Qroup size: 2 or more
Age: 5 -- adult
Materials: blackboard or large sheet of paper, chalk or pencil
This activity can be done with one child, a whole family, or a classroom. Sit down with the child or gather the family members together and ask the question, "Other than air, water and sun, what are some things that would be hard to live without?" (With older children the question might be phrased, "What are some things that make life worth living?") Go around the circle, and as each person responds, list his or her items on a blackboard, posterboard, or large sheet of paper.
As the list grows, and if the children have only come up with tangible objects such as toys, TV, and clothes, try to suggest some items that are meaningful to them such as friends, family, love, etc. You might ask, "What are other things that help you through the day?" or "What things make you feel good during the day?" Each family's list will be different, but the following are some ideas to get you started-there are hundreds of others:
After you have generated a list, ask them to take turns crossing out one item they could live without if they had to. At first this will be easy, but as they get down to the more basic elements of life, it will become more difficult. There are no right or wrong answers to thisaccept anything each person suggests he or she could seriously live without. Continue the exercise until there is only one item left. it will be fun for small children to realize what's really important to them, and thoughtprovoking for teens and adults. it's also fun to have the children explain their reasoning for removing each item.
Although it's possible that the last thing to be crossed off the list will be the swimming pool, or money, the last item could be something like family, friends, learning, or love. Depending on your comments and questions, it's possible to steer the kids to these kinds of conclusions. This game will automatically lead to some good discussion about your family's values and priorities. Try to make the children understand that "things" are not what bring true happiness and security in life.
Susan was surprised at some of her kids' answers. For one thing, she realized how important music was to them, as it was one of the last things to remain on the list. She decided to make an effort to expose them to a variety of music at home, and to see about getting tickets to an occasional community theater musical production.
Susan also hadn't realized how much her children wanted a computer, and how "out of it" they felt without one. She silently resolved to budget her money and make that her next major purchase. And finally, she was gratified to see that after much discussion and friendly feuding, "family" was the last item remaining on the board. A week later, she conducted one of the other activities in this section and then proposed her plan to the kids.
Through her church, Susan had gotten the name of a family who wouldn't be having any Christmas that year. They had two small children and the father had lost his job eight months earlier, and even putting food on the table was becoming a challenge for them. Susan suggested to her children that they give up a small portion of their own Christmas in order to provide one for this needy family. The kids were reluctant at first, but the more they discussed it and how much fun it would be to do it secretly, the more excited they became. For several days, Susan's family shopped for toys and clothes to fit both of the children and then wrapped each one and signed the tags "From Your Secret Santa."
On Christmas Eve, they quietly placed all the gifts on the doorstep to the family's house, gave a few shakes on their jingle-bells, knocked on the door, and then ran and hid behind trees and bushes to await the family's squeals of surprise and delight when they opened the door. Returning home to hot chocolate and donuts, they laughed and talked about how the children would feel the next morning when they opened their gifts, and how the parents would always wonder who cared about them enough to do this anonymous kind deed.
Naturally, Susan's kids loved opening their own presents, too, the next morning. There may have been some slight momentary disappointment over the fact that not everything on their lists was there, but they seemed to feel the purpose of the sacrifice-they had given up some of their own desires to make a few other, less fortunate children happy. Susan even noticed that when they "compared notes" with their friends this time, all they wanted to talk about was their "secret Santa" escapade.
But the true spirit of the season touched her most when, in church a few days later, her children experienced the sweet joy of giving, as they noticed both of the children walk in, proudly wearing the new clothes that had been mysteriously delivered to their doorstep on Christmas Eve. Susan knew this would be a Christmas to remember, and felt that these simple games and discussions about the things that matter most had "opened the door" to this experience.
Try this experiment on your family: Ask any member to name one thing he got for Christmas last year or the year before. Now ask someone else to name one thing she got for her last birthday. In most cases, people can't remember too many of the things they receive as gifts. But ask any child if he can remember the time he secretly delivered gifts to another family or left cookies on a neighbor's doorstep, and he'll be able to tell you every detail, including his feelings about it. People generally remember experiences, not things, and experiences associated with emotion make lasting impressions. Continues.