I tend not to believe in New Year’s resolutions (why wait until one arbitrary day to improve something that needs improving?), but have broken my own rule this year and decided that 2017 would be the year I use my phone as little as possible, especially if we’re talking about using it in front of my kid, and double especially if we’re talking about using it instead of engaging with my kid. (What can I say? It happens.)
In that vein, I was intrigued to learn about a company called TiffinTalk, created by Media native Kat Rowan, who is a mom, former educator, administrator and editor with a background in mathematics and psychology. TiffinTalk’s motto? “Tech Off. Talk On.” I liked it, and liked still more the wider concept Rowan has created here. TiffinTalk is a series of cards designed to spur conversation with your child; each card has a question in it (the questions stay within a theme for the week). So, for instance, in a preschool set of cards (there are 260 cards in total), the first card asks: “Why do kids go to school?” The second card asks “What happens at school?”. The third: “Are all schools the same?” The fourth: “Who works at a school?” And so forth. (The next week’s topic is “You!”) Each card has a little game on the back, for a little extra fun.
The idea, of course, is to provide conversation starters, but more importantly, to give the kids a chance to be really heard every day, and to work their little brains. The cards encourage a few minutes of focused time together, and can even lead to engaging conversations … if not with your three year old, then certainly down the line. Some of the cards are fun and funny, some of the cards touch on more serious things, especially as the children get older.
The idea started 16 years ago, when Rowan’s oldest daughter was in kindergarten. “I started putting simple notes in lunch box — ‘Can’t wait to see you at ballet’, ‘Have fun at recess’ — and they grew into questions that were more specific, and then weekly themed questions, which was a time-saving for me.” Over time, she says, it established a set moment every day of just one-on-one time, talking. It wasn’t always long, she says, but it was consistent. “Every year I’d ask them, do you want to keep doing the cards? And they did. It was their chance to talk with me, without their sister in the way. We still went through bad times — the cards obviously don’t prevent that — but it kept us talking. It helps to form that relationship and pattern. My daughter would sometimes say, I don’t want to talk about the card; I need to talk about something else. Fine. Kids want consistency and boundaries. As long as you’re consistent, and say every day, grab your card, or every week, grab your cards, you can talk. They can lead the talk.” (You can see why the cards aren’t just aimed at parents, but also at counselors and educators.)
Anyway. The project worked so well with Rowan’s daughters that she decided to start up TiffinTalk, and now has some 4,160 cards aimed at children from preschool through high school. (Preschool cards are inclusive of sight words, if you have a budding reader!) Each card has a different question, and there are 700 different themes. Some are pretty straight (“Are you wearing green today? Do you like green?”) and some are more creative (“What are five uses for a brick that don’t involve building?”). The cards are designed to be tossed into a lunch box (hence the name, Tiffin, which refers to the food carrier Indians use for their lunches); there’s room to write a personal note inside. (“A bonus connection,” Rowan says. “‘I’m thinking of you, and I love you.'”) The kid can open the note during lunch, think about the question during the day, and then pull out the card again at home to discuss — although Rowan is adamant that people can/should use the cards the way that works for them. (My three-year-old is a bit too young as a non-reader to appreciate them in his lunch at preschool, so we’ve used them at home before dinner.)
“It’s not meant to be homework,” Rowan says. “Otherwise kids aren’t interested in doing it. It’s a tool, and it can encourage them, remind them, that for 5 or 10 or 20 minutes, it’s just us.”