5 Activities To Build Family Relationships

If we are going to start homeschooling our children, then we should not simply try to replicate what the public school system does. If we do, then we will simply replicate many of the problems that are causing us to want to homeschool.

Scroll to the bottom to see the 5 Family Activities



John Taylor Gatto: Dumbing Us Down

I mentioned in the last episode that John Gatto and I agree on a lot of the things he says in his book–in fact most of the things he says. Perhaps I am a little more passive, but I don’t have the same aggression associated with my feelings.

One thing that has really hit me as I read this book (and these are my words trying to describe my insights as I have read):

Everyone recognizes that the number one problem in society today is the breakdown of the family. What we don’t agree on is the cause and the best solution to fix the problem.


Gatto presents a compelling argument that part of the problem with the family today is the public school system! I have personally always thought that the schools struggled because of the breakdown of the family (and certainly children from tough homes struggle in school), but what if the families are struggling, at least in part, because of how big we have allowed the public/compulsory school system to get today?

Networks versus Communities

The main point in Chapter 4 (which has been my favorite) is that networks are fake communities. Networks take a person and require them to focus on a narrow piece of who they are and then build that piece of the person. The problem is fragmented growth and no true relationships. Communities, on the other hand, build the person as a whole and provide lasting relationships.

In this chapter Gatto makes the point over and over again that schools are networks that pretend to be communities. We had to the problem of networks as parents when we cram our children’s lives with several other “networks” such as: soccer, piano, drama, student government, scouts, etc.

There is a major problem with this network overload, because we don’t ever get time to address life as a whole person. When you are in Math, the only thing people care about is your growth as a mathematician. When you are at soccer, the only the other members of the network really care about is your growth as a soccer player. When we spend our whole day involved in these fragmenting programs, we never have an opportunity to put all the pieces back together again. WE HAVE ALL BECOME HUMPTY DUMPTY!

Gatto wrote: “The fragmentation caused by excessive networking creates diminished humanity, a sense that our lives are out of control–because they are.”

Another point that Gatto made was that schools are steadily becoming more and more intrusive into our lives.

Consider how much time your child would spend in a typical school day. Usually between 6 and 7 hours. That is nearly ONE HALF of their awake time during the week. ONE HALF!!! What kind of requirements would you have for a babysitter if you were going to leave your children with them for ONE HALF of the day, 180 days out of the year? What kind of checks would you do on that person? What standards would you have for their personal lifestyles?

Now, as if ONE HALF was not enough, the thing that really sent me over the edge to embrace homeschooling as the direction I wanted for our family was when my children started bringing home 1 to 2 hours of homework. I felt like: “What, you have my child all day long and now you want to start telling them what to do when they are with me?”

One of the points that Gatto made that rang the loudest for me was the fact that public institutions are trying to become synthetic parents and the schools are no different. When you hear politicians or other so-called education experts talk about more time or more credits at school, what they are talking about–whether they realize it or not–is greater control over our children and taking my place as the father and my wife’s place as the mother in our home. That is unacceptable to me. My children are mine and homeschooling has given us a way to be in control of what and how they learn.

Homeschool as a Community

I have said this over and over again, but I will say again:

If you are just starting to homeschool, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE CURRICULUM.

Trust me on this. Way more important that the curriculum is your relationship with your children. If that relationship is strong, you will have a good homeschool experience. One way to do both is to be intentional about how you select your homeschool activities. Choose things that build the whole person. Here are 5 Family Activities that will Bring Your Family Closer!

5 Family Activities That Will Build Relationships

1. Family Game Night

This will bring out several sides of your children and give you opportunities to teach your children all sorts of life skills. Remember that if our family is going to be a community, then we need to address each other as a whole person rather than a fragment at a time. So, when choose games that will address strengths and weaknesses in your children. Teach them how to be good winners and good losers (skills that happen to be almost non-existent in today’s society). Teach them math and logic. Teach them kindness and mercy. All of these can be taught during a carefully selected game.

2. Farmer’s Market

There are lots of lessons to be taught at a farmer’s market–REAL LIFE LESSONS. Teach them personal communication skills. Let them ask the questions and make the purchases. Give them the money and ask them to make it cover the grocery needs for that trip–SHOW THEM THAT MONEY IS NOT AND RENEWABLE RESOURCE FOUND IN YOUR PURSE OR WALLET. That would be a great lesson for our political leaders, but that is a totally different topic.

3. Service Projects Helping the Elderly

One of the best things we ever did as a young couple with only one child was go to a nursing home in our area and “adopt a grandparent.” It was not a special program. We just did it. We had recently moved away from both of our families and our oldest son did not have a grandparent to visit. So we went to a local nursing home and asked if there was someone that did not get many visitors and would it be OK if we visited. They introduced us to Ione Watkins and we formed a relationship that brought us back to her room once or twice a month for 7 years. When Ione passed away we had 4 children and my 3 oldest still remember her. It connected them with the past. They loved her stories. They learned important lessons, but the most important lesson was to love other people.

4. Advanced Bocce Ball

I wanted to add this one because it does not require anything special and you can do it right now if you would like. The spontaneity of the game will excite your children. All you have to do is pick some different objects from around the house. Each person will need two items that can be thrown without damage, so don’t pick your favorite china dish. The item will also need to stay in place, so don’t pick the family cat. You also need to select a target of some sort. Usually small-ish is better. Now you simply throw the target out onto the lawn away from the group. Then people take alternating turns throwing their items to see who can get their stuff closest. It is legal to knock other people out of the way (REMEMBER TEACHING THEM TO BE GOOD LOSERS). If this is not making any sense you can find the rules to Bocce Ball at this link:


5. Eat Dinner Together

Studies have shown that eating together will do great things for your children:

  • Decreased rate of drug abuse
  • Decreased rate of teen pregnancy
  • Decreased depression
  • Increased resilience to life’s hardships
  • Increased vocabulary (more than from reading!!!!)
  • Increased self-confidence

With benefits like those, who can really say that we don’t have time to sit down and eat together? If you really don’t have the time, then maybe you should cut out a soccer league or tell a coach that four practices a week is a little too much and you will be missing one or two of them. IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO EAT DINNER TOGETHER, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO FIND TIME TO DEAL WITH A DRUG ADDICTION OR DEPRESSION THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

I know that eating together will not fix all of these problems. There is probably someone reading this saying, “We ate dinner and breakfast together and my son/daughter still has major depression or got pregnant or has not self-confidence. OK, but the studies show that statistically speaking, dinner will help. So, sit down and eat together, oh, and …


Don’t know what to talk about? Well here are some suggestions to get your children talking:

  • Let everyone at the table finish the following sentence: “Everyone knows that my greatest weakness is…”
  • “If you were free to do anything you wanted all day, what would you do?”
  • “What will you miss about winter?” or spring, or summer, or fall
  • “Is it always a good thing to be loyal? Can you think of a time when it might not be good thing?”
  • “Name five people you love most in the world.”
  • “If you could have a character in a book for a best friend, who would it be and why?”
  • “Why is it important to be nice to someone, even when they are not nice to you?”



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