You’ve been working flat-out all week, perhaps not even living with your family, with a weekend of ‘Dad time’ ahead. Racking your brain for ideas your kids won’t think are ‘boring’, without a vast budget or putting their health in jeopardy. Scanning venues and events that might even be entertaining or educational with the overriding desire of getting your kid’s approval as a ‘cool Dad’.
Even the most creative Dad can be tempted by ‘safe’ options. As a father of three, now grown up, kids, I know this too well. I felt like a failure as a Dad, depressed, just after my separation, when the only seemingly available option to spend time with my youngest was to sit on a bench in Westfield shopping centre with no money for the shops or the movies. But I am also really proud of the times I would embark on adventures with her and her siblings with their home-made drawing boards to sit and draw in the Tate, camping and hiking with my young son by the sea, rockpooling and fishing for crabs, and photography expeditions to unexplored parts of the city. No entry tickets required. I’d like to pass on some of what I’ve learnt and invite you with your young person(s) to an event I think you’ll enjoy in London on Sunday 16th Nov.
It’s about experiences not things. Your kids might talk about the latest stuff they want, but the lasting, treasured memories that will nurture and encourage them through the dark, difficult days they will inevitably encounter one day, are the experiences they’ve shared with you. We’ve all had the experience of saving up for the latest gadget only to find it disappointing. Even the latest i-thing is no substitute for an adventure together.
The more of an adventure you make the experience, the more they’ll remember . Engage as many of the senses as possible (sight, sound, smell, touch). Try different locations, methods of transport, times of day. This will mean you being fully in the moment with your kids so you can all be immersed in the activity and talk about the experience. For example, we would take the train to Parliament Hill and fly kites, being blown about with the dramatic backdrop of the city. We would venture-out to new places they had never been, the dark of the nightime would sometimes heigthen the excitement and sense of adventure- Guy Faulk’s fireworks across the city viewed from the 23rd floor of Dad’s workplace at Waterloo and the time we came upon the play park at the Southbank, the under-construction Millenium wheel, swinging high into the night sky surrounded by trees festooned with blue fairy lights, as magical as any ticketed interactive immersive experience (for me, as well as them).
Curiosity is good. As your child asks ‘why’ for the umteenth time, you might find yourself developing standard answers ‘because I say so’, ‘things just are that way’ or ‘just google it!’. I would encourage you to go in the opposite direction and, stimulate their questioning. Plan adventures (perhaps to museums) around the answers, take the opportunity to expand your knowledge and help them to develop their questioning skills. In life, a curious mind will help them to solve problems, speed up their learning and ensure they are never bored. When my son was six, I shared my fascination with the Babbage Difference Engine (early form of mechanical calculator) at the Science museum and he was transfixed. He has recently returned from Uni with a first for his Maths Masters. Our young are like sponges and will eagerly soak-up anything and everything they are exposed to, assimilating their own understandings that will equip them for their life ahead and this time is opportunity we don’t want to miss.
Build the anticipation. When planning an adventure for our children, the build-up is the key. We want to build their excitement and enthusiasm. This can turn something ordinary into the adventure of a lifetime. Perhaps organise some preparation activities during the week. Make it a puzzle to solve. For example if you are going to see a film you could start by looking at reviews, research the origins of its story, find out interesting things about the cast or crew and about what is special about how it was created. Find what’s exciting in the experience for yourself and then you’ll be able to convey this to your children.
Many of us shy away from this approach, thinking the actual event might then be a let down and then we’ll have let our children down with broken promises, but I’ve found this is rarely the case, as long as I’ve continued my own wonder and excitement, whatever happens! And when things do go wrong, kids are often amused by mistakes and wonkiness, they can really add to the adventure. It’s us adults who sometimes go into frustration and guilt that make it a ‘bad’ experience
With an opportunity for you to be a Dad-of-adventure in mind, I’m creating a show for young people and their grown-ups that brings to life the aviator character from Antoine Saint-Experéy’s The Little Prince. In the build up to the show, we will be releasing bulletins and updates of the amazing and mysterious discovery of ‘a veteran aviator’ about whom nothing is known, except that he is a pilot with a passion for flight. Your young person(s) will be able to follow his journey back to civilisation through a series of bulletins and announcements in the lead-up to him announcing his talk to share his passion on How Planes Fly, at The London Theatre on the 16th November. For audiences of any age.
Book your FREE ticket at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-planes-fly-tickets-13399539383
After the show you will be able to make a donation, if you wish.
And join in the build-up to the event so your young people can be on the story from the beginning, follow @WhoIsTheAviator
Of course, I would love to hear your comments below…
Dad and Actor and assistant to the mystery aviator