Kids, Free Play and God

If you were a child in the 1960’s your jobs were to go to school, do chores and play. There weren’t many expectations of participating in other activities until well into elementary school. Even then, it usually was an hour or two a week until your teen years in many cases.

Today’s kids live a very different life. They are in constant planned activities from infancy. There is very little if any time to just play like children used to play. Our kids are missing out on some of the benefits of free play that even teens used to regularly get. Some of those can also be impacting the spiritual lives of young people, too.

As the world gradually returns to normal, here are some reasons you should keep your kids’ schedules lighter and allow more time for free play. (Note: Free play does not include anything that involves a device.”

  • To show their hearts. Mr. Rogers once said,”Play allows us a safe distance as we work on what’s close to our hearts.” The free play your kids choose to engage in can tell you a lot about what is important to them. What is each of your kids’ favorite way to play? What does it reveal to you about what is important to them? Does it show a loving or an angry heart? They may never articulate the things their play reveals.
  • To try out new ideas. Play is a great way to safely test new ideas in a controlled environment. What happens when you build a tower of blocks and knock it over? How do others react when you are a grumpy store clerk when playing grocery store?
  • To better understand things or problem solve. Play is a great way to begin understanding things that are confusing or try out different solutions to problems. How is that toy put together? How can I fix it if it breaks? How would my “mommy” doll respond if I said different things to her?
  • Mimic what they see, hear and experience. Play therapists sometimes use play to encourage kids to open up about traumatic events they have experienced. In fact, if your child plays the same negative pretend game over and over, you may want to get professional help determining if your child has experienced a trauma of which you are unaware. On the other hand, how your kids play pretend games like “house” may give you an idea of how they interpret your marriage or your parenting. These may also be the qualities they carry into their future families.
  • Sharing their faith. Kids who love church often choose to “play” church. It’s a way for them to practice the various acts of worship and invite friends to share in that part of their world. It’s faith sharing in its purest, simplest form.
  • Gift discovery. Have a child whose toys are always organized? She might have the gift of organization. Kids often display an early aptitude that is actually a gift from God they can develop and use to serve God. If they appear to enjoy something and have an aptitude for it, consider providing things to help them to continue to explore and develop that potential gift.

What items do your kids need to get these benefits from play? The great news is that expensive toys are often the least helpful in providing benefits to children. Common objects like pots and pans, crayons and paper, sticks and rocks can give kids an opportunity to be truly creative in their play. And that’s when the benefits really begin to appear.

Raising Your Kids to Be the People God Created Them To Be

In his book, 9 Things You Simply Must Do, Henry Cloud tells the story of two little girls. The details have been played out in homes all over the world with both sons and daughters for centuries.

I won’t share the actual story and ruin the book for you, but the gist of it is this. Two children are born, blessed by God with similar gifts and passions. In one home, the child is encouraged to explore and develop each gift and passion as it becomes evident. In the other home, the child’s dreams are often redirected or worse yet mocked as being useless or frivolous.

The girl who was encouraged, grows up to be successful in a field that ties all of those seemingly random gifts and passions together. She loves what she does and can serve God with those gifts and passions as well as make a living. The other child never fulfills her God given potential, because her parents direct her into choices that are not a match for her gifts and passions. She hates her job and for our purposes has no idea how God has gifted her to serve Him.

God gives each child potential. That potential includes one or more special gifts He wants them to use to serve Him. Some kids seem to know at least one of these gifts from early childhood, while others may have to experiment with several things until they find their gifts.

Christians often get confused by the spiritual gifts listed in Corinthians. It’s important to remember there are many gifts that were used by God in the Bible that we would call talents. Those are usually easier to identify and develop in young people. The spiritual gifts usually become more obvious as young people use their talents to serve God.

Your kids need your help finding and developing their gifts from God. God doesn’t give you a vote on whether or not you believe that gift is useful or important. God knows why your child needs those particular gifts. You don’t. Don’t second guess or try to over rule God. Teach your kids to see how God directs them to use those gifts to serve Him.

Sometimes parents try to overrule God because they are afraid. In the original story, the parents overruled the child’s love of drawing and artistic ability, fearing she would become a starving artist. The parents in the other family, encouraged their daughter’s love of art and found it was actually combined with her love of math and building things and she became an architect. Which, by the way, is a very well paid profession for many.

You don’t know the future like God does. You can’t begin to know for sure how He will use the combination of gifts and talents your child has to serve Him. In many cases, there may also be an intersection between their occupation and their personal ministry. When you attempt to down play your child’s talents and passions, you are in effect second guessing God blindfolded! That rarely works out well for anyone.

Have faith. Pray. Lean into the gifts and passions God has given each of your children. Help them uncover and develop them. Help them notice opportunities God gives them to use those talents to serve Him. Constantly remind them God has planned good works for them to do before they were born and some of them might involve using these talents.

If they don’t develop them or miss seeing the opportunities God has given them to serve Him, they will miss a part of Christianity that happens when you fully serve God with all of the talents and passions God gave you. And you will miss the blessing of watching your children serve God with all of their hearts, souls and minds in the ways God created them, doing the good works He has planned for them in advance.

Fun Fall Family Service Projects

The more your family works together to serve others and share your faith, the more it will become natural and easy for your kids to continue to live that way as adults. Fall is a great time to serve others. As you serve, you can find ways to point others to Jesus. If you are serving Christians, you can find ways to encourage their faith.

Here are some ideas for fun Fall family service projects to get you started.

  • Apples. Do you have an apple orchard somewhat close to you? Take the kids and go apple picking. When you get home you can create little gift baskets or bags of apples to share with neighbors.
  • Hand Pies. Take some apples and this recipe and make apple hand pies for people. Make sure you are wearing masks and handling them with food gloves after they come out of the oven, to keep recipients safe from any COVID germs your family might be carrying. Adding a reminder to reheat should also kill any germs.
  • Pumpkins. Most areas have pumpkin patches. Grab your kids and go buy pumpkins for at risk people who aren’t getting out much. You can also offer to carve their pumpkins when it gets close to the end of October.
  • Pumpkin spice muffins. Grab a box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin (regular size, not extra large). Mix the cake mix, can of pumpkin and about ½ of the empty can of water. No need to add the other ingredients on the cake mix box. Put the batter in a muffin tin lined with muffin papers and bake at 350* until firm to the touch. Once again, wear masks and food gloves when handling cooked muffins. These taste better warmed, so that should also kill any germs when the recipient reheats them.
  • Fall Garden. Winter kale and cabbages as well as some herbs will produce during the fall months. Depending on your zone, you may still be able to plant and harvest foods you can share with others…especially those in food insecurity.
  • Fall flowers and decorations. Sunflowers, mums and other fall flowers are often cheap to purchase. Or have your kids gather acorns and colorful leaves and make an art project. Take them to someone who can’t get out safely to purchase those things and brighten their day.
  • Nuts. You can’t do this in every location, but in some places you can pick edible nuts off the ground. Make sure you are allowed to do it and know you are picking edible nuts (chestnuts for example can be edible or inedible depending upon the tree). Give them quickly as nuts can go rancid over time.
  • Leaf raking. This fall service project staple really does make a huge difference in the lives of homeowners who are in poor health or physically disabled. Make sure you are disposing of the leaves the way the homeowner wants them to be removed or used.

No matter which service projects you choose to do, having your kids make cards or drawings with a note and a scripture written on them, pretty much guarantees their faith sharing scripture will end up on the refrigerator of the recipient. It’s a great way to teach your kids about faith sharing and encouraging others as you help them choose which scripture to use. If they want to get really creative, they can make scripture art to share – with a service project or as a service project on its own.

You will have to carve out time and use some family resources to do some of these family service projects. It’s a great way though, to create family memories and help your kids learn how to put the pieces of a Christian life together.

6 Thinking Skills Christian Kids Need

As the secular world’s views take permanent hold on every aspect of our culture, it’s more important than ever your kids become critical thinkers. Not to try and rewrite the Bible so God allows them to do whatever they want, but so they can see through the arguments that are meant to encourage them to reject God.

We have had several recent posts about critical thinking skills, but there are some underlying cognitive or thinking skills that will help your kids on their Christian walk. You can do a lot of things at home that will help them sharpen these skills, while also teaching them how these gifts from God can help them stay close to God if they use them well.

  • Comprehension. Do your kids really understand what they are being taught at church and home about the Bible and what God wants from them and for them? Be careful. Just because your kids can quote a neatly turned phrase, doesn’t mean they really understand what it means, why it’s important to God or how to apply it to their lives.
  • Analysis. Can your kids analyze a doctrine, argument, philosophy and their own lives and compare them to God’s standard? Or are they comparing things to some other, less reliable or godly standard?
  • Creation. Can your kids take what they read in the Bible and create a life that is pleasing to God? Can they create a personal ministry that serves others and teaches them about God? Can they eventually create a family of their own that will be the Christian family God wants?
  • Creativity. Can they take the commands and principles in the Bible and apply them in situations that aren’t an exact match for what is in the Bible? In other words, can they take the commands and principles from a story like the Good Samaritan and apply them appropriately to a situation that doesn’t involve a man robbed and beaten, but in which god would expect the same commands and principles to be obeyed?
  • Communication. Can your kids clearly communicate what they believe to others? Can they communicate the Gospel message in a compelling way? Can they explain how God makes a difference in their lives? Can they explain what God wants from them and for them so others understand the importance of obedience?

Helping your kids work on these thinking skills can better prepare them for critical thinking, living the Christian life and sharing their faith. They’re part of the strong faith foundation your kids need to remain faithful to God in this secular world.

Teaching Your Kids to Fail Well

Failure is an odd topic in our culture. There are people who believe children shouldn’t experience failure, because it could somehow damage their fragile psyches. Others celebrate failure as something that makes us more approachable and even fun, looking down on those who want to learn, grow and improve from their failures.

As with many topics, God has some things He wants us to teach our kids about failure. Perhaps the first is the definition of failure. God doesn’t define success or failure by how much money your kids eventually make or how famous they become. To God success is living a life that ends with spending eternity in Heaven with Him.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with worldly success obtained in godly ways, your kids need to be taught their ultimate goal. Their standard of success is Heaven and the only real failure is rejecting God.

But what about all of those little failures in life that don’t necessarily have Heaven or Hell consequences? It’s important to teach your kids the difference between mistakes and sins. They have different motivations and different consequences. They also have some differences in how they need to be handled when each of those failures happens.

Mistakes are those little failures that have no connection to the commands God has given us. They may reveal a character flaw that needs additional work, but the motivation behind the original action was not a rebellion against God’s laws.

These mistakes happen regularly as children learn and grow. At times, you need to allow these mistakes to happen – and the natural consequences of those mistakes. Those natural consequences are often the best teacher. If your child doesn’t study enough for a test and misses answers, the consequence of a poor grade should provide the motivation for studying more the next time. There will be times when you will have to help your child make the connections between actions, failures, consequences and how to keep them from happening again in the future.

Other mistakes can arise from the clumsiness that often comes with a growth spurt or a lack of life experience. If no one has ever taught you to separate reds from whites when doing laundry, then the resulting pink clothes are a mistake from a lack of life experience.

Obviously, there are times when these mistakes require apologies, cleaning up the mess they created or making some sort of restitution. In general though, mistakes should be discussed with loving patience. Too much harsh criticism can make your kids so afraid of failure, they may be unwilling to do the good works God has planned for them. Like Moses, they will become paralyzed by their fear of failure – without the benefit of hearing God’s voice to help them work through those fears.

Finally, there are the mistakes your kids will make when they are trying something new. It may be learning a new concept in math or developing the gifts God has given them. They may make mistakes the first time they try to serve someone independently or share their faith. It is so crucial with these mistakes, that your response is encouraging. They need to learn to embrace these mistakes and learn and improve from them. If they stop trying because they are fearful of failure, it is highly unlikely they will ever reach their godly potential.

Sins on the other hand, come from a rebellious heart. Even though children before the age of accountability are not responsible for sins, they need to be taught that rebellion against God is unacceptable. Of course, this begins with rebelling against your authority by disobeying your rules. These failures are heart issues at their core – a selfishness that puts one’s own desires ahead of obedience and respect.

Heart issues are tough, but if dealt with at young ages you can help mold your kids hearts towards God. These failures must be discouraged and the heart molded away from selfish rebellion or your kids will have great difficulty obeying God as adults.

If your kids are old enough to become Christians, then it’s time to really focus on repentance and forgiveness. It’s important they understand repentance is not a kicking the dirt, glum, “sorry” to God. It is truly mourning the sin, asking God for forgiveness, thinking of ways to avoid committing the sin again and making any necessary restitution.

Failure is a complex subject, but taking the time and effort to help your kids understand it through God’s eyes can make them more resilient, more likely to use their gifts to serve God and share their faith and less likely to live a life enmeshed in sin. It’s worth every second you put in to helping your kids navigate failure in godly ways.