Tag Archive for fun

3 Lessons from Family Camp 2016 (Plus a Cherished Experience)

We had another great Family Camp weekend at Camp Christian this year! Tim Jones was the speaker this year. He shared some fantastic insights for our lives and our families. Let me share three of these insights plus my most cherished experience of family camp.African American Family Parents and Children

  1. Adored people become beautiful people. This is true for our world and our families. An adored spouse will more likely become a person worthy of adoration. An adored child will more likely live up to their parents’ adoration. An adored parent strives to live a life that honors that adoration. The take home: honor and adore your family to turn the beast within into a beautiful member of your family in Christ.
  2. A vision of where we are going makes all the difference. Times can be difficult, struggles immense. But, having a clear vision of where those difficulties and struggles take us can make them bearable. For instance, discipline is never fun. It is hard for the one disciplined and the one dishing out the discipline. We hate to see our children struggle with the pain of discipline. But, if we keep a clear vision of where we want to go—the godly behavior and wise discernment we want our children to develop—discipline becomes bearable.
  3. We are called to be “story people,” to live a life of adventure following the “still, small voice of God.” There is no greater joy than following God as a family into the adventure of life in Him.

Thanks Tim for these wonderful insights for our lives and our families. Still, my most cherished family camp experience involves a simple observation. Families of all different stages come to family camp—grandparents with grandchildren, families of infants, families of teens, and even “empty nesters.” Spending time at family camp, I was deeply touched by the sight of all these families enjoying time together. Whether worshiping together, playing together, eating together, or laughing together, I loved seeing families interacting with one another. Interacting with families at family camp allows us all to be part of this beautiful experience. That experience is the one I cherish most.

Thanks to Jim and Terry Jones, the deans of family camp, for organizing such a wonderful family experience. Thanks to all who helped create an environment where families can experience the joy of sharing, playing, worshiping, and learning together.

Two Observations on Parenting (Than Can Save You Money)

Over the years of observing families, I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things about children and their interests. I’m sure you’ve noticed them as well.

  1. Children playing on a cell phone, watching TV, or playing a video game do NOT listen well. They are preoccupied with their TV show, game, text, or pic on the screen. They can sit right next to you, playing on their mobile device, and totally block you out. They don’t listen.
  2. Children love boxes and blocks and dress up clothes. They have great fun with objects that can become whatever they imagine. In fact, I’ve seen preschoolers more interested in the box their gift came in than the gift itself!

These two observations got me thinking. Parents spend a lot of money on mobile devices, TV’s, X-Boxes, etc. Our children delve into these devices. While engaged on their devices, they interact face-to-face with other people less often. They engage in less hands-on activities. They explore the world beyond the screen less often. They even stumble across videos we don’t want them to see.

But, when you give children some empty Tupperware, old boxes, blocks, crayons, and paper they create amazing things. They become curious and imaginative. They explore ways of using the material. They create forts, planes, and dinner out of the same “raw materials.” These “open-ended” materials, or what Magda Gerber calls “passive toys,” become the raw ingredients of imaginative play, explorations, and new ideas. And, in the midst of creating all this, they talk with one another. They share ideas. They ask for help. They negotiate, compromise, and problem solve…together! As they engage, combine, and re-engage these simple objects, they learn and grow. They have fun, too.

I love the poster from Let the Children Play. It explains the benefits of “passive toys” with a simple acronym.

  • Passive toys help children become better PROBLEM-SOLVERS.
  • Passive toys engage children in ACTIVE LEARNING.
  • Passive toys encourage SELF-INITIATED play and SENSORY EXPERIENCES.
  • Passive toys SUPPORT SCHEMAS. They support what children already know and how they already think while supporting them to move up another level in their thought life. As Vygotsky used to say, “In play, a child becomes a child a head taller than himself.” (Read Make Your Child A Head Taller Than Himself for more info)
  • Passive toys throw open the doors for INVENTION, INVESTIGATION, and IMAGINATION.
  • Passive toys are VERSATILE, which nurtures creativity.
  • Passive toys encourage EXPERIMENTATION and EXPLORATION.

I’m not against some screen time, but what video game or TV show can do all that!

12 Simple & Creative Summer Activities for Your Family

Having fun with your family does not have to be expensive this summer. Try some of these ideas.

  1. Go get ice cream cones together.
  2. Go for a walk in the woods.
  3. Roller skatesHave a picnic at a local park…or in your back yard.
  4. Enjoy an evening of stargazing. Tell stories about various constellations.
  5. Enjoy a free concert at a local venue.
  6. Pull out the sprinkler and put on your bathing suits for a day of water fun. Add squirt guns for even more fun.
  7. Go to a baseball game. If you have a minor league team nearby, enjoy watching their game.
  8. Play some yard games like Frisbee, Corn Hole, or catch.
  9. Enjoy a game of putt-putt.
  10. Make a home-made bird feeder out of a milk carton, fill it up with bird seed and do some bird watching.
  11. Go for a hike and start a leaf collection. Pick some wildflowers and arrange a beautiful bouquet for a shut-in.
  12. Have a campfire in the back yard and tell stories.

5 Benefits of a Family Adventure

My family and I just returned from vacation. We had a great time…fabulous. With my daughters getting older, we decided to go someplace new, someplace none of us have neworleans2visited before. We all love food and music, so we chose New Orleans.  We enjoyed a steamboat ride on the Mississippi, New Orleans jazz, historical museums, and great food. Some friendly New Orleans’ natives even taught us how to eat crawfish (delicious but a lot of work for the food). It truly was a great family trip. The whole thing made me think about the benefits of a family adventure. The adventure of a family vacation presents new experiences for the whole family. It teaches everyone in the family something new and builds stronger, healthier bonds within the family in at least 5 ways.

  1. Family adventures enhance communication. Family members have to communicate schedules, what they would like to do, when they get tired or hunger…the list goes on. Each family member learns to listen and speak with clarity as the whole family navigates new terrain, maneuvers unique circumstances, and designs mutually enjoyable experiences.
  2. Family adventures teach problem-solving skills. Let’s face it—most of us can’t do everything we want to do while on a vacation. We lack the financial resources and the time. Instead, we have to pick and choose which activities we will enjoy as a family and as individuals. This requires keeping other family member’s interests and possible scheduling issues in mind. It will demand negotiation and compromise. These, along with communication (see #1), are all great problem-solving skills.
  3. Family adventures provide playful experiences for the whole family. Work, school, and daily stresses all get left behind so the family can focus on relaxing and playing together. Don’t forget, families that play together stay together! (Read The Family That Laughs Together for more.)
  4. Family adventures gives us a broader, healthier perspective. Whether we experience the vastness of the sea, the majesty of the mountains, the power of the “mighty Mississippi,” or the amazing variety of cultures in our world, we gain a deeper perspective of life. We experience moments of awe (which carries its own benefits as described in Using the Power of Awe for Your Family) and a growing appreciation for the diversity of the world around us.
  5. Family adventures increase each family member’s confidence. Each adventure we navigate represents a new accomplishment. Each time a family member does something new—whether it be eating a new food, windsurfing, getting directions from a stranger, catching a fish, or hiking to the next lean to—they gain confidence in themselves and their abilities. We learn that each time we safely step out of our comfort zone we raise the chances of new opportunity. My daughter learned this in New Orleans when she approached a pianist to talk about his experiences on Broadway. During the conversation, he asked her to sing a song with him…and she did (see video below). A great experience and a great confidence boost.

All in all, family adventures help families grow. They bring out the best in all of us as individuals and as celebrating communities of honor and grace. Now get out there and have a fun adventure!

Build Forts to Build Mature Children

I lived near a very small (I mean, very small!) patch of woods for part of my elementary school and middle school years. I remember the joy of going “into the woods” and finding natural enclaves under bushes that I could make into “my fort.” A few minor adjustments and additions turned those branches into a naturally camouflaged hideout. I also remember “building forts” out of blankets, tables, and cushions in the house. As a father, I even joined my daughters in making forts during their elementary school years. In fact, fort building is a pretty universal activity among children.

Fort building flows from our children’s developmental needs and desires. During the middle years of elementary school, children start figuring out their nearby world. They want to understand how their home fits into the neighborhood and which streets and paths go from their home to other destinations. They also become more independent, developing a unique self, separate from their family and engaged in the world. All in all, it’s quite an adventure…and building an outside fort adds to the adventure. Even an indoor fort adds excitement to a rainy day and helps satisfy strong developmental needs like:

  • Fort building encourages independence. Children gain independence as they gather materials and build their forts however they like. They establish themselves as separate individuals by creating their own space in a unique design of their choice.
  • Fort building also develops practical skills. Children meet their “inner engineer’ and “construction worker” when building a fort. They learn what creates a sturdy fort, what protects against the wind, what holds materials together, what materials work best for various designs…. The list of practical skills our children learn while building forts goes on.
  • Fort building enhances cognitive skills like problem-solving, planning, and organization (which may come in handy when writing their high school papers).
  • Fort building also builds social skills like cooperation, negotiation, and teamwork.
  • Fort building provides unstructured play time filled with creativity and imagination. Unstructured play encourages self-discovery, self-control, and maturity (Read Make Your Child a Head Taller Than Himself for more on this).
  • Fort building establishes “my place,” a fortress against all the stresses and demands of the outside world. In this sense, fort building can relieve stress and build skills to manage emotions.
  • Don’t forget. Fort building is also just plain fun! We all love to see our kids having fun.

So, on a rainy day, encourage your children to build a fort in the basement, attic or family room. On a nice day, encourage your children to go outside, explore, and build a primo-fort in a secluded spot. Supply some materials and encourage the adventure. Then sit back and enjoy watching them develop skills while growing more mature!

Laughter is Good Medicine…& A Great Date Night

Sarah Algoe, assistant professor of social psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill, believes “little things” like gratitude and laughter “help relationships flourish.” I agree, but she went so far as to test this belief. She and a graduate student asked 77 couples to describe how they

first met. They watched and listened as the couple answered. After reviewing the videotapes of the couples’ answers, the researchers discovered that couples who spent more time laughing together during their description felt more similar to one another. Each spouse in the couples who laughed together also felt their partner was more supportive of them. In other words, laughing together builds a stronger relationship.

Doesn’t laughing together sound like a great way to build a stronger marriage? A fun and enjoyable way to increase feelings of connection and support? So, here’s an idea. Plan a date night of laughter. Go out to dinner and share funny stories of your life together, from the time you met to yesterday’s humorous autocorrect text. After laughing your way through dinner, go to a movie. Make sure to see a funny movie, maybe even a romantic comedy. Laugh it up. After all, a couple who laughs together stays together.

Christmas–You Don’t Want to Miss This!

The Christmas Season is a wonderful family celebration. We fill our time with traditions and rituals that draw our families together and remind us of the true meaning of the season. Those traditions and rituals create an emotional bond we can cherish throughout our lives with our spouses and children. This holiday season seems to have been rushed and modified for my family. Still, we look for opportunities to fit each of our traditions into the season and, with each one, grow more connected as a family. Let me share some Christmas Traditions we enjoy as a family and a couple of traditions from other families to fill your season with joy and remembrance. My family enjoys:

  • Dad helping boy to decorate christmas treeReading “A Gathering of Angels” by Calvin Miller.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree. Buying a family ornament for our tree each year. Hiding the Christmas pickle…sort of.
  • Sharing gifts with one another, one on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. Christmas morning we play music, sip a hot drink, and pass around the gifts.
  • Listening to the Christmas concerts given by the high school band and chorus.
  • Singing Christmas carols.
  • Contemplating and talking about the birth of Christ. I especially like the story of the shepherds!
  • Enjoying a special family Christmas dinner and enjoying a Christmas dinner with our church family.
  • Attending a Christmas Eve service.
  • Setting up a manger scene.
  • My children bake cookies and I help by eating them. (I love eating them fresh from the oven!)

Some traditions our friends celebrate and enjoy…you might, too:

  • Leave the wise men out of the manger scene and place them somewhere on the other side of the house. Each day, move them closer to the manger scene. They finally arrive at the manger scene the day after Christmas.
  • Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and enjoy it on Christmas day.
  • One of our friends shares with his whole community in a traditional Slovak Christmas Dinner each year, complete with ethnic entertainment.
  • The Elf on the Shelf…who magically moves around the house on his/her own.
  • Watching the Christmas TV specials. Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer are my favorites.

I know the season is well under way, but what are some of your family’s favorite traditions? We would love to hear how you celebrate family at Christmas time. And, who knows, your tradition may help another family celebrate their Christmas this year!

The Power of “The Dad Joke”

happy pirate familyMy daughters have accused me of telling “Dad jokes.” I don’t know what they’re talking about. Even some of their friends have accused me of telling dad jokes. I asked for clarification of the “Dad joke” and knew their answer could not describe my jokes…”lame,” “silly,” “sarcastic,” “uncool.” Well, maybe I do that once in a while, but is that really so bad?  “No,” my daughters reply as they roll their eyes. “Keep it up, they’re stupid.” So confusing…lame, silly, even stupid and uncool yet embraced, laughed at, and asked to continue. I really don’t know what they’re talking about. But, it did make me think about “the Dad joke.” I think the Dad joke really carries a great deal of power. By the way, what happened when the cow jumped over the fence? I heard it was an udder disaster.


Dad jokes teach children to use humor when navigating the world of disappointment and momentary failures. Dad jokes help set the stage for seeing the disappointing situation in a fresh way and then thinking about the problem in a new way. Like the father whose son was thrown out at third. The father tells him, “That’s because it takes longer to get from 2nd to 3rd than it does from 1st to 2nd. There’s that shortstop in between.” Suddenly, the disappointment is a little less painful.


Dad jokes also help our children cope with fear. Mom and Dad can comfort, but sometimes it’s the Dad joke (“don’t worry about seven, he eight nine and is full now”) on the way out the door that makes children smile and lay down to sleep.


Dad jokes also nurture intimacy and connection. Laughing together bonds people…and it’s just plain fun. Who doesn’t like to have fun together? And what parent does not crave moments of laughter with their children? By the way, no running in your campsite. Why? Because you can only “ran” when it’s past tense.


Dad jokes lighten the moment and make time go faster, building anticipation. In our family we pass a cemetery as we near our church camp. Knowing my children need to learn a little about death, I seize the teaching moment to announce, “People are dying to get in there” and point at the cemetery. Amidst the “Aww Dad” and groans, I hear a chuckle. I recognize a new spark in the voice and hear a response that acknowledges, “We’re almost there, yay.”


Dad jokes help our children see things from a fresh perspective, too. They help our children think about words and communication. After all, many Dad jokes are simply a play on words or a pun that force us think and see the situation in a slightly different way. To hear “A steak pun is a rare medium well done” encourages the listener to think about the meaning of words and how context impacts that meaning. These skills are important in social interactions and business interactions later in life.


Dad jokes also help our children see the irony of situations and, in turn, they encourage critical thinking. “I asked a salesperson in the local bookstore where the self-help section was. She said if she told me it would defeat the purpose.” Think about it…the irony, the critical thought…aha, there’s the laugh.


So, I guess I don’t mind being accused of a Dad joke now and again. Every Dad joke is just a moment of learning, bonding, growing, and sharing. So what’s your favorite Dad joke?

  • We’re going for a walk. Don’t go running. I want to be Roman, not Russian, on this walk. Slow down.
  • “Dad I want hands-free on my phone.” “Then delete all the Germans from your contact list.” “What?” “Then you’ll be Hans free.”
  • I heard the energizer bunny got arrested. He was charged with battery. (It keeps on going and going.)
  • Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Cuz its “p” is silent.
  • How do you make a hankie dance? Put a little boogie in it. Now blow your nose.

Enjoy Jimmy Fallon’s favorite Dad jokes from #StopItDad.

Enjoy Parenting (or not) With These 9 Tips

Do you enjoy parenting? I do…most of the time anyway. There are times I’d like to throw in the towel; but overall, I really enjoy parenting. My kids are in the process of “leaving the nest” and I’m going to miss having them at home to parent. As they prepare to leave, I have thought about what I have enjoyed about parenting. I realize I’ve experienced some “joy robbers” and some “joy starters” when it comes to parenting. Sometimes I even allowed the “joy robbers” to take over. I’d like to share these “joy robbers” and “joy starters” with you so you can enjoy parenting “to the max” and avoid the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

Cute Teenage Girl with Serious ExpressionFirst, the Joy Robbers:

  • Overscheduling. When you overschedule your children they get tired. You get grumpy. Everyone gets a shorter fuse. Overscheduling makes everyone in the family feel like they are constantly on the run and constantly under pressure. Slow down. Schedule in some down time. Overscheduling is a joy robber.
  • Expecting perfection. If you expect perfection from your children you will experience disappointment and frustration. They are children…and children are not perfect. What’s more, you are a parent…and parents are not perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall short. Rather than expecting perfection, encourage everyone to do their best and accept one another in spite of shortcomings. Expecting perfection will rob you of joy.
  • Living through your children. We cannot expect our children to live out our unfulfilled dreams. They may not be interested in becoming the star quarterback we dreamed of becoming…or the lead in the musical…or the straight “A” student…or the artist…or the popular jock…you get the idea. Asking them to do so (even subtly) will only lead to frustration. Let your children live their own dream based on their own interests and strengths. Get a life of your own. Living through your children is a definite joy robber.
  • Focusing on frustrating moments. Life is filled with frustrations, irritations, and hassles. However, life is also filled with moments of fun, joy, and amazing connections. Joy robbers focus on the frustrations, irritations, and hassles. Count your blessings. Make it a point to “shout out” gratitude. Focusing on the frustrating moments will do nothing for your joy.
  • All work and no play. Parents and children need time to play. Sure we need to get some work done; but maybe we can build play into the work. Sometimes we can even set the work aside for a time and enjoy one another’s company while we play. Go ahead and play because all work and no play is a joy robber!

Joy Starters:

  • Spend time with your children. Joyful parents discover the most intimate and joyous times with children come during the most mundane and unexpected moments like driving to the grocery store, getting ready for bed, playing catch, or cooking dinner. You miss joyful moments when time together is rare. Time spent with children is the first joy starter.
  • Family in autumn parkTune in to your children. Become a student of your children. Learn about their interests, strengths, weak areas, and fears. Take time to meet their friends and teachers. Be accepting of what they dislike about you and the rules they disagree with. The more you tune into your children, the more joy you will discover as a parent.
  • Appreciate the little pleasures. Make it a point to express gratitude to your children every day. Appreciate the little things they do around the house, even if miniscule. Give a “shout out” of gratitude for the times you spend together, the talks you have, or the activities you enjoy. Thank them for spontaneously doing a chore or following through on something you had to ask them to do. Focus on those things you appreciate rather than the hassles. There are plenty of both; but your joy will grow as you focus on gratitude.
  • Play. Make time to play with your children. Play builds intimacy. Play empowers us to resolve conflict. Play is fun! You can play board games, catch, music, or just joke around. Make it a point to play with your children—it’s a great relationship builder and joy starter!

Laughter is No Laughing Matter for Families

Laughter is an amazing medicine. This is not new information. In fact, one ancient Hebrew proverb states that “a cheerful heart is good medicine…” (Proverbs 17:22). Laughter is like medicine, not only to the soul but to the whole person. Consider these “medicinal benefits” of laughter:happy brother and sister laughing isolated on the white

  • Laughter decreases the secretion of stress hormones in the body while increasing the release of natural “feel good” hormones like endorphins (the same hormone responsible for the “runner’s high”).
  • Laughter stimulates the immune system, building our resistance to illness.
  • Laughter decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It expands the blood vessels to allow greater flow of blood (along with the oxygen and nutrients it brings) through the body. At the same time, laughter decreases blood pressure in the long run.
  • Laughter stimulates the release of natural painkillers in the body.
  • Laughter stimulates the release of “hormones and neuropeptides” (like dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins) related to feelings of happiness, bonding, tolerance, generosity, compassion, and unconditional love.
  • Laughter breaks down relational barriers and increases intimacy. Studies show that men and women who laugh together are more attracted to one another.
  • Laughter keeps relationships fresh.
  • Laughter empties the lungs of “residual air” so we can inhale higher levels of oxygen. Oxygen coursing through our body retards aging, relieves headaches, and boosts our immune system among other things.
  • “Laughing creates a total body response that is clinically beneficial. It exercises the facial, chest, abdominal, and skeletal muscles and improves their tone…” –Professor A. Berk of Johns Hopkins University.
  • PS—You can read about these and more benefits of laughter at the Laughter Wellness Institute. Check it out and enjoy a laugh. http://laughterwellness.org/


We all want our family to experience optimal physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health. Without laughter, your family’s health is missing an important ingredient. So, find ways to bring laughter into your family life as often as you can. After all, the benefits of laughter for your family are no laughing matter.

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