In Austin, “weird” is cool.
We celebrate our uniqueness and enjoy diversity. But, just because this is the mantra of the city, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the message gets passed to our children. As parents, if we want our children to admire uniqueness and diversity, then we must teach our kids how. Children “learn what they live”. In our daily lives, are we displaying openness and tolerance? Are we exploring activities from diverse cultures? Are we enjoying what other social groups from different socioeconomic backgrounds have to offer? Are we embarking on day trips to see what it’s like to explore the city, if we are from the country? Or vice-versa? We want our kids to be comfortable around the differences of others. We also want others to feel like they can be themselves around us and our kids.
A child’s experiences help them develop their own views and opinions. Austin is full of things for kids to experience. A Google search will bring up tons of activities. What to choose? Choose anything that might get your kids out of their comfort zone, but would be fun! Don’t push beyond their limits, just give little nudges here and there. Mix in things they like to do with things you like to do, and things that neither of you are sure about. And most of all, let them make the decision sometimes! As they get older you can even ask them to plan the event, after they’ve seen you do it a few times, of course. There are plenty of free museum days along with other free activities, festivals and fun events. If you have a positive attitude and are excited, it will be contagious.
One place to go for fun activities is “The Thinkery”, which is the new and improved version of the Austin Children’s Museum. Kids are encouraged to try out different activities and enjoy whatever it is that they like instead of being put into a stereo-typed role. Another suggestion is the “Austin Nature and Science Center.” This place has a Dino-Dig pit, wildlife exhibits and a nature trail. In an age of technology and video games it is nice to get our kids outside and into exploration mode. There are kids cooking classes available around town. Home Depot and Michaels have kids building and crafts days. Your children don’t have to just do what their gender might dictate. All of these things help their creative muscles grow and that is the goal.
Sense of Community
Austin also prides itself on its sense of community. We are all in it together to make this a better place. There are numerous parks with free splash pads around town for those hot summer months where kids can go and be kids and join in play with others. You can take your kids to Barton Springs for a small fee as there are always a variety of people enjoying its grassy shores. “Blues on the Green” and “Zilker Park” are a great place to go with a blanket and a picnic to sit out and enjoy the day. You will see an array of people from families to college kids to hippies. There is a “Play for All Abilities Park” in Round Rock that has 51 thousand square feet of equipment that any kid can have fun with. Kids with differences rule the roost at this park and it is all about accepting everyone.
Austin and its surrounding areas are a melting pot of diverse cultures. Austin has a hundreds of local shops and restaurants to try out. Trailer eateries are popping up all over town and are a fun way to get good food and eat picnic-style. Have your kids try various types of food – we all love TexMex, but what about Indian, Ethiopian, or German? Having your kids dress up and going to a nice restaurant once in a while might be a good learning experience as well. There are a variety of cultural centers around Austin:
- Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
- The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center
- The Asian American Resource Center
- Mexic-Arte Museum
- The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
- The Blanton Museum of Art
- Austin Museum of Art
- Sculpture Gardens
- Botanical Gardens
- The American Indian Heritage Festival and Annual Powwow
- Diwali Festival of Lights
- Day of the Dead Festival and Parade
And of course, what Austin is known for, the endless arrays of music festivals.
An important part of any community is helping others. Model this for your kids by looking for volunteer opportunities in your area. Here are some ideas:
- Boy/Girl Scouts of America
- Humane Society / Animal Shelter
- Women’s Shelter
- Food Bank or Soup Kitchen
- Habitat for Humanity
- Hospital or Nursing Home
- Fund Raising for a Cure
Teaching your children how to take care of their community will reap benefits for them throughout their lives!
And lastly, Austin is known for being active. Even if your child isn’t a star athlete you can take them out hiking and exploring. You can rent kayaks or canoes and paddle around Lady Bird Lake. Take the dogs for a walk on any of the greenbelt or nature trails around town. If your children are more experienced athletes they may like to mountain bike or paddle board. The BMX and skate parks around town might be a place to join in or to watch those with more experience. There are every kind of sports camp available during school breaks, and lessons all throughout the year. Kids are usually welcome at many of the races held around town, too. Look at what is available that would be fun or for a good cause and do it with them!
Providing our children with life experiences is an amazing eye opener for all involved. Spend time with your kids and remind them that there are many different ways to do things and many different ways to be skilled. We don’t want to value our kids for just one thing – being attractive, being a good athlete, being smart and the other typical indicators of achievement. We want to give our kids an opportunity to grow in areas that they may not have realized was out there. Let’s show our kids that they are also kind, funny, share well, have good hearts, and are creative, brave and all of the other things we admire and love about them. We are the ones that teach our kids how to value others and we have to show them that in order for them to learn it.
Stephanie Arsenault, MA, LPC
Stephanie is a Children and Family Therapist for Three Oaks Counseling Group.
She sees clients at our Georgetown and West Lake Hills offices.