Tuesday, August 21, 2012

modern medieval family: getting kids interested at a young age

My children are all still considered quite young, so my view on kids at SCA events is currently aimed at how preschoolers and toddlers interact with the Society. If you read my last post, you'll know now that, while that's where my head is at, I've come to realize how wrong I've been about actually getting my kids interested.

And that's just not acceptable.

When I began attending SCA events, I was 16 and had the mental capacity to know what was going on (mostly). I came to the SCA with an understanding and interest in medieval culture already, as well as a desire to participate in the Society's unique culture. It's extremely easy to take for granted the ease all that came to me.

But what about a way to make learning all that stuff fun, interesting and exciting for a toddler? What if there was a tradition that could be built into the act of going to events with young kids that, with repetition and time, taught them about events, the SCA, and helped them to feel included?

How about my Event Activity Hunt?

I picked 20 items that happen at our local events. These include "typical" activities, such as Heavy Weapons fighting and Archery, as well as special activities that happen rarely, like Coursing. Then there are items that aren't so much activities, but rather things that are at many events, namely the merchants, but also the feast kitchen and scribe's room. I also included the royalty and our local group barony.

I also threw in two "wild" cards, "Most Authentic Garb" and "Most Impressive Encampment".  These two are not activities, but are ways to encourage the kids to recognize when people at events are doing a good job at something and provides a unique opportunity to interact with those people.  I'll be making some bead tokens for the kids to give to the people they pick for these cards.

 I created cards with images on the front to represent the items, then named each and included a short "definition" on the back. I had my local print shop print them on heavy card stock, then finish them with rounded corners and lamination. I could have done them on my own at home, but I want them to be sturdy and kid-proof. It cost under $20 to have the printer do it. 

Here's the idea:

Before attending the event, we determine if any of the "special" activities or items will be there, and we make sure to include them in a grab bag. We remove cards for items we know will not be available.

Throughout the event, the kids get to draw a card at random. Then we "hunt" for the activity. Once we find it, we read off our definition, then spend a few minutes at that activity, either watching and explaining what's happening, or interacting with the people doing the activity.

I color coded the cards to easily separate the special cards and the cards that you may not actually get to interact with or even get into (like the Feast Kitchen).

There are several ways to adapt the game, depending on the kids, the nature of the event, and the items drawn. For instance, let's say that the kids pull the Royalty card, and at that particular event, the Royalty is very accessible. The "hunt" for the Royalty that day could mean finding them, approaching them, and introducing the kids to them (while explaining what you're doing). The next event, though, perhaps the royalty is less accessible. So instead of interacting with them, you simply find them or point them out, or maybe just look for the thrones.

Other adaptations are to only pull a card when you're sick of being at the sunshade, or to have a specified number of cards that must be pulled at the event.

There's also the possibility of adding prizes or tokens that they receive for each activity they locate.

And it's a great way to gauge interest. If every time a particular activity is drawn, the child goes nuts and immediately wants to find it, it's safe to say that activity is something that interests them. If they stop getting enthusiastic about certain activities, then they probably aren't as interested in them. Instead of dropping that card, though, have the child tell you about the activity- they may not understand it which has caused them to not care for it. If they do understand it, then have them define the activity each time it's pulled, and ask them to tell you why it's included in events. They need to be respectful of other people's interests, after all, so it's important that they never think that it doesn't matter.

I'm excited to try these with my daughter at our next event.  If nothing else, they will give us a good excuse to get out from under the sunshade and actually see the event!

If you would like to start your own Event Activity Hunt tradition, and would like to use my cards, you can download a PDF of the cards herePlease use them only for personal, non-profit use.

Friday, August 10, 2012

modern medieval family: is event behavior driven by boredom?

This post is something of a follow up to my last post, which I've been thinking a lot about since posting it.

All my kids have been extremely adept at solitary play. Even the twins are very good at finding something to do individually. Yet, in the home environment, we have plenty for them to interact with- toys, books, empty bottles and boxes, endless pieces of paper, and, of course, TV. It's pretty rare that true boredom really ever hits them. There's always something to do.

When we took my oldest to events, we made sure to bring along his diapers, food, blanket, etc. but never gave much thought to what else he might need. He played so well on his own at home with such an a active imagination, we figured that he'd occupy himself in the same manner at events. But instead, he just seemed to want to run off, get into stuff and use his "outside" voice all the time. In other words, events became a breeding ground for misbehavior.

When we added the twins into the event mayhem, O had already established an untrustworthy repertoire at events. We couldn't rely on him to help us out by simply behaving.

Added to his general lack of civil conduct was his total rebellion against taking a nap. We had problems getting him to nap during the day at home, so his resistance to them at events didn't really surprise us, but it was extremely frustrating. Eventually, during the twin's second event (when O was 2), I made the call- trying to force him into taking a nap at an event was a losing battle, one I no longer had the energy or desire to fight.

But then we began seeing the same behavior in the twins. At home, to keep things under control, they spent more time in their play pens than roaming about. Yet at home they behaved, and chattered with each other and chewed on their toys and hugged their teddy bears. At events, however, they whimpered and refused to settle down for naps.

Events, then, started to come with a caveat. If we go, we have to deal with the misbehavior. There have been many times in recent months that we skipped an event simply because we didn't feel we had the patience to deal with all the bad kids.

Now, I'm adult enough to admit when I've made a mistake, but it sometimes takes a while to realize when a mistake has been made. In this case, "a while" has been nearly 4 years. And here's the mistake: believing that the kids could take care of their own entertainment at events the same as they could at home, and not giving them the tools to do that.

I think that we mistakenly believed that the event environment would foster its own brand of interesting opportunities for play. That the list fields, the interesting clothing and the pageantry would all provide entertainment enough for our children. Unfortunately, from the point of view of the kids, we never made the act of going and being at an event a big deal, so there was no need to get excited about it, or be interested in it. Add to it that we rarely let them wander and explore, and almost never provide a fun and comfortable place for them to play as an alternative, and to them, events are actually the worst place ever.

Nothing makes you feel like a goober like realizing that you've completely screwed up the one thing you really wanted your kids to like.

In September, mom and I will be going to a camping event, and I decided that my daughter should go with us. She has not gone to an event without at least one sibling, and she's only been camping twice. She's also more likely to stay close, come when she's called, and keep her voice down. In other words, she's typically the best behaved, and therefore the best guinea pig.

Guinea pig for what? A change of attitude on my part to help her see and understand what makes events special, what there is to do there, and when we're stuck at the sun shade, to make her mood my number one priority.

I've got some ideas of how to accomplish this, including a game that can last the whole event, which I'll share in my next post.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

lessons learned: Not involving your kids

A few months ago, we had to make a tough decision, one that greatly changed our participation in SCA events. We had to make the decision to not involve our kids as much in our hobby. Specifically, we decided not to take the kids to camping events, at least until they don't require the high level if supervision they need now.

Back in the fall, after a VERY long, uncomfortable night in which the non-kid friendly camping atmosphere, and the twins not knowing how to handle sleeping in the tent forced us to sleep in the van Friday night, we packed up the camp and went home Saturday after evening court. We also had a very difficult time getting the kids away from camp during the day, since there only ever seemed to be one adult with the kids for a good chunk of the day.

We left the three older kids home in the spring, and took the baby with us to camp 3 hours away at Coronation. A thunderstorm blew through camp right before we got there, and flooded the camping field. The option presented was to sleep in a large open room (a metal pole building) with everyone else. Because we were with a baby, we decided this was not the choice for us, and went to find the nearest hotel. No dice. We slept in the van again, with A nestled in the back of the van with almost all the blankets. He slept relatively well, but we did not.

We tried again at Border Raids, with all four kids again. Saturday was miserable- it was hot, and the kids were stuck at camp because each of the adults had to take turns with them because of our commitments. The twins were bored, they hated being in the tent to sleep, and they screamed and cried almost the whole time. After dinner, we packed it up and went home, not staying Saturday night. Again.

The next day, we sat down and made the decision. We each (including my mom, who we usually go to events with) have interests and commitments at events, and while we want our children to understand and like our hobby, we can't throw out our commitment as parents just to get in some good SCA time. The comfort and opinion of our children has to come first.

The twins don't like camping in general, O doesn't like being stuck at camp, and A's been put in one too many awkward and slightly dangerous sleeping situations. And stuck at camp with four uncomfortable kids and nothing to be done about it makes me feel like my family is a freak show when our campmates shoot us sidelong, irritated glances.

Along with this choice, we realize that bringing all four kids to a day camp poses the same sorts of challenges. We've realized over the summer that, if we want to continue being involved, we can't create situations in which one of us gets stuck at the day camp with the kids. And if there isn't a plan for what to do with the kids at the event, it's probably not going to end well.

I want my kids to go to events. I want them involved. But I also don't want to be selfish at the expense of the kids' moods. Before each event, we plan. Who will go? How many kids? What will the kids do there? It is worth taking any kids, given the site, the weather and our personal commitments?

We were foolish, in retrospect, to believe that we could continue to attend events with four young kids in the same manner we attended them with one. This has been a learning process for us, and we believe we've made the best choice for us and our family at this time to not involve our kids at the same level we were. It saddens me- I feel like we could do better as a modern medieval family to find a better solution for all of us to camp and enjoy an event- a full event- together. We'll get there eventually, though- we just need to work it all out.