When Shelley and Brian first introduced Image Based Decisional Drills and later followed by Smart Choices for kids I was immediately intrigued. In my own training curriculum I use visualization drills to stimulate different types of learning at critical moments in the progression of skills development. These card decks allow for an even greater level of engagement, conversation and depth of learning on the range, in the classroom and at home. I ordered my household's Smart Choices kit online and put it to use as soon as it arrived. These image cards have become a household favorite that facilitate quality family time and lots of learning and laughs. From our family to yours, we know you will love SMART CHOICES, too!
-Tatiana Whitlock and The Whitlock Family
“Hey guys! Come join me in the living room. I want to share something fun with you.” I called, attempting to lure my kids away from their devices. Out crawled two groggy pre-teens reluctantly humoring their Mother and slumping down on the couch beside me. “So, I have some pretty awesome friends and they came up with a game for families to play together. I want to introduce you to Arlo.” As predicted they both rolled their eyes, scanned the card deck and stickers laid out on the coffee table, and shared in the sentiment that they were too old for little kid card games. I explained that the stickers were probably for the little kids but this wasn’t necessarily a little kid game. In fact, this “game” has only a few rules and the three of us get to make them. This family activity was about choices and how they would react in different situations. “So it’s like the game, Life?” asked my son. “Exactly!” I replied. “Only better. Let me show you how it works…” They were intrigued, I had their attention, and we dove right in.
The Smart Choices card deck provides 84 vibrant photographic image cards which act as conversational prompts. Some images clearly depict danger such as a photo of a snake, while others are more benign such as a cell phone and leave much to creative interpretation. These are an ideal tool for families looking to engage their children in a “What would you do if…” dialogue while avoiding the pointed-finger-parenting of our parents sitcoms. The how-too booklet that accompanied the kit offered a few methods of utilizing the deck and recommended choosing one or two cards per sit-down together. I hoped this experience would get my own kids talking, asking questions and keep them away from their laptops for a few minutes. Spoiler alert - it worked! It worked so well, and in such unpredictable ways, I am an absolute believer in this program.
We spread the cards across the table to get an idea of what we were dealing with. The bright colors and variety of photos worked their magic as each child reached for different cards that caught their eye. “Look at this one!” “What’s going on here?” “Hey neat, check this one out.” I knew this was going to be good! As is typical for my kids they straightened out the deck, got the ipad ready, and decided to establish the ground rules. For our first dive into Smart Choices my crew came up with these five rules:
#1 - No cell phones!
#2 - All ideas are good ideas and we will listen to the WHOLE idea.
#3 - If we don’t know or aren't sure, say so. We can always look it up.
#4 - Personal stories are awesome and sharing is great.
#5 - No one can laugh at anyone's stories or ideas.
Each card was a gift. I didn’t have to dream up a prompt; the image provided the subject matter and an organic discussion flowed from there. The back of each card has helpful hints to keep the kids engaged, thinking and verbalizing. This really helped us build momentum and challenged them to dig deeper and see if they could explore each card to it’s max. Cards such as the vegetables on a cutting board sparked conversations about age appropriateness, cooking skills and kitchen safety. Another card shows a young boy drinking from a plastic water container. My kids instantly focused on how sharing water bottles was not safe because of germs. They also educated me about making sure your name is on your bottle and what rules they had at school associated with sharing food and beverages. Needless to say, I learned a lot about school policy from that one card.
Given that firearms are a well respected and common tool in our home, when the image card of a handgun with ammo appeared my kids leapt off the couch and my daughter immediately spewed knowledge. “That's a semiautomatic and those are self defense rounds. But we don’t know if it’s loaded and that’s not cool. Who didn’t put that in a holster? Where is the Mom? That would never happen in our house.” Now, clearly I was beaming with joy but kept the conversation going by asking, “So, if you were at a friend's house and found this on a table in the guestroom what would you do?” My son was quick to contribute both in song and dance, “I’d do the Eddie the Eagle and STOP, DON’T TOUCH, RUN AWAY and TELL A GROWN UP.” I was thrilled that he remembered the safety training he received three years ago in his youth rimfire rifle league. When the giggling subsided he added in a serious tone, his hand on my shoulder, “Mom, I wouldn't’ mess around. I’d tell their Mom and call you to come get me and bring me home.”
While it is reassuring to discover that some skill sets are present in your child's consciousness it is also illuminating to learn where the missing skills are too. We often hope our kids just know because we do, how to react and what to do in difficult situations. Some cards made it clear that it was time to “level up”. Two wooden figures are staged in the act of performing CPR on one card with helpful hints about life saving skills on the back. I was interested to learn that both of my kids expressed interest in taking a safety class as we all realized that they were now old enough to take action. Not only did they want to learn how to tell if someone needed CPR but they wanted to know what they would have to SAY if they had to call 911 for someone who needed that kind of help.
Some cards could be perceived as “easy” yet prompt a whole new level of interaction. The fire extinguisher card got a chuckle when it came up on the deck. My son almost moved to the next card but paused and gave it another more thoughtful glance. “Hey Mom, how exactly do you use one of those things?” A google search and a few youtube videos later and my kids were locating the extinguisher in our kitchen, checking it’s expiration date and informing me that we needed to update our equipment. They also agreed that it should be staged in the kitchen in a location that anyone of access, not just the tall adults. That one card made the entire experience worth it! One image prompted a conversation, exploration, learning, positive sibling engagement and home safety planning.
Out of curiosity I slipped out of the room and left them alone with the card deck for a few minutes. They were so engaged with the cards and working with each other I wondered if they would stay focused or instantly abandon ship and fly back to their laptops if I wasn’t there to lead the experience. After about 10 minutes or so I quietly snuck back into the kitchen and overheard the following conversation:
“Well, it’s dark behind the person.”
“Yup, can’t see her face, only a question mark.”
“Since we don’t know her, can we trust her?”
“I’d go get Mom.”
“This one goes into the dangerous people pile.”
“Yeah, I agree.”
While I was gone they had begun discussing each card and sorting them into category piles. There was a pile for dangerous places, dangerous people, dangerous things and for dangerous situations. The conversations that were taking place for the different cards were fantastic to listen into. As a parent it was a great opportunity to witness what my kids' attitudes and concerns were with each card and what specific images captivated them more than others. In the deck are a few cards of groups of kids standing or sitting together.
These social cards posed the greatest “what if'' questions and we found ourselves lingering in deeper discussions. Each kid shared stories about peer pressure, bullying, and feeling unsure about how to manage interactions with the “tough” kids. Some of these stories I had heard before and others I was surprised to hear for the first time. We had the opportunity to talk each one out and offer strategies to avoid and clear courses of action if faced with similar situations going forward. While this dialogue alone is a major Mom win, the home run was when my daughter stood up and with hands on her hips proclaimed, “Ya know. I’m just going to tell you about everything from now on. I can’t believe I could have just done that one thing and avoided a year of bullying on the bus!”
Almost two hours flew by before we packed up the deck and put it with the other favorite family games. “Hey Mom, can we keep those out for later?” “Absolutely!” While Smart Choices isn’t intended to be a traditional “game” that one word took the pressure off for my kids and opened them up to being receptive to engaging and learning. These invaluable conversations within a family while often quite serious in nature can be explored in a relaxed and trust building atmosphere through simple graphic cards. SMART CHOICES is brilliant, dynamic and fun. Gunslinging Mom and pre-teen approved!
Shelley is the creator of Smart Choices, a public speaker, and a supporter of THINKING AHEAD. Smart Choices BLOG is a mixture of stories, Q & A interaction, new thought provoking ideas, guest BLOGS/videos, and MORE!