From the April 2017 issue

Recapturing Simple Joys With Your Family

It's the 'slow down' stuff that makes up meaningful little moments and builds a stronger family foundation. Here are some simple joys for your family to enjoy together.

When Kristin Ervin’s children were little, she didn’t let a little rain stop them from enjoying the great outdoors.

“We’d put on our tall boots and go for walks through puddles,” says the Franklin mom. This simple routine made lifelong memories for Ervin and her kids as they sloshed and splashed, soaked up the smell of wet earth and felt the raindrops on their skin.

It doesn’t take big trips or expensive outings to connect with your kids. There are opportunities close to home and right in your own backyard virtually every moment of every day. It’s not about where you look, or when – but how.

In other words, Ervin says, it takes mindfulness to find them.

Ervin says mindfulness is “about being aware of what’s happening inside and outside of us in the present moment with kindness and curiosity.”

In 2012, she co-founded the Michigan Collaborative for Mindfulness in Education (MC4ME), an organization that offers kids and teachers techniques to calm their minds and bring awareness to the here and now.

It’s about noticing everything without judgment, regret or expectation, Ervin says. When you get in touch with mindfulness practice, you start to perceive the simple joys in life, no matter what your age. In fact, sometimes it’s easier for kids than adults, she says.

“Kids are born with that natural wonder and seed of awareness. It’s a human trait,” she says. “But that curiosity diminishes as we become conditioned to blend in with the expectations of our society. We’re running around pulling our kids here and there, getting distracted by our devices, caught up in achieving and making things happen.”

Ervin and her colleagues at MC4ME present an eight-week Mindful Schools curriculum around the state, helping kids focus, self-regulate, manage emotions and relate better with others.

Yet even as Ervin believes in the power of mindfulness to transform classrooms, she says it’s equally powerful in the home.

Mindfulness can help kids and parents better understand themselves and have more empathy toward each other. It can help families foster security in knowing they don’t need elaborate entertainment or pricey vacations to enjoy life together.

She says parents play the biggest role in modeling mindfulness and bringing attention to the small but gratifying experiences all around us.

“If we slow down enough and point things out to our kids, they’ll notice things too,” she says. “And it happens quickly.”

Here are some everyday simple joys to get you started.

Wake up slow. You know that moment when you emerge from a dream but haven’t opened your eyes yet? Savor it and teach your kids to do the same.

Stretch. The innate act of reaching your arms overhead and lengthening through your toes in the morning activates your muscles, stimulates circulation and warms up the body and mind. Plus it feels simply divine.

Celebrate breakfast. For parents like Metro Parent reader Elizabeth Knight, eggs and pancakes are a weekend celebration. “I might make them from a box, and they might be unevenly cooked from time to time, but everyone looks forward to them,” she says. “When you work full time, it’s hard to have an old-fashioned sit-down meal at the end of the day. Breakfast allows us that free time without anything or anywhere else to rush to.”

Stay in your pj’s. The camaraderie that arises out of agreeing there’s no reason to get dressed and rush out the door makes for warm, cozy Saturdays – or even weekdays. “As homeschoolers we have school in our jammies,” says MP reader Andrea Moore. “My son loves that.”

Blow bubbles. Watch the colors swirl and the shapes float. Slow down to blow them bigger, or speed up to create a cascade of tiny bubbles that fill the air. Chase and pop them. Then blow more.

Color. Whether it’s a children’s book from the dollar store or an artistic adult version, coloring is officially fun for all ages. Colored pencils or markers, shaded or not – there’s no right or wrong. Maybe top it off with glitter glue and sign your name like the artist that you are.

Get outside. Don’t wait for the perfect day. Dress for the weather and puddle jump or stroll through spring fog. Stray from the sidewalks and explore the corners of your yard or subdivision. You don’t have to go far to find amazement outdoors. You just need to open your eyes.

Collect nature. Gather cool rocks, unique leaves, moss, twigs, eggshells and maybe even bones or fossils. Put them in a basket or jar and save them for your fairy house. Or just observe them and start again.

Bird watch. How many different types of birds can you see and hear in the trees around you? It only takes one to offer inspiration and help you treasure the moment. Field guide optional.

Look at bugs. Toddlers are notorious for stopping frequently along a walk to check out some unseen creature on the sidewalk, even when you’re in a rush. Let them! In fact, encourage them. Beetles, caterpillars, spiders, crickets and ants provide endless fascination for little ones and adults alike if you take the time.

Listen to wind chimes. The sound of this simple instrument can calm and focus the senses – and bring the motion of the wind to life. You can hang chimes inside, too, where kids can enjoy hearing, exploring and playing with them.

Cloud watch. Finding shapes in the sky is a much-cited simple joy, but have you actually done it lately? Whether you lie in the grass or take a moment to look out the window, cloud watching forces you to drift into the present tense.

Stargaze. Sure, you can travel to one of Michigan’s designated Dark Sky Parks. Or you can just grab a blanket, hit the deck and look up. It’s fun to observe the man in the moon, and many planets are visible with the unaided eye.

Smell the flowers. It’s a cliché for a reason, and you don’t have to wait for those May flowers to do it. Take a detour to the floral section the next time you’re at the grocery store and let simple joy bloom in your heart.

Build a fort. Gather up some pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, books and a flashlight and create a den of instant happiness to crawl in with your kids.

Bake. Find a simple recipe and bake it often, creating a delightful tradition to savor and share. (Go ahead, lick the spoon.)

Make popcorn. Mix a half cup of popcorn with a half teaspoon oil and dash of salt, then pour into a brown paper bag. Fold over the top and place in microwave for around two minutes. Let the anticipation build along with the sound. Yum!

Laugh. Science has shown that laughing releases tension, lowers anxiety, boosts the immune system and aids circulation. Plus it’s truly infectious, so no matter where it starts, let it roll.

Sing and dance. In the car, in the kitchen, all the time.

Eat together. Kids never outgrow this age-old pleasure. “My 13-year-old daughter recently told me that her favorite time of day is family dinner time,” says MP reader Sarah Schiller. “It doesn’t have to be a fancy dinner, or a whole lot of time, but sharing a meal together is certainly a simple joy in our family.”

Dip. Emily Post might not approve, but sometimes dunking – grilled cheese and tomato soup, cookies and milk, cocoa and toast – sure hits the spot.

Snuggle. Touch is the first sense we acquire, and studies have shown the person giving the back rub, hug or tickle gets just as much benefit as the one receiving it. So reach out and ruffle hair, cuddle up and connect.

Read together. Babies learn so much from hearing your voice, looking at pictures and listening to stories. Even after your child is old enough to read alone, it’s still joyful – and important – to read aloud to them. Explore new worlds and build a lifelong love of books together.

Make the bed. Doing chores is no fun, but slipping into nice clean sheets makes it all worthwhile. Point out the crisp feel and fresh smell of the fabric and the gratification of crawling into bed when you’re truly tired.

Tuck in. Don’t let a bedtime go by without the simple routine of a kiss goodnight and mindful thanks for the blessing of one more day as a family.

This post is updated regularly.

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