March 18, 2009

Finding Quality Family Time in Everyday Activities

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Recently a middle school teacher asked her students how they would like to spend more of their time, leaving it open to all possible responses. The surprising response was that they would like to spend more time with their families. Inspired by their responses, I asked a group of elementary school students what was the best part of the recent holidays. The most popular answer was that they spent time and did activities with their families.
This is certainly good news since youth learn from the example of others, whether it is the example of parents, other adults, or peers.

Spending more time as a family or with a particular child does not mean you have to plan special activities or even leave your home. There are many ways you can spend quality time with your family while doing everyday activities. Cooking can be a fun and educational activity. Younger children are usually eager to help in the kitchen. By using measurements asked for in a recipe, you can turn helping in the kitchen into a lesson in fractions and strengthening math skills. Simply use ½, 1/3, or ¼ cup measuring cups instead of the one cup measure. Multiple sets of inexpensive plastic measuring cups and spoons can be purchased to use during family cooking time. Look for a recipe with several ingredients that don’t have to be measured exactly. For example, salads, casseroles, or meatloaf recipes would be good choices. Ask the child to measure and set out the ingredients needed using the different size measurers. For example, use three 1/3 cups to measure one cup of chopped lettuce or a ½ cup measure and two ¼ cup measures. In addition to practicing fractions, and learning to prepare a recipe, your child will gain a sense of accomplishment and pride, from contributing to a task that benefits the entire family.

Just the act of sharing family meal time has benefits. Family bonds become stronger and family members tend to eat more nutritious foods. Younger children feel a sense of security and belonging. According to a Columbia University study, teens prefer to eat with their families than eat alone. Teachable moments abound at the dinner table. Discussing current family, school and community events strengthens communication and social skills. Incorporating special “dress up” meals throughout the year provides an opportunity to practice social skills and table manners during a less hectic time of year. This is a time for you to be the role model simply by showing good table manners.

One way to continue the mealtime theme is to expand it by growing some of the ingredients. What better way to teach the origins of food than to grow some food? Many vegetables grow well in containers and many salad ingredients are easy to grow. Let your child select from a list of easy to grow vegetables such as radishes, greens, onions, and New Zealand spinach. While planning the garden or waiting for the seeds to come up, take time to learn how plants grow. Try dissecting a fresh green or pole bean. Open the pod or cover and remove the seeds. Open up the seed and show how the seeds we eat contain the embryo of a new plant. Then compare it to the seeds you purchased to plant. By relating these two activities to each other, your child will develop a deeper understanding of the process of growing food and the process of how plants grow.

Please join me for a free Solutions in 30 webinar titled "Making the Most of Youth Activities" on March 25th from 12:15-12:45 to learn more about youth activities for your family or youth group/organization. You can register at and click on the online class registration button.

Additional ideas for activities can be found in 4-H project books, leader’s guides, and curricula. The seed activity is from the 4-H gardening project book “See them Sprout”. For more information on the value of family meals, please read: Family Nutrition: The Truth about Family Meals by Larry Forthun, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

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