Our Creative Alternative to the Thanksgiving Myth

Our Creative Alternative to the Thanksgiving Myth (Photo: Table set with a variety of food for Thanksgiving)

“They’re not dressing up as Native Americans, are they?” I said, wrinkling my nose. After reading about how cultures aren’t costumes around Halloween and how the whitewashed version of the Thanksgiving story is painfully inaccurate, I hope that my son’s preschool isn’t re-enacting the famous version of the Thanksgiving narrative. Regardless of their curriculum, I know we won’t be repeating it in our household. So we have to come up with an alternative.

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Family Kindness Challenge: Model Kindness by Volunteering

Seeing kindness in action is one of the most powerful things a child can witness and participate in. Spending real time, money, and energy in service of someone else helps widen their perspective. Having a parent include them also communicates a powerful message about your values and priorities.

If you have a favorite local charitable organization, look into how you can get your kids involved in volunteering for it. Even if kids aren’t allowed to help in a warehouse or Habitat for Humanity build site, they can frequently raise money. When I was a kid, I set up a little stand on my front yard to sell pom-pom critters and donated the proceeds to environmental groups. Blogger Ilana Whiles at Mommy Shorts is participating in a program where her kids bake and sell cookies to raise money for pediatric cancer programs.

If you’re not familiar with nearby groups, looking into a local or regional homeless lunch program is a good place to start. Many of them do welcome children volunteering, as long as they’re coached ahead of time on expectations and responsibilities. Others may not have a direct role kids can play on-site, but have other activities they can do for their clients. For example, kids may be able to run a food drive. In addition to the normal canned goods, our food bank accepts donations of produce at the farmers’ market.

Other options may be more creative. Our local homeless lunch program likes having colorful, seasonal placemats for their meals, which can be a really fun activity for little ones.

Whatever group you work with, let the needs of the people they serve dictate your actions. In some cases, the most “fun” ways of volunteering aren’t the ones that are most needed. True service has to center the needs of the people being served, nor desires of the people serving.

Even if you aren’t able to volunteer today (short notice!), try to research what volunteer opportunities are possible with kids in your area. Most charitable organizations, especially local ones, have a “Get Involved” section on their website with the best ways to help.

Family Kindness Challenge: Talk about an ethical dilemma

Kindness really shines through in the most difficult of situations. All too often, we freeze up or turn away when we’re most needed.

Thankfully, we can help our kids prepare for those situations by talking about them or role-playing before they ever happen. Discussing these situations also helps kids build emotional intelligence and practice empathy for others.

For younger kids, you can talk through a scenario where someone acts unfair or unkind. Some scenarios could include seeing one kid push another, grabbing a toy from another kid, or calling someone a name. Small children have a very strong sense of fairness, starting even before they’re a year old and peaking in third grade. While little kids frequently do things to us that seem unfair, they only do that because they lack the big picture thinking to realize it (it seems fair to them!) or they lack the self-control to stop themselves (haven’t we all had those days?). If you ask them to imagine it happening to them and what they would want someone to do, they can gain that perspective more easily than we realize.

For older kids, you can tackle pricklier situations. These can include:

  • What do you do if you hear a friend using a racial slur or making a racist joke?
  • What do you do if you see someone inappropriately touch someone else against their will?
  • What would you do if one of your friends is being bullied?

Be sure to listen more than you talk. Also, feel free to admit that you don’t know all of the answers! Even the conversations with little kids can be challenging.

Family Kindness Challenge: Do something kind for animals or the environment

You can extend kindness beyond just humans! With stuffed animals and animal characters in children’s books, kids are inherently inclined to be empathic towards the natural world.

Before today’s activity, talk to your kids about their impact on the environment and animals. If they’re younger, you can start with visible impacts like how animals can eat litter and get sick. For older kids, talking about wider environmental issues like climate change or water pollution will probably be more engaging.

Then, do an activity that shows kindness to animals. One of our favorites is making homemade feeders for the birds.

Materials:
Pinecones
Peanut butter
Birdseed
String

Tie a string around the pine cone in a loop, so you can hang the pinecone from a tree branch or fence post. You will probably need to tuck it under the scales. Use a knife to coat the pinecone in peanut butter. Use enough so that the birdseed will thoroughly stick to it. Roll the pinecone in birdseed. Hang the pinecone in a tree or a bush where birds are likely to see it. Wait for the birds to show up! It may take a few days, but it will be gone quickly once they do.

Alternative activities include picking up garbage on a nature walk or setting up composting in your yard.

Family Kindness Challenge: Start or continue a tough conversation about privilege

Just like peace isn’t an absence of war, true kindness isn’t just “being nice” to people. It’s also about showing all people respect, making freedom from hate a reality, and providing access to opportunity. While individual actions are great, breaking down systems of inequality and injustice are essential.

A big piece of learning to be kind is understanding your own privilege. Although this can feel like a tough topic to parents, kids understand it better than we give them credit for. It’s tempting to think “just let kids be kids,” but parents of kids who aren’t privileged – like LGBT parents, parents of black kids, poor, and/or non-Christian kids – don’t get that luxury.

The first step is simply stating that some people have advantages over others in society. The classic text for understanding privilege is White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but I find it a little difficult to wrap my own head around that article.

Instead, I rather like “The Dollar Bill Hanging from the Ceiling” exercise that Bailey Koch describes on the website Her View from Home. In it, she hangs two dollar bills from the ceiling and then invites two kids – one much taller than the other – up to grab them. The kid who grabs theirs first gets to keep both dollars. Of course, the tall kid grabs it first and receives both bills. Right away, kids realize that even though both kids have access to the same thing, they have different opportunities. She then goes back and gives the shorter kid a chair to stand on, making it so both students have the same opportunity. While she uses the dollar bill exercise to illustrate how students start with certain academic advantages or not, I think it’s a great physical illustration of privilege out of the classroom as well.

If you relate to video games, John Scalzi’s Lowest Difficulty Setting is a great metaphor. The article makes it clear that having privilege of any kind doesn’t mean things will always be easy. In fact, you’ll almost certainly encounter things that are hard. But if you’re privileged, those things won’t be as hard to handle as someone in a less privileged position.

Obviously, the conversation here is going to vary widely depending on the age of your child. For our four-year-old, it’s a simple as telling him that people have different lives than we do. Some people have less money, some people have difficulty walking, some people don’t celebrate Christmas, some people have different color skin than we do. We’ve also edged a bit into the fact that people treat others worse because of these differences. If nothing else, his constant questioning “Why?” has forced our hand in the best way possible. The more we as adults think “Why?” about systems we take for granted, the more we can break them down and build something better in their place.

The next step to understanding privilege is seeing how someone can be privileged in one area and not in another. Similarly, someone can be non-privileged in several ways that interact with each other. For example, a black woman is treated differently (and often worse) by society than either a black man or a white woman is. This is called intersectionality. This comic does a great job breaking down intersectionality and what it means for people.

What types of privilege you discuss obviously depends on your own circumstance. For us, economic privilege is the easiest to start with because it’s easy to see how some people have less money and the material impact that has on their lives. With race, we’re talking about the history of the Civil Rights movement and starting to provide some modern-day context about the work that still needs to be done.

The resources you can turn to depends on the sort of privilege. There are a ton of great resources for talking to kids about race: Raising Race Conscious Children, Embrace Race, and Raising an Advocate. Some of the other topics don’t seem to have as many good resources available, unfortunately.

This is a tough thing to tackle, so good luck!

Family Kindness Challenge: Read a story about someone who is different from you

The heart of kindness is empathy. As Brene Brown says in this great video, empathy is being with someone, not having pity or trying to give advice. One of the best ways to develop empathy is to see things from another person’s point of view.

While in-person conversations and real relationships are the best way to do this, books can also play an important role. Reading about people who have radically different experiences than me has opened my eyes to so many perspectives.

Fortunately, children’s literature offers a wide variety of experiences if only you look for them. Obviously, which characters will be different from you will depend on your own situation!

But here are a few ideas for great picture books featuring children from a variety of backgrounds and experiences:

Unfortunately, my knowledge of current chapter books is pretty limited right now! A librarian in the children’s section of your local library can be an invaluable resource though.

Outdoor Gifts for the Little and Big Kids in Your Life!

If you want to buy fewer toys and enable more adventure, here are 12 outdoor gifts for the kids of all ages in your life.

Outdoor Gifts for the Little and Big Kids in Your Life! (Photo: White child in a hat with moose antlers, Who Pooped in the Park? book cover, plastic bug light, water bottle, children's bike, and Camp game display(

“We are not buying a whole bunch of toys for Christmas,” I said to my husband last year. In fact, that’s pretty much what I say every year. We’re not always successful, but generally try to focus on gifts that support our values of simplicity and adventure. Outdoors gear does both while also getting our kids more excited than ever about going out in what can be frigid weather in our area.

Adding some of these gifts to your kids’ (or your own) Christmas lists can help winter feel more fun and spring feel closer than ever. Here’s gifts that are great for our three favorite outdoors activities: hiking, biking, and camping.

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How to Help the Environment While Making the Most of Your Time

Do you want to do what you can to help the environment but can’t find the time? Here are eight ways you can do both!

How to Help the Environment While Making the Most of Your Time (Photo: A photo of a green tree in a field with a clock superimposed over it)

“I don’t have enough time!” I lament to my husband, as I stay up too late washing the dishes yet again. I’m certainly not alone in this cry, as anyone who raises small children knows. The days may be long, but it still feels as if there are never enough hours. But despite all that, our family still lives in as environmentally-friendly a manner as we can. As many “green” activities take more time than conventional ones – I’m looking at you, dish rags that we need to wash – how do we find the time to help the environment?

Some of it is reorganizing our priorities. But in many cases, I’ve found some shortcuts to save time and still help the environment.

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Connecting With Who My Baby Really Is

Connecting With Who My Baby Really Is (Photo: Small child standing in a field, touching a sunflower)

“Do you want socks on?” I asked my nineteen-month-old son, raising an eyebrow. His feet were cold, but that was a pretty sophisticated question. He wouldn’t be able to understand it. Right?

He bobbed his head up and down, blond hair flopping. An unmistakable yes.

I moved my own mouth up and down wordlessly a few times. I finally said, “Okay,” and went to get him socks. My baby wasn’t going to be a baby for much longer.

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The Absolutely Best Ways to Donate to a Food Drive

Want to give effectively to a food drive to a local food bank?

The Absolutely Best Ways to Donate to a Food Drive. We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So (Photo: Cans of food stacked in very large piles)

You rarely have the opportunity to decide how to spend your co-workers’ hard-earned money. But as the one responsible for running our yearly food drive, I wanted both them and the food bank to get the best bang for their buck. Just randomly picking out whatever I felt like at the grocery store wasn’t going to cut it. But how could I donate in the most effective way possible?

I’m not the only one who struggles with this question. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the “food drive holidays,” where everyone from churches to Boy Scouts troops are collecting cans to donate to food banks. Unfortunately, the donations to these drives aren’t as helpful as they could be because people just aren’t aware of the most effective ways to give.

Between my experiences running the food drives and reading up on the subject, I’ve found some really handy rules to guide your food drive giving.

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