Christmas is over. New Years has been and gone. For many families the family holiday away has passed as well. Still to come for many of the families I work with are weeks and weeks of juggling being back at work while at the same time keeping the kids adequately supervised and occupied.

This blog is about finding the teachable moments available to you and your kids where their interest in an activity drives them to take charge of it for themselves. That way you can momentarily take off the cheerleader pompoms you had been donning to try and coax them into screen-free alternative activities (exhausting!) and watch on as they take risk, apply themselves and indulge a passion of theirs they have had brewing By scaffolding them in their learning they have engaging activities to go on with even when you aren’t present, and you get to ward off some of the behaviour that comes out when they are bored.

I’m going to give an example from over here that prompted this article. It is just what was useful here at the time it came up. If you take the essence of it and apply it to whatever comes to mind for you then hopefully it proves to be as fruitful for you all over there.

Like lots of 12 yr olds, my daughter just loves the freedom of getting in the kitchen and making sweet things. She regularly has friends over and they whip themselves into a sugar-fuelled frenzy making up recipes and plating things up all fancily. It has been great to watch but gosh I’ve wondered how I might entice them to move into savoury so that all that effort could go into the prepping an actual meal for us from time to time.

When Harris Farm opened in Cooks Hill a couple of months ago I had a vision. My daughter and her four friends using it as their pantry (Masterchef style) to scoop up some ‘hero’ ingredients and cook something savoury for a gathered bank of parents.

So – I floated the idea with my daughter and she got right onboard (Woo hoo!). We came up with the idea that each participant stand in their driveway with $25 spending money at 8am the next Saturday morning to be transported there and to use our 4 walkie talkies in the store and have 25 mins to buy the hero ingredients.

I woke at 6:15am that Saturday morning to find she had laid out every utensil, appliance and pantry item we own on a tablecloth on the dining room floor. The tressel tables from the depths of our storeroom (that on any other day would be WAY too hard for her to physically get to) were miraculously stealthed into the house and set up with Christmas tape sectioning off prep space for each participant. Tubs of soapy water lined the driveway and her younger brother (who wasn’t even included) was eagerly serving pink mocktails in champagne glasses. Haha. The vibe was definitely contagious.

There was a laminated crown for the event winner.

Actually, even the printed-out recipe card was laminated.

Excitement was being channeled into all manner of set-up activities that also had built-in learning.

A friend they were all sure would never in her life be able to be ready by 8:00am was in her driveway ready as promised and grinning from ear to ear. There was a friend whose confidence around cooking is significantly less than the others and it was really interesting to watch them give her space to be involved on her own terms. They pointed out to her that Harris Farm sold a lot of pre-fabricated things like seafood skewers and salads.

I waited for the fight that I was sure they were to have over turf/access to equipment/mess but it just didn’t come. They shared bench space, and the one oven and largely managed their own washing up and the amount of time they had to complete their dish. Some rules that were sketchy got clarified as a group in the name of keeping things fair. Gosh 12 year olds just love fair, don’t they?

Maths skills were used over and over as they weighed produce at Harris Farm right through until they were plating up for the 5 parents and one older brother waiting eagerly in the lounge room air con.

There were encouraging signs of resourcefulness as they realised at Harris Farm that buying every ingredient on their shopping list would cost more than their $25. They tweaked recipes and fiddled things about until they could take home what would work within their budget.

One of my favourite moments of the morning was sitting in the lounge room out of view but able to listen in on them as they worked away. Such little characters, all of them. They were high as high. The music was rocking out and they still hilariously choose lots of what even I would call oldies music. Hot Chocolate, Queen and David Bowie. I may have had slightly leaky eyes at this point. It had been a huge week with all the end-of-year-6 wrap-up events.

The parents arrived and the girls loved anonymously presenting the food to be judged. By then it was a more civil hour to be sipping the pink champagne glass mocktails that I remade so they could be cold and fizzy. It is so rare that myself and those other parents/sibling get to sit down together, it felt like quite the decadent treat. Everyone was in such fine form.

The winner spontaneously did an interpretive dance done upon the receiving of the crown. We all oohed and aahed over her Sticky Chicken with Vietnamese salad, and everyone stayed talking into the afternoon.

Was the kitchen returned to the same version of ‘as it was’ as I hoped. Nope, but my daughter and I spruced it back to it’s former glory and got to chat and relive all the exciting bits as we wiped and mopped.

Did it take half a day to do all that? It did, but we all finished up feeling like it was well worth the investment.

In this case the actual event required a fair bit of my supervision/transporting them on the day, but the setting up and planning of it could have occupied them all for weeks ahead if we had have scheduled it further ahead.

So, no matter what the activity, I’d say these few key factors help something like this tick boxes for them and us:

  • them feeling trusted to do something beyond what, until now, they have been allowed to branch out into
  • them feeling that they have a real say in shaping it
  • them feeling they can pitch an idea to us and we will genuinely listen and be open to whatever we can for it to happen
  • them having really clear parameters so that we can hold them to those and not feel taken advantage of/resentful
  • them being in control of a pre-determined budget and us not micromanaging their decisions as they go
  • them feeling mapped in/connected with their community

Well – that’s it from me on this one. I could type all day about it but I have Miss 12’s younger brother Master 10 wanting a hand to eBay 300 Nerf bullets and schedule a time I can take him to pick up fridge boxes from Good Guys. It is quite the ‘capture the flag’ he has spent putting together. I can’t wait to see it play out. I think his exercise book he is doing his planning in will be full by the time it rolls around in March for his birthday!