Most parents today know that eating dinner as a family can have a positive impact, especially for our children. Over the years, there have been countless studies, articles, blog posts, and television segments on the importance of coming together to the table over a home-cooked meal. Some statistics suggest that eating a meal as a family plays a bigger role in a child’s developing vocabulary than story time. Children who regularly dine with their parents are less prone to drug or alcohol abuse and eating disorders, and they are more likely to achieve better grades in school. In short, these children are generally happier, healthier, and smarter than children who dine with parents in front of the television or alone.
My family eats several meals together every week. I cook for my family (or serve leftovers) for supper during most weeknights, and also on the weekends if we happen to be at home. Sometimes we eat on the go. We have been known to pick up a meal at the McDonald’s drive-thru and eat in the car when we have places we need to get to in a hurry. Sometimes we eat out. Last week our son had his first T-ball game of the season, and we celebrated his efforts (Mommy’s bragging moment: He helped earn the team THREE outs! That’s a pretty big deal in T-ball!) by eating at Dairy Queen afterwards. And yes, while it’s a very rare occurrence, sometimes we even eat in front of the television! (We are sports fanatics and St. Louis Cardinals fans, so if an important game is on, we have been known to watch the game together as we eat.) But at least five times throughout the week, we come to the table as a family for a home-cooked meal. And I can not fully express my love for this simple tradition. We live such busy, fast-paced lives that I am constantly trying to slow down, and dinner is one of those times. We have time to talk. To listen. To ask questions. To give answers and opinions. To discuss. To laugh. We are sitting still (unless you’re my squirmy five-year-old, and then you’re usually shifting around in your seat like there are ants in your pants!), we are facing each other, and we are open to wherever the conversation may take us.
Almost as much as I love eating as a family, I love to prepare a meal for them. But I didn’t always feel this way. I used to dread having to cook. I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like standing on my feet and leaning over a hot stove after a long day. I burned things. I messed up the recipe. It took too much time. I had a ton of excuses, and my husband ended up doing most of the cooking for us. But over time, something in me changed. I opened myself up to cooking. I let go of the idea of it being a burden, and the act of cooking turned into something therapeutic for me. Cooking for my family meant I was fueling them. I was satisfying their need. And that made me feel good about the task at hand. By changing the attitude with which I approached the task, cooking for my family went from being a dreaded chore to being something I really enjoyed and looked forward to. And now I’m always searching for new healthy, delicious recipes to bring to the table for my family to enjoy as much as we enjoy each other’s company.
One of the things we ask each other at every mealtime together is “What was your favorite part of today?” And a lot of the time, for all of us, the answer is “Right now. Eating this meal with my family.” And it’s not a cop-out; it’s just the truth. And even more so than all of the statistics and experts that support family mealtime, that makes every effort in the kitchen worthwhile.
It has been one week since we came home from the hospital after the birth of our second son, and things are going smoothly! The postpartum recovery time has been much easier for me this time than it was with my first son. I had a vaginal delivery with no stitches required, and I think that made all of the difference! My husband was a huge help to have at home last week, taking care of me, our two boys, and our home. But he returned to work this week, and I have felt good enough to be up and moving, doing some easy chores and light lifting. Since I have felt so great, I decided that today was a beautiful day to take my first trip to the park with both boys on my own! It was nice to get out of the house and get a little bit of exercise for myself. Our baby boy got to ride in the stroller for the first time, and he was awake and seemed to really enjoy the light breeze and fresh air!
That being said, the purpose of our walk to the park was more for the benefit of my five-year-old than for myself or our baby. He will be at home with me for the rest of the summer until he begins Kindergarten in August, and I want to keep him stimulated and learning in age-appropriate ways during the summer months. Going to the park is a simple way to interact with your child and explore your environment. There are so many ways to do this, and you are only limited by the imagination of yourself and your child! Today, I want to share with you our favorite thing to do at the park: funnel ball!
We bring a small ball with us to the park, and we play funnel ball similarly to the way that you would basketball, except there are four different holes that the ball can come out of, labeled with numbers one through four. It’s also easier for young children, because it’s much lower to the ground than a basketball hoop, so my small preschooler doesn’t get discouraged from playing. We get a decent amount of exercise playing this game as it requires running, dribbling, stealing, blocking, rebounding, and shooting. But at the same time, it’s a great workout for my son’s little brain! We play the game by shooting the ball into the funnel, and whichever hole (one, two, three, or four) it comes out of is how many points that person gets. Today, we played three games of first-one-to-thirty-points-wins. Whether it was my shot or my son’s shot, I left the adding of the points up to him, asking, “You had four points, and you scored two more. How many points do you have now?” It’s a simple addition word problem, and a great way to boost his quick-thinking math skills without knowing that he’s learning. To him, it was just a fun game that he played with Mom at the park! In addition, this game is fast-paced, and it requires paying attention and using your memory to keep track of each person’s score. I think his memory was even sharper than mine today! I’m blaming that on the fact that I’m still recovering. 😉
Of course, the most important part of the experience to me was just spending some one-on-one time with my little boy. With a new baby in the home, it’s easy for older siblings to feel left out at times. The park was the perfect opportunity for our newborn to relax contentedly in the shade while I connected with my older son. The rest of the funnel ball benefits just make me feel good about playing an active part in my son’s learning experiences. The preschool teacher in me is always looking for teachable moments!
What are some fun ways that you have “snuck in” a little education to your child’s playtime?
Our Close Family just got a little bigger!
Our second son was born yesterday!
Stay tuned for further blog posts, which I promise will become much more regular, as I am also officially now a stay-at-home mom! I have lots of ideas to talk about and share, but I’m currently spending some much needed bonding time with my two little boys and husband!
Please standby! 🙂