This summer I’m setting out to create a “Life Lessons” journal in the form of a photo book. As a parent of a six-year-old and a three-year-old, I find that life has two basic modes: sweet fun and unpleasant discipline. Ideally, there are “teaching moments” where we’re passing down valuable life lessons within both modes. But sometimes life moves so fast that it all feels far more reactionary than premeditated. Now that summer is here and the structure of school has vanished for the next couple months, I am determined to formally instill a few key messages in our children. It’s not that these lessons haven’t been taught regularly since the day they were born, it’s more about changing the source of the lessons. Rather than my husband and I driving the points home all the time, I want to inspire my kids to get excited about our core family values. I think our family Life Lessons photo book is going to be a great opportunity to get my kids thinking about shared values. My hope is that my three-year-old will learn to recognize them and celebrate them—and my six-year-old will be able to anticipate and maybe even help to orchestrate some of the ways we can follow through on the tenets of our family beliefs.
To make it simple, I’m bucketing our Life Lessons into 5 categories. For my book, I’ve chosen categories that are universal—I could see them being part of our Life Lessons photo book every summer for the next decade. But I’ve tailored the focus of each one to be age appropriate. For example, I hope and pray that 5 years from now I don’t still have to emphasize “using manners” as a part of category #2 below (though I fear that I might…).
1. We Work Hard (and Make it Fun). Collect a series of photos that illustrate the family working hard and having fun together. Examples could be working in the garden, harvesting vegetables, washing the car together, cleaning up, sweeping, etc. It’s a great lesson to teach your kids that accomplishing anything is all about baby steps—getting things done an inch at a time. Teaching them to just break ground is half the battle. Once they realize they can have fun along the way, you’ve all won!
2. We Eat Healthy Dinners Together (and Use Manners). Capture photos of the family cooking and eating dinner together. Include everything from casual weeknight suppers to big weekend meals with the extended family and lots of friends. If you are especially focused, like I am, on instilling manners during these meals, snap photos of whatever you’re working on with your kids, like setting the table, using silverware properly, and clearing their plates.
3. We Value Our Friends & Family (focus on being a good friend and good friends will find you). Snap pictures of lots of hugs and laughter shared with friends and family! These pictures speak for themselves, but it’s nice to see all the love in one place.
4. We Are Grateful! (for health, for nature, for good food, for life). Ask your kids what they’re grateful for and share what you’re grateful for with them. Create a visual dictionary of all that you’re grateful for as a family. It’s a great exercise to get children to be actively aware of what they appreciate in their lives.
5. We Help Others and Treat People with Kindness (and “Fill Our Buckets” in the Process). I’ve found that helping others and being kind to both friends and strangers brings me more happiness than anything else, so naturally I want to pass the lesson along to my kids. A book called Have You Filled Your Bucket Today? has really helped illustrate the concept for them. Use this section of your book to include photos of your family finding ways to help individuals or the community you live in. Have You Filled Your Bucket Today?
I just told my kids about this project and my older son is already excited about finding opportunities to do activities that fall into each of my five categories. At the end of the summer, it will be great to reflect on all the fun we had doing good for our family and others.