Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Days with the Kiddos

Summer vacation truly typifies the good life for me.  My kids are home with me; the days are flexible and un-rushed; our schedules and activities are spontaneous; and I get to spend extended time in the wonderful spaces of my house in which I usually only get pieces of time.

I rarely look at a clock.  I am not in a race against time, nor in conflict with what "should" get done versus what "wants" to get done.  We do what we want when we want (for the most part).  It feels incredibly liberating and joyful.  It is a recharge for the soul and I am savoring every moment until school starts up, and the race begins again.

Recently, as some friends were sharing their kids' camp schedule for the summer, I commented how my kids wanted to be at home with me this summer, instead of participating in various camps.  I was thankful for this for many reasons, but especially since I am not working this summer, and camp costs really add up.  My friend asked me, "What do you do with the kids all day?"  I smiled inside, thinking of all the fun we had the previous week and all the fun we had in store for the rest of summer.

For a planner, type A person like me, it is ironic that my approach to our summer schedule has been very laid-back.  I do have play dates, day trips, and sleep overs already "booked" in my calendar, but I also have unscheduled days where I ask the kids a couple days before (or hours) what they want to do.  I also have a list of places I want to take them (museums, parks, etc.) and things I want to do (craft projects, books, etc.) that I keep (a mix of Pinterest pins and notes on my iPhone).  These lists are at my ready when we have some open time to explore or fill.  I just pull out the list and ask the kids to pick something.

Having the kids home does require planning activities because keeping them entertained is a must (I dread hearing "I'm bored!")  Below are some of my strategies for keeping the kids (and me) happy during our summer days.

  • Incorporate summer learning early in the day: I have been using Summer Bridge workbooks with my kids since they started kindergarten.  These books provide great exercises to reinforce what they learned in school all year (so they don't forget) and keep them a bit in the routine of doing school work.  We do a page a day first thing in the morning while I prepare breakfast.  We get it out of the way early.  

  • Get outside at least twice a day: I am fortunate to have a dog that requires walking 2-3 times a day, so getting outside for 20-minute bursts is fairly easy for us.  We have been using this time to ride bikes/trikes and do nature scavenger hunts.  They love it and I find the time outside breaks up the day nicely.  

  • Play with friends: There are definitely times when I want to hoard the time with my kids to myself, but over the summer, a big key to happiness is having friends around.  I try to invite at least one other family along with us when we head out for the day to the beach or park, and especially, if we are venturing out somewhere in the city for a day trip.  Kids want their friends around as much as possible and it's nice to have another mom or two around to share in the fun.

  • Schedule some special dates: I mentioned earlier that I have some play dates and sleepovers calendared in early on during the summer so I get them laid in before time escapes us.  This also gives the kids something to look forward to and anticipate.  I also schedule some special outings into the calendar (some that I don't tell my kids about until a day or week before).  These include tea time with Grandma, lunch with Daddy, and special movie premieres.  Surprise is a fun element for kids (well, for any of us!).

  • Make a summer fun list: The kids tell me what they want to do and keep a running list.  This is a great reference for when I am looking for things to do on a particular day.

  • Schedule reading time: Keep your kids reading over the summer!  I have run a mother/daughter book club for my eldest since the summer after first grade and just started another one for my middle child.  I build reading into their day daily, usually when my son naps.  Just 15-20 minutes a day, but it gives some structure to the day and guarantees me some quiet time in the afternoon.

  • Start a new skill: I let summer be the time for my kids to try out a new activity of their choice.  That way, they can see if they like it before I commit time and money to a class during the school year.  This year, my girls are trying out piano.

  • Foster a hobby: Instead of scheduling many camps this summer, I had my kids choose one camp week to do something they love.  They each selected an activity, (cooking, for example), and I found a local camp that offered something in that area.  I also included at least one friend so they had a buddy to make the experience more fun.

  • Lay out the calendar a week in advance: Just as I do with my non-mommy commitments, I survey my schedule a week in advance.  I get the kids' input on activities for the week, offer choices for open time slots, throw out ideas for outings, and line up play dates.  I get everything penciled in the week before so I am not stuck the day of asking, "What should we do today?"
As far as keeping the kids entertained, that has not been an issue so far.  If we are not at the beach, park, or a friend's house, we are home playing board games or working on some project.  It has been easy and fun, and I can only hope it continues this way as the summer continues.