December 6, 2010

The Gift of Childhood Memories

"The best thing you can give your children, next to good habits, are good memories."
-Sydney Harris
Making Memories with Grandma & Grandpa

     We’ve started thinking about what gifts to give our kids this holiday, and it’s difficult to think of anything they could possibly need.  Of course, there is an onslaught of ads aimed at our kids, convincing them that there are still toys, clothes, and electronic gadgets they must have. My seven-year-old adds to his Christmas list weekly and is especially focused on getting something he can drive.  Thinking back to my own childhood, I'm hard-pressed to remember many gifts I received.  And there is only one that I still have -- my sewing machine!

      Most material gifts we’ve given our children over the years are outdated, broken, lost, or unused within months of the gifting. I (and my kids) can hardly remember what the gifts were!  Like most parents, I realize that there are far more important gifts we give our children than the ones we wrap in December for Christmas or Hannukah. The gifts that last are the ones that can’t be wrapped.  In fact, the best gifts aren't tangible items but memories.   In the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d write a list of suggested gifts.   I hope you find something in here that you can give your child this year!

Read a book together. Even older kids like to hear a good book, but another option with older kids is to both read the same book, then meet to have your own “book club” to discuss it when you’re done. At camp, our counselors often read a chapter book to kids at bedtime over the course of the session. It relaxes everyone at the end of the day to hear some reading, plus it helps get campers in bed quicker if they know they can hear an extra chapter. It’s also fun to talk about and guess what’s going to happen next. In any case, I’ve always enjoyed reading with my kids. It’s a great excuse to re-read my favorite books!

Schedule “dates” with your kids.  I know families who have "date nights" with each of their children.   I love the idea and would like to work it in to my gift giving this year. One child may want a lunch date, while another prefers a bike ride or a game of golf. In any case, spending time hanging out with our kids, doing something they want to do with us, is a gift indeed (for both them and us!). Time seems to be the hardest gift to give, but it is also most highly valued by the recipient.

• Plan fun family events. Anything you do as a family creates memories and is a gift that will be remembered. Whether it’s a movie and popcorn at home or a late night walk through the neighborhood to see the lights, the gift of time as a family is so important to our kids.

Make a scrapbook or slide show together.   Like many of my gift suggestions, this one requires time. I firmly believe in the importance of recording and recounting memories. My kids never get tired of hearing about what they were like when they were babies. Take some time this holiday to get out the old photos (or pull them up on the screen!) and create a book or collage together.  We like to list our "Top 100 Memories" of the year.  It's fun to reflect on what we've done together over the year.

• Focus on giving. We live in a self-absorbed culture where our kids are being bombarded by messages about what they need to buy and how they need to look. A huge gift we can give our kids is to show them the joy in giving to others. One year, our children gave each of their grandparents a poster board with their handprints and messages about what they liked about each grandparent. Two of those boards are now framed and adorning the hallway at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Seeing how much their grandparents valued their homemade gift was an important lesson for our kids. There are many organizations that are requesting gifts this time of year. I think a great gift to give our kids is the chance to participate in giving to others, either in our family or in our community.

• Give friendship, fun, and growth. I’ll wrap up my gift-giving suggestions with one of my favorites, camp! The gift of camp lasts a lot longer than any toy. Campers learn life skills, such as independence and responsibility, while having the time of their lives.  Here’s what some of our campers have to say about why they come back to Gold Arrow Camp:

“This is my happiest place on earth.”
“Because I can be myself here and do new things.”
“Because it is a place where kids can get away from parents and meet new kids.”
“It changes me as a person A LOT! I always love making new friends. And I love all the freedom that you get. And counselors are awesome!”
“It is the best camp ever! Everyone is so nice and it is a great environment for kids. I never want to leave!”
“I love it here. It’s like a second home to me. I LOVE GAC! I want to be a counselor.”
“At GAC, the atmosphere and the people here are awesome. Also, coming to GAC is the highlight of my summer cause I have a lot of fun and I love to meet new people.”
“Because I love the way I feel when I’m here.”
“I don’t go through the pressures that are in the ‘real world.’”
“Everyone is kind and courteous and makes you feel like family.”
“I always make new friends and have so much fun.”
“It is always fun at every activity and there is support all around you.”
“I love meeting new people and I love the outdoors and the mountains.”
“I think it is a great experience and I feel lucky that I can come to the best camp. The second you walk into camp, you’re a different person.”
“I love this camp and I couldn’t imagine a summer without it.”
“I did stuff I’ve never done before, and I had amazing experiences, great friends, and awesome counselors.”
“I belonged here. I found myself.”

I'd love for you to share your ideas for non-material, memorable gifts to give children during the holidays and throughout the year.  Please use the comments section here! 

I wish you a stress-free holiday season where you can focus on creating family memories with your kids.

Happy Holidays!

Resources:  Advent Conspiracy

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