Over the holidays, like many families, my kids had fun using an advent calendar filled with little notes to help them countdown to Christmas. Ours had prompts that gave them an assignment to do each day. These would vary from things like helping around the house to performing a random act of kindness.
Our original list was taken from a blog several years ago. It was great, and they’ve enjoyed it. As time went on though, some of the topics became outdated for them. For example, we homeschool and a lot of them were focused on things that happen at public school like “sit with someone new on the bus today” or “invite someone who is alone at recess to play with you.” This has been going on for two years – they excitedly open a slip, realize they can’t do that one, and they walk off disappointed. Who needs an advent calendar that leaves you bummed out? Not me! I pledged to them that I wouldn’t let another year pass without updating it. My intention was not to reinvent the wheel, I just wanted to change a word here and there so the few days that needed it would not suck next December.
However, while I was pulling out the irrelevant prompts and replacing them with ones that made more sense for us, I realized that mine were ending up with repeating themes involving nature, family, community, and gratitude. Before I knew it I quickly created a month’s worth of daily “nudges”.
Rather than wait for next December’s advent season, I decided to throw the prompts in a jar with the intention of using them to help strengthen my children’s connections to four key areas I was introduced to during my training with Sagefire Institute. They include: Self, Nature, Community, and Wisdom from Ancestors.
If you consider the evolution of human societies, these areas were a significant advantage in terms of an individual’s likelihood to survive. That is, if you were lacking resources in one area, there was a decent chance you were not going to live as long as others who had connections to each in place. An example of a person with poor awareness of “self”, who did not understand his own strengths and weaknesses, nor how to leverage them, might unknowingly put himself in a dangerous position he could not overcome. Example: a hunter gatherer with poor coordination decides to climb a high tree and falls to his death. An example of a hunter gatherer with a weak connection to nature could be one who gathers the deadly poisonous berry instead of the nourishing wild edible. A hunter gatherer without community, living in the wild alone, is at a distinct disadvantage in terms of pooling resources for food, shelter or protection from animals, elements and illness. And finally, a hunter gatherer without ancestral wisdom is one who must start from square one in learning about the world around her, including relating to other humans and finding food and water sources (rather than piggy-backing and improving upon the hard earned knowledge of those who came before her). Passing knowledge from one generation to the next, often through the younger generation’s observations and play, was the original form of human education or school, and those who had examples via ancestors were far more prepared than those who had to learn everything from scratch. All of this is to say, the hunter gatherer with strength in all of four of these areas was ultimately more equipped to survive.
And while today, we no longer live as the first communities of hunter gatherers did, we’re still biologically programmed to feel our most secure and complete when these cornerstones are balanced and supporting us.
This list of jar activities for my kids, while far from comprehensive and certainly not anything sophisticated, are a few of the millions of tiny ways to develop and nurture these cornerstones. And in my personal experience, tiny is all it took to start noticing some really positive shifts in my life.
For example, if I can make a point to sit outside in silence for ten minutes daily, or learn about the plants and animals in my yard as I notice them, my connection to nature feels pretty strong. If I make time to write in a journal or read a book about a subject I’m interested in, I often feel connected to Self. If I call my parents and sisters regularly, show up for extended family gatherings and milestones as often as I can, and share stories about my family history with my children, I connect to my Ancestors. When I make time to go to lunch or coffee, share phone calls and texts, and offer support when it’s needed to my closest friends, connection to my local Community feels secure.
You may crave more or less time allocated in your own daily life, but my point is that I realized somewhere along the way that we do not have to live next door to all of our relatives, quit our jobs and live off the grid to feel complete, connected and balanced.
For me, little by little adds up to a lot, but it’s key (again, at least for me personally) that I make a point to intentionally do something to honor these four areas every week-ish, no matter how small or insignificant the gesture may seem.
When I am intentional about this, I’ve learned that I am more likely to do something rather than nothing, and I also experience more joy and contentment in my day to day responsibilities because my life reflects my choices rather than my reactions. I look at it as a structured way to ensure I live life by “showing up” – for myself, for my planet, for my family, friends and community – rather than just letting life happen to me.
Below are examples of the activities I created to help my kids honor these areas. Maybe your kids will enjoy them too. You’ll notice some prompts strengthen more than one area at the same time – multitaskers, rejoice!
Community & Ancestors:
Call one of your grandparents, parents, aunts or uncles and ask them to share a funny story about when they were growing up.
Cut some flowers out of your yard (or other leafy plants) and make a winter arrangement for your kitchen table.
Self & Nature:
Paint or color a picture to hang on your wall in honor of winter.
Nature & Community:
Research a bird that lives in your area. Draw a picture of it, find out what it eats, how big it gets, and one other interesting fact. Share what you learn with another person today.
If you’d enjoy trying these daily prompts with your kids, print my images at this bottom of this post or create your own list. My 5 year old painted a special jar (and by special, I mean a recycled pickle jar) to hold our folded prompts. We tied a bow around it and made it official. We will draw one prompt every day for the next 30 days and then we’ll retire this winter batch until December. If we’re all enjoying it, I’ll create a new batch of prompts for warmer days next month.
Let me know if this is something you decide to do with your family! Or better yet, post a picture of your jar or activities on Instagram #thenaturewheel or The Nature Wheel Facebook page!