School is back in session, and when the weekend comes, it can be easy to let exhaustion take over. Here in Austin, Texas, the weather is finally getting a bit cooler and, stressed as I am, I’m looking forward to all the things pumpkin (and spice) as well as making the most of my weekends with my little one.
But there is a lot of anxiety in the world right now. One way we can all strengthen our resilience is to deepen our engagement in our own local communities. Check out these four calls to action that will help you and your kids stay active in mind, body, and spirit this time of year:
- Educate your family on different celebrations. Many holidays and celebrations take place between September and November each year. Fall is the perfect time to take kids to celebrations in their community and extend learning as a family by visiting a museum or seeking out other resources to support your understanding of these important celebrations. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year. Read Apples and Pomegranates: A Rosh Hashanah Seder by Rahel Musleah. Rahel Musleah, who grew up in Calcutta, India, presents a Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder observed throughout the world. This special service incorporates blessings, songs, and even folk tales relating to each of the eight foods eaten, and will guide readers through seder.
- Muharram. Muharram is the beginning of the first lunar month of the Islamic calendar. Request books like My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin from your local bookstore or library. This book is a good starting place for discussions of cultural differences and the importance of having respect for the beliefs of others.
- Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Learn about this celebration that originated in Mexico by reading books about important people who have contributed to this day. For example, check out Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh. This book teaches littles all about the artist Posado and his famous day of the dead calavera (skeleton) drawings.
- Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This important day, which falls on the same day as Columbus Day, commemorates Native American history and promotes Native American cultures. Adults and upper elementary students can watch the short PSA Reconsider Columbus Day by Nu Heightz Cinema and check out this article on Teaching Channel that explores ways to honor Indigenous people all year round.
- Shop local. When possible, purchase locally sourced items. By doing so, you’ll put money back into the local economy, reduce your carbon footprint, and feel good knowing you’re impacting your community in positive ways. Check out local farmers markets and include your kids in the fun by giving them tasks like remembering to bring reusable bags and comparing best prices for fruits and vegetables among vendors. You can also research local farms that have “u-pick” flowers. Get your kids involved by challenging them to try out new foods. Take it a step further by researching a new recipe and making it as a family.
- Volunteer. Get your kids involved in their community by connecting with local organizations that make life better for people. Research organizations including food banks (e.g., programs like Meals on Wheels), Goodwill, and local nursing or assisted living homes. Reach out to the program director and see what opportunities are coming up. Many people associate the fall with celebrations that preach giving thanks and gratitude for all of our blessings. Show kids that their actions matter by taking steps to make the world a better place for everyone.
- Create a gratitude tree. One of my favorite activities to do with my family is to create a gratitude tree. Research shows that when we focus on things we are grateful for, we literally rewire our brains to focus on the positive. Here’s how you can make your own! Before you start, you’ll need a special tree branch from your yard or a nearby park, fall colored paint (e.g., red, orange, yellow), glitter (optional), a vase or large metal/glass jar, leaves from outside or craft leaves, string or yarn, hole puncher, and a dark permanent marker.
What You Can Do:
- Go on a nature hunt to find a special tree branch. You want to make sure that this branch is large enough and has multiple limbs.
- Bring the branch inside and set it on your table.
- Gather your family in a circle and talk about what the word gratitude means. Explain to them that gratitude has to do with being thankful. Brainstorm some things that you are thankful for in your family (e.g., food, water, shelter, love, family, friends, your dog, etc.)
- Explain to your family that you are going to make your very own gratitude tree. Assist your kids (level of assistance depends on your child’s needs) in painting the tree branch. Let the branch dry before completing the next step.
- Spread newspaper on the table and gather all the collected or purchased leaves. As a family, begin to write down things you are grateful for on the leaves. One-word answers like “family,” “love,” etc., work best.
- Hang the leaves on the branch with string (tie on the ends or hole punch and pull through) and place the branch in the chosen vase or jar.
- Refer to your family gratitude tree throughout the season to remind your children the importance of being thankful for what we have!
There will always be stress in the world, but when you put your community first by taking these small steps, you will extend your children’s learning and help them to focus on what’s important.
More Resources to Support Building Community and Resilience:
- Planning to Change the World
- Parenting Today: Four Ways Kids Can Serve Communities
- Green Child: What Does it Really Mean to Shop Locally?
- NASA: Climate Kids
- Awakening Joy for Kids by James Baraz & Michele Lilyanna
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.