A Picture Can Say A Thousand Words (When You’re Not Sure What to Say)

Sometimes breaking news reveals terrible tragedies. Each family must use their own best judgement to decide if (and how) they expose their children to these difficult stories. These decisions can be based on your child’s age, emotional temperament, or previous family discussions on a similar topic- simply to mention a few of the factors you might consider. Even if you decide not to share certain events with your child, they may be exposed to them as they go about their daily life at school or in the community.

I will one day be faced with the difficult task of discussing headlines like that of the recent attacks in Paris with my child. What can I take away from this event that will help me be prepared for these conversations in the future? The best lessons thus far came for me through this simple, powerful image by artist Lucille Clerc:

  • A picture can say a thousand words that you might not know how to say. Images or picture books can be powerful conduits for discussion. You and your child can explore a concept together through these tools versus conducting a top-down conversation from parent to child. In fact, through discussion, you may find that your child can say the thousand words you don’t know how to say.
  • If you’re not sure what to say, be gentle with yourself. You may not always have the right words at every challenging moment. You may have your own emotions to process, making it harder to express yourself.
  • Sometimes simplicity is best. Over-explaining might leave even more uncertainty, especially when there are no easy answers.
  • Consider what your community might have to offer in helping you lead a well-rounded conversation. Are there trusted friends and family members, school personnel, or community leaders that can augment your thoughts and ideas?
  • Tomorrow is another day. How can I balance each difficult concept we work through together with a more hopeful message, relieving some of the insecurity my child may feel alongside these events?

Lastly, service to others.

This is what as a parent I choose to write with my newly sharpened pencil. Volunteering is a tangible way to put pencil to paper with our children- an active way to process difficult events. The growth, teamwork, purpose, and support that is built through service- these can be the messages of hope we can write in permanent ink.

Socially Conscious Apartment Living Through the Eyes of a Toddler

Our family is soon to embark on a new adventure: moving into a new home. While reflecting on our apartment life, I realized there were some meaningful lessons of social and environmental consciousness that arose from raising our daughter in this space. I will always be grateful for this experience with her. We hear about “The American Dream” partly being the ability to own a home with a yard, but when this is not possible it is important to remember that valuable life lessons come from a wide variety of different environments our children are exposed to- the grocery store, park, library, classroom, and ANY kind of living space that you call home. There are a few ways I think life in an apartment has influenced my daughter’s foundation of social awareness, and while I am not a social scientist researching the differences between a home and apartment upbringing, I do often wonder how our approach to some things as a family might have differed had we not shared this time here together. These are the stories I want to pass on to my daughter about her early years in our apartment. IMG_1690 - Version 2

“Hello!” We’re lucky to live in a friendly complex where people are willing to engage with my daughter. Frequent interactions with other residents have offered her extra opportunities to see the value and joy of eye contact, friendly greetings and simple conversations. Every time we talk with the staff at our apartment complex, someone joins us on the elevator, or we pass by another resident in the courtyard, Simone has learned to greet them with a friendly hello and goodbye. And it seems like these face-to-face interactions have helped lay the groundwork for her approach to people when we’re out on the town, too. It’s as if every day she celebrates World Hello Day.

“Big trash truck!” From our bedroom windows, we see a multitude of trash trucks make their weekly rounds to our complex and neighboring buildings. We walk past the (sometimes overflowing) trash bin as we go to and from our car in the parking garage each day. This gives us much more frequent exposure to the waste we’re collectively producing. I count our daughter’s first self-discovered societal issue as her acknowledgement of “too much trash” one afternoon when we walked past the teeming dumpster in the garage.  The messages to become more aware of our household waste are all around us, like in the provocative video, The Story of Stuff, but it is powerful to hear it from the voices of our children. Her early recognition of this issue was what solidified my commitment to try composting at our new home.

“Let’s go outside!” Like many toddlers, our daughter needs an opportunity to wander, push physical boundaries and release seemingly endless energy. We need to go beyond the walls of our apartment on a regular basis, and since our doors open to a small patio instead of a yard, we often rely on public spaces to get our fix of adventure and exploration. We visit parks, trails, community gardens, farmer’s markets, college campuses and art installations (to name some favorites). After recently discovering the term placemaking, I’m even more committed to enjoying public spaces with my family, acknowledging their shared value and importance in defining our community.

“More shoes?” Could the term “paring down” have something to do with the amount of shoes some people own these days? A moment of reflection came when I was cleaning out my daughter’s closet following a growth spurt. As she looked on and I took out another pair of her now too-small shoes, she voiced one of her first questions: “More shoes?” Admittedly, this is one area where I had not done my due diligence in using our limited square footage appropriately. Living with little storage space is a healthy check on my consumerism, especially surrounding my child’s belongings. How many more times would I be fooled by the old childhood trick of playing with a new toy for one week, then quickly replacing it with an invented toy from kitchen cookware or a fort from old sheets and pillows. I’ve begun discussions amongst friends about doing monthly toy swaps in place of a constantly cramped toy closet at our new home. I’m also thinking of setting a quarterly reminder to re-read this article from Apartment Therapy to make sure that my paring down promises have stuck.

Toddlers are curious about people, think trash trucks are pretty cool, like playing outside and can make a toy out of just about anything. Can the societal issues described here be explored from a house? Yes. This account does not suggest that my daughter is any more exceptional than any other two-year-old. I’m just thankful that our apartment offered our family so many rich opportunities to explore these areas and think critically about how they play out in our lives. As we bid farewell next week, I offer this ode to our apartment for influencing our family practices and values. Thank you for these gifts of social consciousness.

Walking the Walk: Our Summer of Service

IMG_1953We’ve done our fair share of putting our feet up this summer. It’s time to walk the walk. I’ve been talking the talk on Philanthroparent about ways families can serve this summer, and now it’s time to put some things into action for ourselves. This will be our first attempt at creating PhilanthroTot summer service opportunities. I’m excited to share what we’ll be up to in the next few months!

When considering ways to get out and give this summer, my first criteria was something toddler friendly. My 20-month-old’s favorite summer pastime seems to be wandering. I can’t guarantee the quality of my effectiveness at any of these events. I’m going to try to be of the mind frame that simply being present is still a valid way to support a cause. (more…)

School’s Out for Summer! Integrate Service into Your Child’s Favorite Pastimes

Summer PastimesAh, summer. That time when quintessential pastimes have a good chance of working their way into your child’s daily activities. Now might also be a good chance to work volunteerism into the hobbies, talents and interests which your kids will be exploring. The ideas below need not be the exact choices you make as a family, but may they give you inspiration. Give your child a chance to see that their passions have value beyond just their own enjoyment of them. Have fun AND enact change. It’s like having your cake (ice cream, lemonade, popsicle, watermelon… or whatever their favorite summer snack is) and eating it too!

For the Bookworm
Host a book swap: Help your voracious reader find new reading material by hosting a book swap amongst friends. Highlight their use of one of the “3 R’s” – reusing instead of buying new. They can also ask their peers to bring 3, exchange 2, and donate the extra book to an organization that distributes to others in need of quality reading materials.

For the Naturalist
Appreciate: The headlines about children being nature-deprived can be harrowing, especially when raising children in an urban community. Schedule a few “Appreciation Days” (to our beaches, deserts, rivers, forests, etc.). Make time beforehand to research the special features and animals of this region. Also discuss humans’ impact on these spaces. Knowledge (and arguably appreciation too) is power towards wanting to make a positive impact.

For the Sports Fan
Host a tournament: Put the fun in fundraising by hosting a tournament surrounding a favorite sport. Or try a new sport on for size.. foosball, ping pong, croquet? Your child will gain some summer math practice when adding up scores and funds, and the activity goes from tournament to tourna-meaningful.

For the Artist
Donate your talent: Learning a new dance routine or song? Perform it at a Veteran or Senior Center. Painting faster than there is wall space for in your home? Donate it to a community outreach center to brighten the decor. What connections can you make with the community to share your child’s creativity with those in need?

For the Techie
Tell a story: There are so many applications out there that let your child tell a story: iMovie, Prezi, PowerPoint, Kid Pix, GarageBand, Comic Life, and the list goes on. What cause, fact, inspirational organization or change maker can be brought to light (on a computer screen)?

Nowadays, even summer comes with structure. If your child’s summer weeks are already booked with activities, see if you and your child can discuss how to integrate a service or philanthropic component into their planned camp or vacation. Perhaps camp staff, summer instructors or an organization at your travel destination is available to help your child see service as a valued summer pastime too.

Philanthroparent.com is dedicated to helping parents raise socially and environmentally conscious kids. It provides resources and activities that allow families to use their talents and passions to do good both locally and globally. For support with your family’s service endeavors, to find out about organizations that go hand-in-hand with the activities mentioned above, and to learn more about the project, contact the Chief Philanthroparent, Marissa Nadjarian, at mnadjarian@me.com.

Lessons from School: How to Use a Photo to Discover Service

When you’re a Philanthroparent, you see potential for service around every corner, and sometimes it is hard to choose which social issue to focus on. Instead of choosing philanthropy activities for your family every time, try seeing the social issues we’re surrounded by on a daily basis through your child’s eyes…. or through their viewfinder!

DSC_0379This lesson (written for a service-learning organization that helps teachers integrate service into their curriculum) can also be utilized by parents, as well. Offer your child a chance to be a budding photo journalist. Hand over your camera, smartphone, or tablet. Let them document their surroundings. As you look back on what they’ve captured, there’s a good chance you’ll find a multitude of social issues in your immediate community, and this can drive a service idea. (more…)