing or other items.
When you look back someday over your life and the lives of your children, what do you hope to have done, accomplished or enjoyed with them?
Editor's note: MCC offers a special thanks to Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi, who wrote this book in 2001, and to Jennifer Steiner of MCC Great Lakes, who offered additional suggestions as we adapted ideas for this time of uncertainty and social distancing.