Sample Family Night Lesson: The Joy of the Body
The body is an instrument for feeling. We choose much of what our bodies will feel. Out task as parents is to help our children love their bodies, treat them with respect, and appreciate the joy their bodies allow them to feel.
One parent reported the following conversation with a three year old:
“Why do you have a body”
“To skip with!”
“To skip with?”
“I see. What’s the best part of your body?”
“Cause I see the flowers.”
“But the nose is too, >cause I smell them.”
“Do you hear them?”
“No, but if you close your eyes you do hear teensy little things.”
“Wind and trees.”
“How do they sound?”
“Swish, swish, but quieter than that.”
“Any other parts of the body you like?”
“The tongue to talk B you hold onto it and you can’t talk B try it B say my name.”
“Unghun – uwam.”
“Shawni, does your body make you happy?”
“My body is the happy!”
The spontaneous delight and built-in curiosity of little children make them receptive to the joy of the body. They are perfect pupils, but they still need teachers. The sensing equipment is built in, they receive the sensation, but they need to interpret it to feel its joy. A child’s senses are more acute than ours, but the joy of the body lies in understanding what we sense, and that is where the teaching comes in.
What joy is in the body! The joy of work and of hard purposeful effort, the joy of singing, the joy of sport and activity, the joy of tenderness and physical touch, the joy of controlling physical things. Children have a tendency toward them all.
Inhibition and fear take away the body’s joy. Children learn inhibitions and fear from us. How can we avoid it? First, we must help them to try physical things without intimidation, embarrassment, or fear. We must help them begin to sense the simple enjoyment of the functioning of their bodies. Then, beyond that, we must help them find and concentrate on the particular physical things that they do especially well, the things in which they are gifted, be they sports, music, crafts, dance, or whatever their own particular gifts suggest.
Ideas for Preschoolers
1. Make a large puzzle of the body out of heavy cardboard pieces for children to put together. As they do, they name each part and tell what it can do.
2. Focus the children’s attention on one sense: Have them close their eyes (or use a blindfold). Ask, “What can we hear? Listen closer, is there anything else we can hear?” (Do this outside and inside, in city and in country.)
Close your eyes and ears. What can we smell?
Close your eyes and ears. Taste something and identify it.
Close your eyes and ears. Feel something and identify it.
Close your eyes and ears. Feel something with your feet and identify it.
3. Teach appreciation of the human body over other bodies. Pretend you are an elephant, bird, squirrel B what can you do? What can’t you do? (Walk on two legs, pick up things with fingers, talk, walk while carrying something.) Now pretend you are a plant B what can’t you do? (Almost everything.)
4. Teach how the body moves. What parts of the body can open and close? What parts of the body can bend? Shake? Twist? Can you make a “T” with your body? an “E”? a “C”? (Some letters require two children to make their shape.)
5. Dancing and marching. Use a variety of music, ranging from light, fairylike ballet pieces to heavy soldier marches. The stronger the rhythm the better. Encourage freedom of movement and lack of inhibition: “Try to kick the ceiling.” “Look like a big tree swaying in the breeze.” Most children can feel the mood of music; encourage them to let it out. Sometimes a partially darkened room helps children to feel more free. Use a particularly free, uninhibited child as an example.
6. What can your body do? Sit on the floor with the children. Talk about what parts of your body can open and close (eyes, mouth, hands, arms, legs, and so on). Do each thing with the children, one part at a time. Then slowly “close” your whole body (naming one part at a time) into a tight ball. Now let the whole body “open” (extend) slowly, one part at a time. Try closing and opening fast, like an explosion. Help the children to feel and enjoy the things their bodies can do.
Stand up and talk about the ways your body can move around the room. Lead the children in movements such as walking, running (in place), hopping, jumping, skipping, galloping, and walking backward or sideways. Let the children suggest some. Explain that our bodies can work and get things done because of all the things they can move.
Ideas for Elementary Age
1. Pretend you don’t have certain body parts, then try to do things. For example, pretend you have no fingers B just fists B and try to put on your shoes. With no eyes (blindfolded), try to put a piece in a puzzle. With no thumbs (tape them to fingers), try to pick up a penny. With only one hand (other one in pocket), try to catch a big ball. Without bending knees try to walk up stairs.
2. “What is it?” game. Blindfold the children. Then let them hear and smell and touch and taste various things and try to identify them. Use things with interesting textures (sandpaper, cotton, polished stones); different sounds (bottled water, marbles in a box, a bell); distinct odors (perfume, popcorn, pickles); distinct taste (sugar, salt, peanut butter, root beer).
3. Relate the senses to their uses. Make a chart with six columns. List the five senses across the top of the chart in columns two through six. Let the children pick items to list down the left column and put checks in the appropriate columns for the senses that perceive them. Examples: Wind; we hear it, feel it. A hot dog; we smell it, feel it, taste it, see it.
4. Smelling game. Put different items in small containers, covering tightly with a piece of aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap the container completely. The children should not be able to see inside. Just before playing the smelling game, poke a hole in the top of each container with a pencil.
Suggested smelling items: tuna fish, onion (or onion salt), talcum powder, soap chips, pickle, cinnamon, dry mustard, cocoa.
For your convenience you may want to label each container with a piece of masking tape. Have children try to guess the contents.
5. Tasting game. See if the children can taste well enough to identify foods that can be put directly into a child’s hand to touch with his tongue, such as flavored gelatin, sugar, salt, or powdered drink mix. Or use foods that can be put directly in each child’s mouth (with children blindfolded or closing eyes): peanut butter (on individual spoons or Popsicle sticks), small marshmallows, jam, honey, catsup, mustard.
Ideas for Adolescents
After a brief discussion about the miracle of our bodies (perhaps even including some of the smelling or tasting games in the elementary-age section), make up a “Family Activity Board” together.
There is something special about a family that does physical things together. There is something special about any relationship that is partially born out of shared physical activity. We learn when we play ball with someone, swim with someone; the activity brings the minds together, relaxes the atmosphere, and opens up the communication. This is doubly true in families. Families that play together stay together.
“The Family Activity Board” can be a big simple chart listing “physical” things that might be fun to do together in future family nights. Any family member, upon thinking of a physical or sports activity that he would like to do with the family, jots it down on the list with a big circle by it. Anticipation builds until a free night comes along when you can all do the activity. When it does, the circle is colored in.
To qualify to go on the board it needs to be something you can do together as a family that lets your bodies stretch and exercise and feel good. The list can become a rather interesting mixture of the conventional and the unconventional. It may include things like bowling, swimming, canoeing, sand-surfing at the dunes, walking to school instead of driving, bike riding, hiking in the mountains in the fall, using the stopwatch and setting “records” for running around the block, and having Mom show you her yoga.
On another section of the activity board, you could put a “family records list,” the fastest time for running around the block, for skipping rope around the block, and so on. This part can keep track of each family member’s improvement and teach the joy of progressing and excelling physically.