Parents want to provide their kids with the opportunities and skills to live a successful and fulfilling life. A happy, healthy, childhood is an important stepping stone towards that goal. I was interested in imagination and creativity long before becoming a parent. Now, as the mother of three young kids just starting school, I have a personal stake in figuring out how to be intentional about shaping my own kids’ childhood experiences and making happy memories together – for them and myself. When I see how fast they grow through clothes and milestones during the school year, it hits me that the time to act is now, and it’s short. The goal is a “magical childhood,” one they’ll look back on with nostalgia and warmth, like a gooey, fire-roasted marshmallow. But what does that actually look like in practical, real-life terms? What is a magical childhood, and what concrete steps can I take to help shape one for my children?
Because I’m an academic nerd at heart, I had to do some research to try and answer this question in some sort of organized and systematic way. If you get into the specifics, I think each family’s answer to this question will be a little bit different. Just as we each have our own values and interests, what I might think is magical (Me: Let’s take photos with every princess at Disney World!) might be the opposite for someone else (My husband: Why are we waiting in line for photos when we could be riding Space Mountain again?). But even accounting for this subjectivity and the unique personality of each child, I’ve identified four broad common elements that I believe provide a helpful guide to outline our memory-making project.
Creating a magical childhood means:
- (1) giving children a sense of belonging and connection to their family, friends and community;
- (2) indulging in the wonder of discovering the world for the first time;
- (3) celebrating achievement and growth;
- (4) nurturing imagination and creativity.
1. Create belonging and connection.
Humans are social animals. Psychology teaches us that a sense of belonging— first to the family, and then to peer and community groups such as school groups, faith communities, sports teams, etc. — is a vital part of a child’s development. As parents, there are a multitude of ways we can foster connection and belonging with our children. Two of my favorites include engaging kids in family and community traditions, and taking and displaying family portraits. Experts explain that family photography can help boost kids’ self-esteem because they literally “see themselves as a valued and important part of that family unit.”
2. Give kids the space to explore.
This element is all about fostering our kids’ curiosity and love of learning. Kids are constantly learning each time they interact with us and with their environment. This could be structured, hands-on learning about science, nature, literature and the world we live in. But I believe it’s equally important for us as adults to step back and give kids space to discover and explore for themselves. (That’s the hardest part for me personally — I have a tendency to get overexcited and want to narrate to them what they’re supposed to learn and get out of things.) Indulging that free-form wonder and discovery can help strengthen kids’ independence and sense of self.
3. Celebrate achievement and growth.
Milestones are important to kids. Celebrating hard-earned achievements is, among other things, an important aspect of fostering connection. We all love to celebrate our wins! But I think it’s a mistake to confuse a magical childhood with one that is free from disappointments or challenges. Instead, I think we serve our children best when we look for those opportunities to support our kids and help them grow through their challenges and disappointments with grace and resilience.
4. Nurture creativity and imagination.
It’s well documented that children learn and process their world through play and make-believe. Childhood play is essential for healthy development; it provides the “foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life.” While we see this most readily in young children, I believe fostering creativity and imagination is equally important for older children and teens as they begin to imagine their future and the world they hope to create as adults. Human innovation depends on it! The best way to teach children almost anything is to model the behavior we wish for them to adopt. (Yup, it’s also the hardest because it means practicing what we preach.) That means we’ve got to get engaged in their world of play.
Putting it all together
So now that I’ve made this list, I’ll instantly have three happy, well-adjusted kids, right? Not quite. The thing about these four elements is that they are hard. They require consistent thought and application in little steps over time. None are one-and-done easy wins (though I can help you check family or imagination photos off of your list!). But I believe that having a systematic approach – one that we can apply thoughtfully and document over time will help us find the opportunities in our everyday interactions and choices to make the most of our days together. Commitment to this project for me also means planning and making time for magic – taking the extra few minutes to set up shaving cream painting in the bathtub or a quickie teddy bear picnic in the living room instead of giving in to screens and the exhaustion of raising children (though there are certainly days that happens too). I feel like my most successful parenting experiments have been ones when I can successfully hit more than one category at the same time (e.g., our Tooth Fairy visits and letters — celebrating a milestone and nurturing creativity and imagination at the same time, woo hoo!).
I’ll be exploring each of these elements on their own in greater depth in future blog posts. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing my experiences, ideas and strategies for this project in my online Facebook community, Moms Making Magic.
- Do you want more magical memory-making tips and inspiration or to share your journey with other Arkansas moms and grandmas? Come and join us at Moms Making Magic: Family Activities & Community.
- Ready to start making memories this weekend? Get my free Childhood Memories Bucket List – a printable checklist of more than 150 ideas of childhood memories to make with your kids before they grow up.