Developing Teen Leaders: Expanding the Family Meeting

Whether your children are toddling about beneath your feet or are asking to borrow the family car, organizational skills are a must. We’ve thereby utilized a monthly family meeting since the kids were wee ones to plan holidays, discuss our goals, and essentially take our pulse or discuss any issues or concerns.

Now that my children are a bit older and they are taking on leadership positions of their own, I find myself sitting back and smiling – admiring how the professional skills we’ve implemented into our family life now help them in their academic and social circles.

young boy scout addressing the city council with text overlay Developing Teen Leaders: Expanding the Family Meeting @EvaVarga.netFor an overview of scout activities, school performances, orthodontic appointments, etc., a shared calendar is critical for us as a family. Using the color coding and invite features, we can improvise when unforeseen changes (sick teachers, additional music lesson, or a Scout Board of Review) are needed. However, we are not always on the same page despite having electronic devices.

Expanding the Monthly Family Meeting

My husband and I have noticed a gap with how to make the upcoming appointments and ‘to do’s’ more tangible for our children. Like us, the kids are more prepared and less stressed when they know what to expect each day. No one likes getting woken for a surprise dental appointment or getting pulled away from a coding issue on their Minecraft server for a haircut. Now that they are older and are beginning to schedule appointments of their own (art lessons, podcast interviews, etc.), we need to be aware of their plans as well.

We tackled this nuance with a family meeting on a weekly basis – or Weekly Overview Review. This meeting takes place next to a whiteboard in the dining room (essentially my VIPKID classroom each morning), and lasts about 15 minutes – usually on Sunday after breakfast, or in the evening if the morning doesn’t work out.

Our shared Apple calendar is color coded and thus using colored markers is a natural extension of our digital schedule system. It helps everyone to visualize the week and understand it better.

The focus is on the coming week, and the board therefore is divided into columns from Monday to Sunday. Everyone enters the most important dates with his or her color and introduces them to the others, e.g. “9-11 volunteer at marine life center”, “6:30 Board Mtg at the hospital”, “piano lessons”, “debate club”. We are thereafter fully engaged and aware of the activities planned through the week.

These revised meetings have been such a success that I’m looking forward to purchasing a magnetic calendar whiteboard. Having a visual reminder that we can refer to throughout the week will also help alleviate conflict. No longer will my son have an excuse to say, “What? I have a doctor apt? You didn’t tell me!”  or “I forgot to look at my calendar. I must have missed the notification.”

Questions We Ask the Children

Once our obligations are recorded on the white board we take time to discuss the details of the week. We also encourage the kids to take more ownership in their learning – to strive for academic and career goals.

Additionally, we all share in the management of the house – doing our part to assure the chores are completed and the burden doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulders. Everyone has a role and helps to contribute to the success of the others.

• What are you doing this week?

• What do you need from us (financial assistance, transportation, etc.)? Are there any permission slips that we have to sign?

• Is there anything from last week that isn’t finished yet?

• Did you schedule time for learning? What creative project(s) are underway? Do you need help studying or with a project?

• Who will take over which household chore in the coming week? 

• What meals would you like this week?

Input in these areas really helps reduce my stress during the week. I’m able to shop for groceries just once (generally) and have a clear plan for the week. No more evenings with me scrambling at the last minute trying to figure out what to cook with what happens to be in the pantry. This also helps assure the menu is more diverse and appealing to everyone.

Questions We Ask Ourselves

As the kids have become more independent, it has also enabled me to go back to work on a part time basis. At first, I was substitute teaching and thus I would be away from home for the full day. This created difficulty in regards to scheduling and transportation. With VIPKID, I rarely substitute anymore but I do volunteer regularly. These obligations require us to sometimes be a little creative or seek out outside support (Grandpa, for example).

• Do either of us have to adjust our weekly plans because an important appointment for the children has been added?

• Do we have to organize outside support on any day?

 

You may think a family meeting like this is too formal. Our experience, however, is that the kids develop a much better understanding of each other’s plans, find their way much better with their own daily lives, and thereby become more independent and self-reliant.

Family Travel Hacks: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

As a family we love to travel. For the past few years, we have enjoyed a road trip in the spring and a holiday abroad in the fall. Most recently, we spent two weeks in New England exploring our nation’s history and many of the iconic landmarks.

Over the years, our style of travel has evolved. Yes, much of this is due to the fact that the kids are getting older and we no longer have to worry about diaper bags, strollers, and carseats. There have also been many minor changes that we have made along the way that have made a huge difference in how we get along and how smoothly things come together.

Arguments & Frustrations

We’ve all heard family travel horror stories. You likely have a few tales of woe and angst to share yourself. Who doesn’t? Noting spoils a vacation day faster than arguments and spats about little things that we often have no control over.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netA Day in Manhattan

We enjoyed good weather on most of our days – many were overcast but only one day brought rainfall. We were in Manhattan on this wet Monday and our plan for the day was to spend the morning at the Natural History Museum and then walk through Central Park to the Guggenheim where we would spend the afternoon.

We had pre-purchased tickets via CityPASS and as it was a Monday, we envisioned exploring the museums at our leisure. We often travel in September when most children are in school and have thereby become accustomed to this luxury. My daughter, the budding artist, had been particularly looking forward to seeing the Guggenheim Museum as she had previously visited Peggy Guggenheim’s collection in Venice.

The rain, as it turned out, changed the plans of many other in the city that day. We arrived at the steps of the Natural History Museum before they opened and very quickly, as the rain intensified, the crowd on the steps grew. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long before the doors opened and we funneled into the galleries. We soon came to realize, however, that with so many people it was difficult to really see the exhibits at a comfortable pace.

We saw what we could and then headed over to the Guggenheim. A special event closed off much of Central Park and thus we were forced to circle around the perimeter – extending our walk much farther than anticipated. When we reached Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building, we were soaked. Frustrations rose – we were all very hungry – and tempers began to flare. We quickly grabbed a bite to eat from a street vendor and proceeded indoors.

Huge crowds were here as well and to make it worse, the spiral gallery was closed due to changing exhibits. We were thereby confined to one temporary exhibit, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise.  We even opted to skip Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet as there was a two hour wait.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netWhat are Vacation Debriefs? 

One of the most effective tools we use to improve how well we connect with one another is the family debrief. When we are home, this generally is a short conversation at the dinner table whereupon we each share what we are grateful for and give kudos to another for their support and our inspiration.

Daily Vacation Debriefs

When we are traveling, our debrief is more in-depth. In addition to expressing our gratitude, we also discuss a series of questions. Here’s a peak into our responses over dinner that evening in Manhattan.

What did you like most about the day?

  • Unanimous agreement: Natural History Museum

What did you like the least about the day?

  • Jeffrey: The crowds
  • Geneva: The crowds – I wanted to sketch the wooly mammoth skeleton at the Natural History Museum but I couldn’t.
  • Eva: The crowds
  • Patrick: The Guggenheim – I was disappointed. There wasn’t much to see and the temporary exhibit we did see was just too weird for my taste.

What could we have done together to make it a better day?

  • Jeffrey: I wish we had brought snacks
  • Geneva: We should have checked the museum websites
  • Eva: We could have communicated better
  • Patrick: Let’s try an impromptu huddles next time things go awry rather than plowing forward with our plan. We may want to make a change.

Holiday Wrap-up

In addition to our daily debrief in the evening, we also wrap-up our family holiday with a more extensive debrief. This conversation typically takes place during our flight layover.

  • What’s the highlight of trip?
  • What’s most surprising about the trip?
  • If you were to recommend this trip to others, what words of advice would you offer?
  • Where would you most like to go next? 

Strengthening Family Bonds

We have all come to look forward to these family debriefs. My daughter says,

“They really help us to connect better with one another. We learn what things make each of us frustrated. We help each other find strategies to overcome these frustrations and we learn to let things go. We can then focus on the fun and better enjoy the experience.”

Looking Forward

This post is part of a series entitled Family Travel Hacks whereby I will be sharing tips and tricks we have learned over the years for successful family travel. You’ll find ideas for:

  • trip planning
  • packing
  • airports
  • car rentals
  • improving communication

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A Dozen or So Ideas for Family Time

When asked, children say the number one thing they want most from their parents is time. Parents don’t have to spend a lot of money to spend quality time with their children; any time spent together sharing an activity is considered quality time.

Children grow and change quickly, so family time is a wonderful time to get to know your child better. It builds strong family ties and creates lifelong memories. Family time also creates an environment that builds self-esteem and character in children.

family timeIdeas for Family Time

Here are a dozen things families with teens and preteens can do together as a family.

1. Eat Meals Together

Eating our meals together, especially our evening meal, had been a big part of my childhood. I always knew this was a tradition I wanted to continue when I had children of my own. Times have changed, however, and coming together for dinner is more difficult than it was in the 70s and 80s.

Parents are working longer hours. Kids are involved in more extracurricular activities – sports, school clubs, etc. We’ve thereby made family meals a priority. Though some nights we have to juggle, the majority of our evening meals are enjoyed with each of us seated at the dining room table.

2. Cook Meals Together

This is an endeavor we have only recently begun, but it certainly more fun to prepare a meal with one another than to do all the work oneself. The way our kitchen is laid out, only two people can be actively cooking or preparing a dish. There just isn’t space for more. When Patrick and I are cooking, the kids like to sit at the island and engage us in conversation. It helps to extend our family meal time.

3. Go for an Evening Walk

After we’ve cleaned up our meal and taken care of any pressing tasks demanding our attention, we often enjoy a short walk around the neighborhood. These strolls provide us a chance to catch up and focus on one another without distractions. Sometimes it’s just hubby and I – a great time to assure we are on the same page. Other times, it’s the four of us.

4. Take on a Challenge

Going for walks together is something we have always enjoyed. Shortly into the new year, we challenged ourselves to hike 52 different trails together as a family. We started the year strong, visiting new trail heads in parts of the state we had not previously explored.

One of the stipulations we made for ourselves is that all four of us needed to be there. In other words, Patrick and I can not count the hikes we did during our romantic weekend away to celebrate our anniversary. The kids can not count the hikes they do at summer camp. Illnesses, schedule conflicts, and other obligations have thereby set us back for a couple months.

5. Play a Board Game

It’s well-known that kids need plenty of exercise, but it can be hard to pry them off the couch and away from their electronic devices. One way to get them moving is to engage the whole family in games that are simple and fun. There are many spectacular games available today. Some of our favorites include: Carcassonne, Takenoko, Timeline, & Tokaido. Host a family board game night, invite your friends, and find new favorites. You’ll be glad you did.

classes6. Take a Class

My daughter and I have taken several classes together ranging from seaweed art and foraging for mushrooms. Each class has provided us with opportunities to bond with one another and share our passions.

I have long desired to take a dance class as a family but thus far, we haven’t been able to work this experience into our schedule. I haven’t given up, however, and will continue to hope. Other ideas include cooking classes, martial arts, swimming, creative writing, guitar lessons – wherever your heart leads.

7. Go Camping

In years past, we went camping on an annual basis to our favorite county park. As the kids have gotten older, they have expressed an interest in going more often. I love this for many reasons but namely because it enables us to squeeze in more hikes and detox from screen time. This year, we have camped twice already and three more weekends are planned.

We keep it simple – we tent camp and have agreed that an RV just isn’t necessary. We plan easy meals and cook over the open fire. Bring along a fun outdoor game like Bocce ball or Kübb (a Viking lawn game) and Let the Fun Begin.

8. Take a Road Trip

As a family, one of the things we most enjoy is traveling. In the past few years, we have been blessed to have the time and financial means to travel abroad regularly. As our financial circumstances have changed, we know we won’t travel as often or as far in the near future, but travel is something we have agreed is very important to us and we thereby make sacrifices in other areas to assure we can continue to explore our world.

While not everyone may desire to travel abroad, road trips are a fabulous experience; providing opportunities to connect with one another and to learn more about our nation’s history and natural areas.

9. Enjoy a Book

Whether we are going about our errands around town or enjoying a road trip across state borders, we always have an audio book in our car. This is a great way to squeeze in genres and classical literature that your children may not otherwise choose for themselves. I love the conversations that we have as a result of experiencing a great book together.

volunteer10. Volunteering

There are many volunteer opportunities for kids. When we first moved back to Oregon, Geneva expressed interest in volunteering at the art museum. As she is not yet 16, I am required to go with her. It has been a great experience for us both – exposing us to artists and mediums previously unfamiliar to us. It has also given me the opportunity to observe her professionally.

Likewise, both children and I volunteer together in a variety of capacities at the estuarine research reserve and marine learning center, providing us with experience doing real science (fish seines and annual counts, biomonitoring field work), education outreach, and interpretation. We have also enjoyed volunteering while on vacation.

11. See a Concert or Go to the Theatre

As a classically-minded homeschool family, we try to see a play at least once a year and hope to eventually see Shakespeare’s entire canon. We also try to see live concert events whenever possible. This is especially important to us as both kids are young musicians. While Geneva plays for self interest, Jeffrey has expressed a desire to possibly pursue it as a career. We are most looking forward to seeing The Piano Guys perform again next month.

12. Engage in a Friendly Competition

Whether you consider yourself an athlete or not, there are a wide range of entertaining “runs”. I am sure you’ve heard about them in social media: bubble runs, color runs, mud runs, etc. are all the rage. There is nothing competitive about them other than seeing who has the most color on them after the race! There’s no timing, no timing clock and no placement awards. Just a great excuse to come out and have fun with your friends, family and kids while doing something healthy!

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What do you do together as a family? Leave a comment below and share your favorite activities.

Join the other iHomeschool Network bloggers to learn How We Spend Family Time.

FamilyNight

Unplug and Get SMART: How goal setting can help teens achieve their dreams

These days, nearly everyone seems to have a device of some sort – be it an iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Laptop, or Android. Many families – including my own – struggle to find balance between device time and other activities.

It’s no surprise that kids of all ages – adults, too – can get addicted to electronic devices. That’s because every text, every Instagram ❤️, every point scored during a video game, and every chat message on a Minecraft server creates a little hit of the feel-good chemical dopamine. This is the same rush that a drug addict gets from a hit of cocaine. The same rush you get from eating a Voodoo doughnut.Unplug & Get SMART: Goal Setting for Teens @EvaVarga.net

I know from experience. Finding a balance between devices and other areas of life is something we are struggling with in our home. I’m not going to lie. Somedays, my kids spend more time on their device than they do talking to one another.

We have attempted numerous strategies and most have failed. We are making progress, however. While we haven’t found a perfect solution, what we have discovered is that focusing on our goals – both those we share as a family and those we have for ourselves – has been a huge motivator. The process of setting goals helps to keep us focused on what is important to us as a family and to each of us as individuals.

Setting goals help us to make the best use of our day. When tackled correctly, goals force us out of our comfort zone and help us to grow more each day. Most importantly, goals put us in the driver’s seat and give us control. By setting a goal, we are taking an active role in achieving our dreams. What could be more important than that?

Unplug & Get SMART: Goal Setting for Teens @EvaVarga.net

We have been talking a lot about goal setting in our home. We have each made lists of things we want to accomplish – both short term and long term. Achieving our goals takes more than good intentions, however.

We know we have to take action and then systematically measure our progress. During our family meetings, we’ve thereby brainstormed the milestones or steps we need to take to achieve our goals. Having a clear action plan has helped us to stay focused and limit our dependency on our devices.

Getting SMART

Setting Goals with Your Teen or Pre-Teen doesn’t have to be a struggle. Begin with a family discussion on what their dreams are and where they see themselves in 5 years, in 10 years. What do they want to accomplish? Consider academic goals, athletic / health goals, as well as personal / spiritual goals.

With a few goals in mind – both short term and long term – you can then help your child create a list of milestones or steps necessary to achieve a specific goal. When you ask your children to write their goals, guide them to create SMART goals that support your own goals for the same period.

A SMART goal is defined as one that is specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and timely. I have created a template to help guide teens through this process. With this planning tool, teens can create a plan for two different goals.

SMART Goal Setting with Teens @EvaVarga.net

Download the free SMART Goals Template here.

  • Specific: Goals should be simplistically written and clearly define what you are going to do.
  • Measurable: Goals should be measurable so that you have tangible evidence that you have accomplished the goal.
  • Achievable: Goals should be achievable; they should stretch you slightly so you feel challenged, but defined well enough so that you can achieve them.
  • Results-focused & Realistic: Goals should measure outcomes, not activities.
  • Timely: Goals should be linked to a timeframe that creates a practical sense of urgency, or results in tension between the current reality and the vision of the goal.

There are many other templates and apps to help guide you along the process of setting and achieving your goals. One of the tools that has really helped us in regards to staying on task is our online homeschool planner. The online system is so much more than a lesson planner. The kids have begun to use it themselves to block time for their passion projects or earning commissions.

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Most importantly, we parents must set a good example ourselves. No matter how much I may desire to check my Facebook and Instagram notifications, I must resist the urge. Whatever rules I have set for my child, I must be able to follow them myself.

Family Meetings: Encouraging Healthy Lives

Creating family traditions encourages strong roots and a healthy life. This takes time and practice. Traditions are sacred because they promote exchanges that strengthen bonds of love and intimacy and build the kind of confidence that will carry your child through this world.  One of the most beneficial traditions that we have established are family meetings.

We have been implementing family meetings for many years.  We started when the kids were little and though our agenda has evolved, we have always assured that everyone gets a chance to speak and share his or her opinions.

family meetings

Family Goals & Core Values

My husband is a hospital administrator … thus, it is not surprising that one of the first things we did when we implemented family meetings was to create a family goal statement and list of core values. I share ours with you here – but you will certainly want to develop your own.

FAMILY GOAL:

We are committed to being happy and enjoying a more simplified life; and agree to hold each other and ourselves accountable to attitudes and behaviors that support those outcomes.

FAMILY VALUES:

In our family, we value the following:

Caring/Compassion: We care deeply for our family members and friends, our pets too. Love, caring, and kindness are important to us.

Having Fun (including music, art, self-expression): Laughter and smiling, sharing good times, are part of our family life and are essential components of our humanity.

Our family practices its values in the following ways:

Caring/Compassion: Cooperating, helping, being supportive, listening respectfully, and having good manners are all ways that we show that we care.

Having Fun Playing games and spending time together in and outside of the home, swimming, and adventuring are some of the many ways we have fun.

Meeting Agenda

We meet on a regular, monthly basis and utilize an agenda.  If you have ever attended a formal business meeting – you have an idea of how these work.  I love it because it assures we cover all topics and helps us to stay on task.  The kids love it because they are treated like adults.  My husband and I both play the role of Secretary – taking notes and listing action items for future reference.

We open each family meeting with an inspirational quote.  We then go around the table and discuss the meaning of the quote and how it is applicable to our lives.  In 2014, we will begin to reflect on the meaning of these quotes in more depth.  The kids will be asked to write an essay each month sharing what it means to them.

  1. Values Observed
  2. Review action items from last family meeting
  3. What things went well in our family this month?
  4.  What things could we improve in our family?
  5. What things will you commit to working on this coming month?
  6. Committee Reports (Vacation Plans, Education, Curriculum Needs-Upcoming Opportunities, & Finances)
  7. New Business – As noted on white board
  8. Adjourn

We engage the kids in discussions about finances and budgeting.  They are asked to contribute to our decisions about vacations and educational opportunities.  For example, the kids have expressed interest in attending both Fish Camp and Heritage Camp this summer.  We thereby discuss the cost of attending as well as logistical issues including conflicts with swim meets and family events.  Because the kids have all the information and are a part of the discussion, they take ownership in the decisions that are made.

Additionally, the kids are expected to earn their own monies. I’ll be sharing more about this in a future post – but essentially, the money they earn is used to buy gifts for their friends (if invited to a birthday party) or to purchase things they want.

Family Five Share

In addition to our regular family meetings, we have also implemented what we call Family Share Five whereby the kids are asked to give a formal presentation of what they have been learning in homeschool.  They are expected to share examples in at least five areas (Reading, Writing, Handcraft, Music, and Memory Work).   Not only is their dad more aware now of what we are learning – but he also provides feedback for ways they can improve their public speaking.

Does your family have regular family meetings?  Tell us how about your style and approach to family meetings in a comment below. 🙂