Sure, there are no White Walkers or hordes of undead, but flipping the Stark family motto from Game of Thrones on its head still comes with some its own set of terrors. Summer IS coming. And what do you do with the kids out of school for two and a half months? I’m giving this a lot of thought since my kids are out of school in less than two weeks and I will be home with all four of them for the summer. Here’s what I’ve got:
Outside, Outside, Outside.
I live in beautiful sunny Southern California, but for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere summer is the time to be outdoors. I grew up on 60 acres of land. In the summer I was out the door in the morning and only came back when I was hungry. We are a little more limited with our outdoor space here in LA. But the key is to use the space we have to the best of our ability. Take activities that seem like indoor things and bring them outside. Set up a reading nook under the trees. Put all the art supplies outside that way the kids can get some fresh air and you won’t be so nervous that they are going to spill paint on the floor. Take whatever you child is most interested in and see if it can be set up in the great outdoors.
Promote Uninterrupted Play.
We tend to over-schedule ourselves in the summer, trying to be sure the kids have things to do. The best thing about summer as a kid is free time. How do you get the children to do this without suffering a barrage of “I’m bored,” or constant pestering and nagging? I’m not sure you can eliminate that all together, but boredom is just the time between ideas. If children are provided with a safe environment to explore, and developmentally appropriate challenges and play objects, they will find something to do. Parents will drive ourselves crazy if we try to be the cruise director for the summer and always have some fun new project for them to do. What we can do is know our children’s interests and give them the raw materials so that they can find their own projects. If your child is into building, make sure you have some scrap wood and nails (if she’s old enough for that) or building blocks -- or dump out the recycling bin and hand her a roll of duct tape and some string. Present options in their field of interest and then get out of the way.
Limit the screen time.
It is soooo easy to get sucked into the black hole of screen time in the summer. You have a lot to do and when they play their video games they are so quiet and content. But it is a Pandora’s box. Soon you realize that your child hasn’t seen the sun in two days, and anytime you do get them off screen they are hounding you to get back on. Their behavior is unpleasant so you just plug them back in. How do you avoid this vicious cycle? Be very clear about your limits on screen at the beginning of the summer and be consistent. They need to know when they get their screen time, otherwise they will be pestering you all day to see if it is time yet. It can be everyday at 6:00 p.m. while you make dinner or it can be first thing in the morning so you can sleep another 20 minutes. Whatever works for you -- just be consistent. Also be clear about how long they get screen. Whether you give them 20 minutes or one 10 songs on Just Dance, set a limit and stick to it.
I have never read this in a book or heard anyone else prescribe this, but rest time is a big help in my house. It came about sort of by accident. We had older children who had given up their naps, but we still had babies sleeping, so everyone would go to their separate rooms or spaces and have quiet rest time. This really works for us for a couple of reasons. One I get a break in the middle of the day. I can refuel, get a little something done if I need to and when rest time is over I am ready to go. It also works for the kids. I think it helps them if they know that at some point today they are going to get some time to themselves to quietly do whatever they would like. They get a little break from one another, but if they are really playing well and they want to have rest time together sometimes I will allow it.
I try to have a rough schedule of how the days will go worked out. Roughly when the baby will nap, bath times, meal times. A schedule helps children feel comfortable. They can anticipate what is coming next. With out the structure of school they can feel a little lost. That being said in the summer I try to be flexible. If we wake up and want to go to the beach today then lets do it. Friends drop by and end up staying all day, sounds great. If this flexibility is an option magical things can happen.
Summer is coming. Am I afraid? A little, but mostly I’m excited. Excited to spend time watching my children. Seeing what they discover. How they want to spend their time. What inspires them. Being a child in the summer can be magical, and not the scary raising the dead kind of magic, but rather the beautiful awe inspiring kind. Summer is coming.