It’s no joke: deployments suck. Suddenly a two parent house is a one parent show, the kids miss their deployed mom or dad, and learning can suffer. But you can use a deployment to help your children learn new skills and build global knowledge.
Keeping little minds occupied is crucial to making a deployment more enjoyable. One awesome way to do this is with a deployment countdown. A jar of candies, like Hershey Kisses or any individually sized candy, adds a sweet treat to the separation and gives a visual reminder of when mom or dad will be home. As the kisses are gobbled up, one per day per child, it helps munchkins understand that their parent is one day closer to home.
Other great ideas are countdown chains or sticker walls. For the latter, kids put a sticker up on a special poster or piece of paper. When the stickers are all placed, and the poster is full, homecoming should be here! The countdown chain works in much the same way. Paper loops are connected to each other to form links, each day one link is removed. When the last link is removed, the family should be reunited. Countdown chains are best used for shorter separations or for the very end of a long deployment because of the space it takes up.
Map it Out
Deployments are excellent for learning about geography and the world. Deployed service members are sent around the world, to countries and regions with cultures vastly different than our own. This presents an opportunity for parents to lead their children to new knowledge.
First, hang a world map in a central location in your home. Next, use a pin or pins to chart where mom or dad is located. One pin should be good for non-ship based deployments, while multiple markers will be needed for expeditionary units or naval deployments. Kids should read, if they are able, the name(s) of the place(s) their parent will be located.
Older kids can then start researching the country and region. They can investigate language, history, religion, climate, culture, and customs. Learning more about the place their parent will be might provide comfort to them. To stretch this activity out, you could assign a new topic each month to provide focus. As kids learn new things, they can post the info around the world map.
Every single culture has literary works, aka books, poems, songs, etc. Find some! Then, get reading! For the middle east, Persepolis is an awesome account of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. While your service member might not see this country, the region around Iran is similar in religion and theology.
To learn about what a deployment might be like in a child friendly way, try Nubs. This sweet story uses a stray dog to bring younger children into a Marine unit, and connect with Major Brian Dennis. It helps show that our troops are there to help everyone.
Making it Count
Math is built into deployments, and can be linked to almost every other deployment activity. Kids of any age can help to countdown until mom or dad is home safe. For older kids, they could chart how far away their parent is at any given time. Tracking the movements of a ship from port to port, or from stop to stop out to the forward deployed base and back can practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For ship-based deployments, kids can measure the ship length, height, cargo capacity, and speed.
Children who enjoy running, or for parents who require their company while they workout, you could even try to run to Afghanistan and back, like Stroller Warriors did in 2014. Essentially, you run and track your miles, adding them up over time. Your goal destination doesn’t have to be to Afghanistan, any destination works. This mostly serves to keep your mind and body busy, and boost endorphins.
Bring it All Together
Each of the activities is just wonderful all on its own, but when you combine them you can create a deployment activity super center! Create a deployment wall or space in your house and keep all deployment related stuff there. Hang a map up, stockpile your location markers, put the candy jar on the shelf, and leave space to place your math trackers and research findings.
As a bonus, setting up and managing these activities for your kids will help to occupy your mind and body, making your deployment experience go by that much quicker as well.
How do you stay busy and productive during deployment?