The most powerful way to genuinely connect with anyone is to give them our time and attention—genuine, all-in, physical and emotional attention. Without our phones. Without any electronics. Which, of course, is very hard to do today. Because we’re all busy, making important calls and answering important emails. We’re all working hard for our families. We’re all doing our best.
But there are small, meaningful ways we can connect every single day—all the while encouraging and sharpening our kids’ creativity, curiosity, compassion, sense of self and problem-solving skills.
You’ll find simple, beautiful ideas in the new book The Creative Family Manifesto: Encouraging Imagination and Nurturing Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule. Soule is an author, editor-in-chief of Taproot Magazine, and blogger at SouleMama, which she’s been writing since 2005. She lives in a 200-year-old farmhouse in Maine with her husband, five kids and various farm animals.
According to Soule in the book, “When our every evening is spent not in front of the television or looking at a screen, but instead connecting with ourselves and the people around us through the channels of creativity, we see the world in a different light. We see all the possibility, all the ideas still to be dreamed up, all the room from which we can find our place in the world.”
The first page of The Creative Family Manifesto fittingly features a manifesto. It includes everything from unplugging to playing, to believing in the impossible, to encouraging curiosity, to telling stories, to making art, to being silly, to loving fiercely. Below, you’ll find ideas for doing all that.
Creating a theater inside your house is a great way to encourage kids to perform everything from plays to puppet shows to concerts. You can do it by creating a doorway theater: Soule used a shower curtain tension rod and two long curtain panels in their double-door-sized opening between the dining and living rooms. This created a stage and a backstage for props (in their dining room). She also added flashlights, which served as spotlights.
According to Soule, “This theater stayed up for months and saw use every day as one performance after another was practiced, dress-rehearsed, and ultimately, performed.”
Well before computers, TV, and even radio, families would pass the time in the evening by playing parlor games. Soule and her family play charades with a twist: They pick a category, such as animals or emotions. Next they jot down different words associated with that category on small pieces of paper, which they put in a jar. One family member picks a piece of paper from the jar to act out.
Another game is the endless story. One person starts telling a story for a certain amount of time. Soule uses a 1-minute hourglass with her younger kids. When the time is up, the next person takes over the story. As Soule writes, “The story takes twists and turns, and new characters emerge.”
Family Drawing Time
Soule and her family try to do this every night, especially during the winter months. Basically, each person works on their own art projects, side by side. And it doesn’t matter whether you can draw or not. Doodling totally counts!
Have a special drawing book for each person, including yourself, that you only use during this time. Also, have different books for inspiration. This might be anything from old magazines to field guides for flowers or insects.
Soule and her family keep a Seasons Tree at the center of their dining room table. This is simply a branch with smaller branches on it, which goes inside a vase, jar, glass or bowl. They also include other things, such as dried beans or rocks or seashells to keep the branch in place.
Next they decorate their tree, according to the season or holiday. For instance, for Valentine’s Day, they fill the tree with handmade heart ornaments. To celebrate springtime, they decorate the tree with colorful ribbons. For autumn, they add leaves, which they’ve drawn or painted on paper and cut out.
These are some wonderful ways to make your child’s birthday extra special. Dedicate a spot in your yard as your children’s birthday garden. Each year plant a new tree or flower for their birthday.
Write a love letter to your child. Soule and her husband write about memories from the past year or what they cherish about their child at that age. She hopes these letters “someday serve as a reminder of who they were and, most importantly, of how very much they were and are always loved by us.”
Lastly, after the candles are blown out, each family member says something they love about the birthday boy or girl, something they remember from the year or something they wish for their upcoming year.
Here’s the (great) thing about real connection: It doesn’t require much. It requires turning off technology, and turning our attention to each other.