Have you ever seen those back-to-school TV commercials that use the Christmas song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? They show a parent joyfully collecting school supplies while the kids who are about to end their summer vacation watch with gloom.
I know that feeling. And if you are a parent of school-aged children or have ever been a parent of school-aged children, you probably know what I mean.
You may even be looking toward the upcoming Christmas vacation with trepidation. You might be wondering, “What am I going to do with my kids for those two weeks?”
Here’s what my family is going to do: ecotherapy. “What’s that?” you might ask.
Scientists have proven what the Bible has told us: People are healthier when they commune with nature. Some physicians are now prescribing time in the park for maladies like depression, anxiety, ADHD, and even high blood pressure.
As Christians, we know that nature reveals God’s character. Spending time with nature helps you renew your mind, body, and spirit. Many of us may have forgotten that the Bible also says to simplify our lives so He can use nature to reveal himself to us.
How do you do ecotherapy?
Step One: Simplify
During a trip to Africa with Food for the Hungry, I was walking with a staffer on a narrow path. The man ate the final chip from a bag and threw the trash on the ground. I stopped him and told him he can’t litter like that. He laughed, saying he had not littered. He had left a toy that would entertain a child for hours.
Before long, I did indeed see content children playing with simple things like snack bags and bottle caps.
Don’t take this as an endorsement for littering. Rather, take it as an example of how complicated our lives have become. Once Food for the Hungry has helped a community with the kinds of problems we in Western cultures don’t have to deal with (things like growing enough food, having a way to earn money, getting access to clean water, healthcare, education, etc.), it’s refreshing to go to those communities. They have the luxury of simplicity in their lives.
In Western society, we have filled our kids’ lives with smartphones, iPads, computers, smart TVs, sports, music lessons, and school activities. There is nothing simple about our lives.
This Christmas vacation, I challenge you to simplify your life in a way similar to what my family does during vacations. We put a bowl by the door. Into that bowl go all of our electronic devices. We aren’t allowed to use them at all.
Step Two: Go Outside
All those electronics are important to our kids. They help us teach things they will need to know in life. But, those same devices are making people spend 25 percent less time outdoors than we did just 20 years ago (read an article about that here). Spending less time outdoors is taking a toll on our kids! And when many people do go outside, they spend so much time looking at their phone that they miss the whole point of being outside.
During this Christmas vacation, I challenge you to put away those devices (see Step One) and take a daily walk of at least 30 minutes with your kids in the nearest park or forest. Listen to the birds sing. Notice the sound of running water. Focus your eyes on the trees and leaves. Talk about what you see, smell, and hear. Discuss what these things reveal to your family about the character of God.
Step Three: Make Something
Child development experts agree that arts and crafts help kids develop motor skills and critical thinking. But doing crafts as a family helps you make memories that will last a lifetime while you’re also emphasizing the importance of family and togetherness.
Food for the Hungry has developed several resources to help you do things with your kids. One of my favorites is an ebook called 7 Fun Activities to Teach Your Child Generosity. A Food for the Hungry staffer and his wife put together crafts to illustrate how they work with their kids to choose items from the gift catalog.
But it doesn’t matter if you make chocolate chip cookies, a construction-paper snowflake, snowballs out of cotton balls, a wreath out of pinecones you pick up during your family walks (see Step Two), or a popsicle-stick donkey cart for school supplies. What matters is that your family spends time planning it, building it, and enjoying conversation together.
During this Christmas vacation, I challenge you to build something with your kids. Don’t make it stressful, competitive, or a time to do it your way (the right way) rather than take the risk of doing it their way. Make it nothing but simple fun that brings your family together to laugh and talk.
Step Four: Give
Finally, I challenge you to consider how you can give rather than receive this Christmas vacation. Can you put together a basket of food and leave it (anonymously) on the doorstep of an elderly neighbor? Or maybe you could browse through the FH gift catalog and select an item to give to needy people you don’t know.
The point is that you take the emphasis off of receiving more electronics and put it on giving to others.
Have a very merry Christmas vacation with your kids this year!