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Plan for your family to slow down this summer & enjoy it

May 29, 2015

Practical Outwork May

By Steve Watters

Friday, May 29, 2015


“I know it’s busy for us now, but we just need to get through the next stretch and it will be easier to have some good family time then.” Maybe you’ve said something along those lines before–especially at this time of year, when many parents are going through the frenzy of the end of the school year and hoping for more meaningful family time during summer.

But how realistic is that hope? The slow days of summer that many of us remember from our childhood are increasingly speeding up and squeezing out family time. Yes, families are still spending a lot of time in each other’s proximity, but that time is now more likely to be spent on devices that pull us in different directions and make it harder to have meaningful shared family experiences. And that’s a growing challenge to our relationships with our children and their discipleship.

Maybe we can learn something from the “slow movement.” In 1986, McDonald’s announced a plan to build a restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, a famous square in Rome at the bottom of the historic Spanish Steps. Many saw this expansion as fast food gone too far and protested the opening. Among those was Carlo Petrini, an Italian political activist, who as a result of that protest helped birth a “slow food” movement.

From that movement, grew a subculture of “slow” in numerous other areas such as slow reading, slow design, slow photography, slow travel and more, all seeking a more meaningful pace to life. In 2004, Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist, wrote a book called In Praise of Slowness, which articulated this philosophy throughout life. Honoré explained that it’s “not about doing everything at a snail’s pace” but “about seeking to do everything at the right speed” and “savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them.” He stressed that the slow movement “is about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Honore’ wasn’t writing from a Christian worldview and the larger slow movement he encourages has its share of questionable motivations and solutions, but it does recognize a problem Christian parents have to face—that the fast and furious world children are growing up in requires a countercultural response. Parents who know it’s their responsibility to raise their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord have to recognize how technology is bulldozing every area and moment of our lives and bringing with it a torrent of images, promises, and storylines that often shape our children more formatively than we realize.

Even if we don’t label it “slow parenting” or “slow family time,” it’s essential for us as Christian parents, especially dads, to set a tone and pace for our home that is conducive to relationship and discipleship. To offset the relentless pace and intrusion of competing messages, I’m convicted as a Christian dad to carve out family time shaped by four characteristics of slowness (that I found a way to force into the acronym SLOW):

  • Savoring God’s gifts of time, creation, and relationships
  • Low to no-cost activities that aren’t driven by marketing
  • Organic—no Wi-Fi or device charger required
  • Whole-family focused—not isolated by individual screens and activities

Think back to some of your favorite family memories and they’re likely marked by these characteristics. These are the things that help shape the environment for meaningful family time. As a result, they also can create life-shaping family memories stronger than those that come from visits to theme parks or similar vacations for which parents dedicate large amounts of money and logistical planning.

What kind of “slow family time” can you be intentional about this summer?

The most important slow family time is making daily time to read the Bible as a family and to pray together. Where summer makes it possible for longer family devotions, you can add in singing, catechism readings, and scripture memorization (see more on family devotions here Just as important is your commitment to gather weekly as a family for corporate worship—to hear faithful preaching, to share in Christian fellowship, and to serve in the body.

Alongside your commitment to family and corporate worship, make time for “slow” summer activities that unplug your family from the fast culture around them. The recommendations below are classic “slow” activities that have shaped families from generation to generation—ones that my family inherited from our parents and mentors and found to be meaningful and formative.

Family Read-Alouds

Reading good books to your kids as a regular summer routine can deliver the kind of engaging stories to which they are naturally drawn, but in a format that requires more of their imagination and initiates meaningful questions and conversation.

Over the past couple of years, our kids have especially enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, as well as the Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers. They also loved several books by Sid Fleischman, including The Whipping Boy, Mr. Mysterious & Company, By the Great Horn Spoon!, and Chancy and the Grand Rascal.

We started Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga as a read aloud, but the cliffhangers drove our kids to run ahead of us and read those on their own. A favorite we stumbled on to recently called Miracles on Maple Hill, illustrates the restorative influence of a slower way of life on a family.

Additionally, we’ve found that audiobooks carry similiar benefits of read-alouds for both short and long trips in our van. We’ve listened to just about all of the Radio Theatre produced by Focus on the Family as well as many of the audio dramas from Lamplighter Theatre.

Creative Games

Chances are you have good memories of playing games with your family as a kid, but chances are you also have stacks of board games you rarely pull out. That may be because board games often require a lot of set up time and then take awhile to play—all of which can seem that much more tedious in a Candy Crush world. But games provide valuable slow family time—a low-cost, unplugged opportunity to have your family focus on a shared objective and enjoy some shared laughter.

We play Beyond Balderdash, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Blokus among others. Additionally, we’ve found tile games such as Qwirkle, Boggle, and Bananagrams as well as card games such as Whist, Dutch Blitz, Quiddler and Golf to be fun and also quicker to set up and play. One game our kids often request when we have guests, King Elephant, requires hardly any set up—just a circle of chairs and people willing to make animal motions.

Word games have proven to be an easy go-to while we’re in the van or waiting for our food at a restaurant. We like classics, such as “I’m going on a trip…”  and “First letter, last letter,” but we also made up one our kids like that I’m calling “Words in Words.” It involves taking a simple word such as “car” and then going around and having each person give a larger word that contains the small word, such as “scare,” “carburetor,” or “carton.” Players go out when they can’t come up with a word or repeat one that’s already been suggested. The last one giving an original word wins.

Other Slow Family Time Activities

Without going into as much detail, here are a few more favorite slow family time activities we enjoy throughout summer:

  • Walking, biking, and hiking, either around the neighborhood or in city or state parks
  • Playing badminton, tennis, Four Square, croquet, ladder ball, corn hole and other outdoors games.
  • Gathering around a fire pit to roast hot dogs and make creative s’mores (using peanut butter, Reese’s cups, or cookies as alternatives).
  • Making “garden-to-table” food—either by growing food in our garden, going to the farmer’s market, or going to a pick-your-own farm and then working together as a family to make salads, tacos, bruschetta, mint tea, and more with the vegetables and herbs for dinner and then making pies, cobblers, strawberry shortcakes, or homemade ice cream with the fruit for dessert.

Capture Memories as a Family

Finally, it’s worth making an exception to the organic, technology-free principle when it comes to capturing family time memories with photo and video—as long as your memory capturing doesn’t overtake your memory making and your desire to edit that memory for Facebook doesn’t trump your effort to make it meaningful in the moment for your family.

One of our favorite times of summer these days is at the end when we accumulate our photos and video clips and make a slideshow or movie as a family and then watch it together—often on a big screen with homemade popcorn. Although the process of making family movies reminds us how fast the summer comes and goes, it also reminds us of the joy of slowing down and savoring the kind gifts God gives us in His creation, especially in the moments He grants us and the relationships He entrusts to us in our family.

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