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How to Use Simple Rituals to Keep Kids Grounded this Summer

by Meghan Fitzgerald

I have long loved the quote, “There are only two lasting gifts we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” In recent weeks, it has felt even more important to help my kids feel grounded and strongly rooted, and rituals and routines have never felt more important to that end.

Family rituals and traditions—purposeful and repeated practices that involve members of the family—feed kids’ roots. Rituals can include both routines that organize our day-to-day lives such as bedtime songs or Friday pizza night, and seasonal or holiday rituals that are more rare, anticipated and symbolic. 

Why are rituals important?

Psychologists have been researching the impact of family rituals for over 50 years, and their findings link family rituals to increases in children’s happiness, emotional well-being, sense of identity and even success in school. And, evidence shows that, even when families deal with significant stresses, the creating and nurturing of traditions are linked to better outcomes for kids. Well planned and supported traditions are also linked to higher levels of satisfaction, both overall and marital, for the adults in the family—outcomes that benefit everyone!

To follow are several rituals that can help make your season.

Seasonal—Summer Kick Off

Summer officially begins on June 20. To make summer feel like a special and hopeful time, kick it off by making wishes for the season. Get a jar, a box or other special container, slips of paper and something with which to write or draw. Sit together and generate ideas for wishes. Be the scribe or, if kids can, welcome them to write or draw each wish on a slip of paper. Fill the jar or box with wishes and hold onto them. Late in the summer, you’ll be able to pull them out again and reflect on both the wishes you made and the experiences you shared. If you can, burn the wishes in a campfire to celebrate the passing of time and make space for new wishes for the fall to come. 

Weekly—Reflect and Celebrate!

Celebrate! For us, getting to Friday night feels like cause for celebration. And, we’ve really leaned into our Friday pizza-making ritual since quarantine started. Soon, we’ll add in summer twists like stovetop s’mores and even a little camping out in the backyard. We also love to look through the Tinkergarten photo slideshow of the play activity from the week before, remembering how we approached it and enjoying the chance to see how friends from across the country did as well. Whatever you can do, turn a part of the weekend into a special celebration of the prior week and the togetherness to come. Don’t forget to color in the past week’s flag on your Camp Tinkergarten Trail Map, too!

Memory Journal. Another tool you can use to process experiences and discoveries from the week together is a family memory journal. Any notebook can become a memory journal simply by adding memories to it. In our family, we don’t add an entry every day, but when an experience—something we’ve done, seen or made—strikes one or more of us as extra special, it gets added. Everyone talks and shares their ideas about what to record in the journal. Given the memory, we nominate a person or two to add words and pictures to help us remember what was special about that experience. A new notebook just arrived for Summer 2020, and we can’t wait to fill it up!

Daily—Circle Time

Before Tinkergarten time or play time, you can have your own family circle time. Circle time can be as simple or as complicated as you like. To make your circle time stick and really help make the time feel special, fill circle time with things that bring you joy and repeat those things. Here are a few things you could add:

  • Warming Up Our Senses—Incorporate this simple set of rhymes and movements to get your kids’ bodies and brains ready for play! Find the lyrics here and watch the Tinkergarten team do this on video here.
  • Come to Tinkergarten—You can sing or even sing along to the Come to Tinkergarten song using a recording here. Find the lyrics to several verses here, or make up your own for creatures your kids love!
  • I Spy—Hold your circle time outdoors or near a window, and ask each other, “What do you Spy today?” Prompt with specific questions like, “How does the day Feel? Sound? Look? Smell?” Or “What is changing about the world as summer rolls on?”
  • Set wishes for the day—Welcome kids to talk about something they hope to try, explore or wonder about. You can come back to these wishes right after the play time or later in the day.

Daily—Reflect on the Day

For our family, dinner time is when we regroup and reflect on the day’s happenings. This used to help us catch up on what happened in each person’s school day, but has become equally important during quarantine, since we are “here” but not always able to be present for independent, playful discoveries. Here are a few ways to build in simple rituals that help us all reflect on and process the kids’ experiences and learning each day.

  • Snack and Chat. If you are able to check in with kids during snack or lunch time, natural breaks in their day of play experiences, you can get them chatting about what they have done and how they are feeling. Simple, open-ended prompts like, “Tell me about what you were making in the mud kitchen today,” or “I saw all that you made in the art center, what was your favorite part of making today?” can get kids talking and give you a chance to reinforce the value of their play. It also gives you a window into their interests and all that they are gaining from their play.
  • Roses, thorns and buds. At dinner, we welcome each person to share their rose, thorn and bud of the day. Roses are highlights and moments that brought joy and satisfaction. Thorns, much the opposite, are moments that were frustrating or that made us feel sad. Finally, buds are things we are looking forward to. Even as toddlers, our kids were able to listen along and be part of this ritual. Now, years into this, all five of us use this shared language and this dedicated space in the day to process feelings and experiences together.
  • Elders and extended family check-ins. We have found it immensely helpful to connect our kids with their grandparents and elders. Scheduling in a quick phone call or online session for kids to share with extended family about what they have seen, made or played gives extended family much needed contact and gives kids even more validation and reinforcement—and it doesn’t all have to come from us parents!

Photo: Emmaline Rosenthal

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