An Invitation to Learning

by ChristinaPilkington on August 4, 2012 · 3 comments

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Imagine opening up your mailbox and pulling out two invitations. Each invitation is to a party. Each invitation will have food, drinks and entertainment. But each party is very, very different from the other.

The first party is to a work function. It calls for formal dress attire and you’ll be talking most of the night with co-workers and clients. You’ll eat a nice dinner, maybe prime rib or salmon, and there will be some great prizes given away during the evening. You’ll also get to hear a world-class pianist perform.

The second party is for a niece’s birthday. You’ll be hanging out for most the day in shorts and a tee-shirt. Maybe you’ll take a dip in your sister’s pool. Lots of family and friends will be there. They’ll be a magician and a woman who is bringing by some snakes, lizards and other reptiles. At the bottom of the invitation, you read that your sister’s also giving away free bags of books that their family is done reading.

Which party are you most looking forward to?

My first reaction is to say the niece’s birthday party. And at first I thought you might be thinking the same thing, too.

But maybe you’re not.

Maybe you really enjoy dressing up and going out. A night of great food and a chance to win several expensive prizes might really energize you. Maybe your family doesn’t get along the greatest, and you know your niece’s party will just end up in a big fight like it always does. Or maybe you can’t stand that you sister always wants to hand more of her stuff off on you when you have enough of your own clutter at home already.

The way the invitation is worded, the people who will be there, the atmosphere of the party, the images and emotions you have stored away from similar parties from the past, the things you will do there, the experiences you will walk away from – these are all aspects of the invitation that will either leave you excited or leave you with a big pit in your stomach.

The Art of the Invitation

We’re inviting people to do things with us all the time whether we realize it or not. It’s usually a very informal thing. “Hey, I’m going to take a bike ride. Do you want to come?”  Or maybe we’re doing something really interesting, and we see someone watching us, so we ask them to join in.

But other times, we’re a bit more strategic about our inviting. We really want our friends, or spouses or kids to do something with us. So we get a little bit more creative.

I do this sometimes with my husband, Steve. We usually agree on which movies to watch together. But I tend to like more artsy type films where Steve is a bit more skeptical of anything too independent.

So I dress up my request a bit. I make the movie seem as attractive as I can to him.

First, I always make sure it’s a movie that I’m pretty sure he’ll wind up liking in the end. Then I tell him about the actors that he already knows who are in the movie. I show him a few movie trailers, or tell him a few funny parts that will be in the film. I try to relate the movie to a similar one that we’ve already seen.

Usually, he warms up to the idea and we both enjoy watching it together. He’s done the same type of thing with me, too; I’ve done things I never would have thought I would have enjoyed doing before, like snorkeling and eating crab legs (which is now one of my most favorite things in the world to eat!)

An Outline of a Great Invitation

The next time you want to invite your children to do something with you – to play a new game, check out a new book, participate in a new activity, or think about taking on a new project – pretend you are inviting them to a party.

What makes a party invitation exciting? What makes you want to say yes to one party and a big fat NO! to another?

Let’s break down the elements of a great party invitation:

1. You’ll get to hang out with people you’re excited to be around.

If you don’t like the people at the party, I don’t care about all the other stuff going on, you just won’t want to go. If you want be successful in introducing new ideas and activities to your kids for you to do together, your children have to want to be around you.

Pretty simple, huh?

But when we get too caught up in daily chores, errands and too much other scheduled stuff, we don’t take time to just to hang out together and develop those close bonds. Without that close bond, our kids might resist almost any idea we introduce, even if they might be really interested in it.

2. It creates an atmosphere that makes you feel comfortable.

I don’t like dressing up. I’m always going to feel more comfortable in casual clothes. So even if I really, really enjoy going to the theater, I’m always going to like it a little bit more if I don’t have to wear a skirt and high heels.

When we invite our kids to do something, think about which settings they feel the most comfortable in. Do they like to snuggle up and read a new book together first thing in the morning, or later at night?  Are your kids more comfortable going to new places if you stick around with them for awhile, or do they want to jump right in on their own?  When you’re thinking about introducing them to a new skill they might find useful, consider how to relate it to something they’re already comfortable doing.

3. It’s a format you’re familiar with, but it might also have something just a little bit different about it to spark your interest.

I like when I go into a new situation when I can at least have some idea of how the day or evening might turn out. I’ve been to backyard BBQs, to kid’s pizza parties, to fancier dinner parties, to loud, crowded dance parties (ok, that was at least 15 years ago now :) )  Each of these types of parties has the same overall feel to it, the same type of culture and language.

When our kids have some sense of what they’ll be doing, when it’s not too far removed from something they’ve already done, then they can have a certain comfort level going into a new experience or activity. But if there’s not something different, something new that will grab their attention, it might just turn into one of those types of parties you hate going to – You know…the one where you’re looking at the clock all night long, wishing the time would fly faster so you could be out of there.

4.  There’s some type of bonus incentive.

A great party invitation always has an incentive – just a little more of a nudge to entice you to attend. It could be a special detail, like the type of food being served or a special party favor that will be given out. It could be that the party will be held in a fun place or that you’ll get to meet someone whome you’ve always admired.

When we think up bonus incentives for our kids, though, we have to be careful of two things.

First, they have to be something we know will entice our kids. We have to know our children so well that we automatically know just the things to draw out their interest. A party invitation might try to entice me by advertizing that they will be giving out samples of expensive wineglasses to everyone who attends, but if I don’t care at all about wineglasses- that won’t attract my attention at all.

But most importantly, we need to remember not to withhold things from our children until they will do an activity we want them to do with us, or learn a new type of skill just because we think they should learn it.

When I made up my Whip Cream Abacus game, I didn’t say the kids couldn’t have any whip cream if they didn’t play the game with me. The whip cream was in the refrigerator all day long. They could take some whenever they wanted to. But I knew that using it as part of the game would make it more fun for them, and I was right.

Which leads right into the last part of a great invitation…

5. It’s simply an invitation, nothing more. It’s not an obligation. You have a choice to go or not to go…no pressure.

Have you ever received an invitation that really wasn’t an invitation after all? It was more of a requirement? That’s how it feels with my husband’s work parties sometimes. It’s not specifically stated that he has to go, but if he didn’t,  it will really be frowned upon.

If we invite our kids to do something, and then when they say no act really upset or pressure them into doing it anyway, then it never really was a true invitation in the first place, was it?

I know it’s not easy when your kids tell you they don’t want to do some activity that you were absolutely sure they would love to do. You may wait a few days, maybe try to make the invitation a little more exciting, and they still say no. It’s so tempting to just stomp your foot and say, “Well, too bad. We’re doing it anyway.”

If your kids wind up doing what you invited them to do after all that, don’t trick yourself into thinking this really was their choice. They’re doing it because you’re making them do it. They’re not doing it from a place of real interest.

Whenever I start to feel frustrated, disappointed or upset when my kids don’t want to do something that I was sure they would find interesting and fun, I usually pull it out and work on it or do it myself.

This may not be true for you, but I’ve found that I’ve become the most upset when I was really looking forward to doing the project or activity. It took me a little while to figure that out! And almost 95% of the time that I start doing the activity on my own, my kids wind up joining in on their own anyway.

Every person will look at an invitation in different ways. Different invitations appeal to different people. Sometimes an invitation that looks very unappealing one year might look very interesting just a few years later.  It’s all about finding the right time and setting the right tone.

Photo Credit: Kid’s Birthday Parties

How do you invite your kids to different projects, activities or places?


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  • Amy Stevenson Dingmann

    Fabulous post! I’ve never heard someone made this connection before (the inviting) but its so true. I’ll be sharing this on facebook with my readers – GREAT thoughts! (I know it will make a difference in what goes on in THIS house today!)

  • christinapilkington

    Thanks! It took me a while to figure out why I was aggrivated when I was so sure the kids would like something and then they didn’t. One time just one of the kids sat down and did it with me, and I realized that I didn’t care at all that the other one wasn’t going to get to do it. I didn’t even cross my mind that he would not being missing out on some important project. Then I realized that I had just really wanted to do the project and was just glad someone was doing it with me!

  • Susan

    I love this post, Chris. Excellent points! I, too, have learned that the manner of invitation is very important…and I’ve also just gone on to do projects myself that my girls just weren’t interested in.

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