Hooray for Summer (Exclamation Point): Steps to a Successful Break (Question Mark)

It’s almost here!  For some of us, it already is.  Summer break.  Honestly, my head is spinning the school year went by so fast.  And I feel totally unprepared for having my brood around for three months.  So I dug up this post from a year ago to help refresh my brain on how to (and not to!) navigate summer with kids.  And I hope it helps you, too:

A year ago, as the school year drew to an end, I wrote a post that received some flak.  In Hooray for Summer? (In retrospect, Horrors, It’s Summer! would have been a fun title…) I described the difficult transition for parents, myself wholeheartedly included, to having the kiddos home for three months.  I outlined my plan to keep us all from going crazy, which, it ends up, was a near-total flop.  Disappointing, to say the least…I needed a solid strategy because I was really not looking forward to the loss of (forgive me) my freedom.

But this year?  I am stoked for summer.  Cannot.  Wait.  We are going to have a blast.  I learned a lot from the failures of last year.  Plus my kids are a year older, with more specific interests.  We have lots to look forward to this summer, but before I get into our new-and-improved plan (hopefully resembling a jewel-encrusted flip-flop instead of a plain old crummy flop), here’s a summary of last year’s plan.  And what happened when we tried it out.  Because as some things work better for some kids than others, you may find our failures to be your successes.

Summer 2014 Plan (aka, How Not to Kill Each Other While On Summer Break):

**Set a Schedule (this-happens-at-this-time-or-else-you’re-grounded!).  Yeah, you can see why this was a total disaster.  Even without the threat of grounding.  Yes, I really thought my kids liked routine.  Maybe it’s only the routine set by school (under the threat of the principal’s office?) that they “like.”  I get why they drug their feet with 10:00 am flash cards but with the 1:30 pm go-crazy-outside-in-the-beautiful-mountain-air?  I’m still lost on that one.

**The “I’m Bored” Jar (Russian Roulette for kids).  The rules were straightforward:  say the words “I’m Bored!” and draw an activity out of a whimsically decorated jam jar.  The activity could be “water the plants” but it could be “go out for ice cream.”  A fun game of chance!  Not really.  Here’s how things went down in our house:

Kiddo:  “I’m Bored!”

Me:  “Here’s the jar!  Let’s see what you get!”

K:  (drawing out a labelled popsicle stick…come on, how whimsically creative is that?):  “I don’t wanna!”

M:  “It could be ice cream….!”

K: (reading his activity)  “Awwww!  I don’t wanna build a fort!”

M:  “But you love to build forts!”

K;  “No, I don’t!”

You get the idea.

**Read the Newspaper.  I did.  We have an amazingly vibrant town with endless summertime activities.  Response to Endless Summer was similar to the Jar activities.

**Who’s Who on the Loop.  There are about 20 children who live on our cup-de-sac.  How many were around during the day last summer?  About negative 5.  Which was weird as many of them were around to play the previous summer (I recall 12 in our yard one particular sunny day) but not so weird, really, in that many of them have both parents working outside the home.  So most of those kids were enrolled in day camps and not home when my kids knocked on their doors after lunch.  My kids were kinda lonely.

**Compromise.  Tried it exactly once.  I like to jog and my kids like to shoot hoops (shoot!  that should have been a Jar activity!) so I took my kids to the local rec center to play basketball while I ran on the track above the court.  Great idea, right?  I think I jogged exactly 10 minutes before my kids started arguing over whose ball was whose, a no win situation since the balls were identical.

Poop.

So Summer 2014 Plan was not exactly stellar.  But we made it through and did enjoy a late summer family vacation.  But that’s beside the point.  Because what is important now is the…

Stupendous Summer Plan 2015 (aka, Mom’s Learned From Her Past Mistakes and is Super-Stoked to Make New Ones.):

**Attitude.  I will admit I was in a bad place a year ago, feeling the impending arrival of summer break and departure of my flexibility.  This year, I am using the power of positive thinking to fuel our entry into the next three months.  That, and:

**Pre-planning.  Something I have never been good at when it comes to summer activities.  A year ago I put my kids in a couple impromptu day camps and it was a veritable disaster.  They hated the time they spent at camp and from all accounts of their experience, I don’t blame them.  They still wax hatred over it.  And I won’t ever again send them to that particular camp.  Then I promised myself I’d do what I’ve never successfully done before, and that is lock in the good stuff.   But as most parents know, registration for sought-after summer activities can start way in advance, and April being tax month makes writing those summer security checks rather painful.  But I did it.  Two of my kids play violin so are doing violin camp.  My oldest is itching to be on stage so he is going to do a month of kids’ theatre.  There’s a gymnastics camp thrown in there, too.  Boom.  Done.  The checks cleared.  We didn’t bankrupt ourselves.  And my kids are really excited.

**Who’s Who on the Loop, the Sequel.  I am putting together a list of all the kids mine want to play and have sleepovers with this summer, along with their parents’ contact info.  And who I can get ahold of on a weekday for a playdate and who is better able to come on a Saturday.  I’m keeping the list on my phone so it is always handy.  No excuse for not calling someone up and planning some fun.

**Goal Setting.  I’m going to run a half marathon.  I’m going to run a half marathon.  Did I mention the half marathon?  No?  Well, a friend and I have committed ourselves to a 13.1-mile running event this fall.  We are training together.  This summer.  A half marathon in October.  I’M GOING TO DO IT.  Why?  Because I never have and I want to.  Last summer I felt I could only slip in a workout here and there, like if the kids were having some screen time and dad was home.  I didn’t make exercise a summer routine like I did during the school year and that was bad for my psyche.  This summer?  I have set a goal.  Made an obligation to a terrific friend.  I’m making myself (creatively) carve out the “me time” that keeps me a sane mother and a present one.

So, yes, I am truly excited for summer, with an exclamation point.  But will our new-and-hopefully-improved game plan work:  that remains the question mark.  At least right now, I feel confident it will (period).

Last year's leftover school supplies. This year's haul is rumored to be even more epic: my son was told to bring a garbage bag to school on desk-clearing day.

Last year’s leftover school supplies. This year’s haul is rumored to be even more epic: my son was told to bring a garbage bag to school on desk-clearing day.

Let’s Get Organized: a Stepwise Process for Parents and Kids

chore-list.jpegOne of the least “organized” decisions we can make as adults is to become parents.  Is there anything less neat, orderly and predictable as having children in the house?  And if you can show me a mom who, without missing a beat, can juggle the school field trip schedule, remember who likes what cold lunch fixings and recall if she brushed her teeth that morning…I’ll show you a mythical Greek Goddess.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the messy business of parenting.  I adore my kids.  In fact, I relish the unpredictability of their fights, their ever-changing school and activity schedule and the impromptu playdates.  It keeps me on my toes and mentally sharp.  And it challenges the “J” in me to find an even better strategy to not lose my head amidst the ongoing chaos.

According to the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory I am a “J,” which stands for “Judger.”  That sounds terribly uncomplimentary, and would expect that those at the opposite end of the personality spectrum, the “P’s” (or “Perceivers”) would agree.  But apparently these descriptive terms are from the Carl Jung school of thought so maybe he was just a bit of a jerk.  Anyway, in a nutshell, “J’s” like order in their lives.  They like schedules and plans.  “P’s” subscribe to the “fly by the seat of my pants” school of being, to “see what happens,” explore and discover.

My kids’ dad is a “P.”  So I find myself in a cold sweat when we discuss our weekly game plan and he won’t even have his smart phone calendar at the ready to get it all down.  On the other hand, my mother-in-law is a planner, a true-blue “J.”  We get along famously, especially on family trips.  We have it down.  Except when we are doing our “J” thing about different things.  Then I break out in another cold sweat.  Still, I “get” her and she “gets” me.  And that’s why we leave the men out of the planning of stuff.

Sorry, I digress.

It’s not that fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants people aren’t organized.  It’s not that we list- and calendar-lovers don’t enjoy a little unpredictability.  But there are times when a stepwise plan of attack is necessary, and we adults may not even realize we are doing it.  If you think about it,  how do we get from the 6:00 am alarm to heading out the door in the morning?  How do we get make and get dinner on the table?  It would take some effort to write out the step-by-step because things like this are so second nature, whether you attack life as a “J” or a “P.”  But accomplishing these tasks is an art, something we had to learn and practice.

Perhaps the “second nature” of completing daily skills is what makes us parents so frustrated when our kids, for example, can’t get ready for school in the morning, or sit down to do homework in the afternoon.  Of course, kids don’t want to do either of these things, but part of this may be having trouble getting the process started.

And this is where parents can help them, whether we are “J’s” or “P’s.”

Start with a family pow-wow.  Sit down with your kids and put together a short list of things to work on:  homework, getting ready for bed…whatever the struggles are in your daily routine.  Then chose one thing off the list to tackle first.  Talk about how working on getting the task done will make family life better (as in more time to play outside) and make sure your kids know you will help them to be successful…but that you also expect their best effort.

Write it out (Sorry “Percievers.”).  An article on understood.org recommends breaking the task down into a beginning, a middle and an end.  Otherwise, a task will be pretty overwhelming to plan out.  For example, let’s say the problem is getting homework accomplished after school.  The “beginning” of the task could look something like this:

  1.  Homework time starts at 4:00, at the kitchen table.

2.  To do homework I will need:  a pencil, an eraser, scratch paper, and the assignment.

3.  Write the due date at the top of the page so I know which homework to do first.

The “middle” part of the completing homework, or of any task, is the actual “doing,”  the execution.  This is the challenging part, which kidshealth.org calls the “Focus” step.  Who wouldn’t want to play Nerf guns instead of taking out the garbage or doing grammar?  (parents, admit it…).  But an easy first step is to give kids an easy mantra:  just say “no” to distractions.  But keep that carrot dangling…a bit of fake apocalyptic mayhem after an exercise in dangling participles is a great motivator.  But if that simple mental “no” isn’t enough to stave off temptation, suggest next your kids ask themselves, “Is that what I’m supposed to be doing right now?”   Help kids remember these questions and supervise at first; they will need support getting through this step.  If you can, set an example of “focus” by sitting with your kids during homework time and read, or balance the checkbook, or write a grocery list.  This way, you are readily available to offer prompts (So what’s next?  Remember what to say to yourself if you are distracted?) Avoid your screen…if your kids are like mine they are like moths to lightbulbs and the temptation to peek over my shoulder is too great.  In other words, do something that looks like “homework.”

“The End.”  Again, write in your master task plan the steps for crossing the finish line.  That could be wiping out the garbage cans before replacing them in your house.  In the homework vein, that’s the proofreading, correcting, and putting the pages in the right folder to be returned to school.  In short, the task is done, so answer the question, now what?

Time to Party.  Ask your child how he thinks he did with the task and troubleshoot any problems that occurred along the way.  Perhaps the homework space was too distracting…maybe we shouldn’t do homework in your room where your toys are, so let’s brainstorm another spot for you to work in.  Praise your child for a job well done (if he did do it well). Then reward.  Have those Nerf guns ready.

Suggestions to keep the organizing organized:

~Keep a jumbo desk calendar on the wall.  Each family member gets a “color” for their appointments, field trips, etc.  Kids will love writing their “things” on the calendar, be able to look ahead at what’s coming up, and be more excited about the day-ahead prep (More on that below.)  Plus they will go nuts for the ripping-away of April to look at May, and so on and so forth.

~Gaming.  Make a game out of estimating how long it takes to complete tasks.  Write down the guesses and see how much time it actually takes to wrap it up.  Not only can this be a “everyday” math exercise, it can help you and your kids plan accordingly for the next day.

~Lists!  Post a colorful list (have your kids make it) by the door to help kids remember what they need in their backpacks for school.  Tape a Saturday morning “honey-do” on the kitchen table.  Some kids love the idea of ticking the jobs off a list*** as a motivator to finish their responsibilities, and you don’t have to go into “nag” mode.

~Speaking of backpacks…plan a Sunday night backpack check.  Understood.org recommends cleaning out the junk from backpacks, double-checking for permission slips or MIA homework, etc., once a week.  What better time than Sunday night, to start the school week off on the right foot.  And on the same wavelength, pack up the night before. Have completed homework and show-and-tell items for the next day zipped in and ready to go so nothing gets left behind on that rush to the school bus.

~And my favorite:  Cook (or bake)!  There’s making the shopping list.  Getting the ingredients.  Reading the recipe.  Completing each step in order.  Time management.  What better way to learn organization and get brownies at the same time?

***One final word on organization:  entlistungsfreude.  Of course there’s a German word that means “gratification of accomplishing something by crossing it off a list.”

When a Loved One is Seriously Ill

photos-and-flowers.jpeg

This week’s post was supposed to be about how to help our kids learn to be more organized but that’s just not going to happen.  Sometimes life takes us on a detour from from our best-laid plans.

As I switched gears on what to write this week, I realized it’s still about organization but in a different vein.  The good news?  It doesn’t require a visit to The Container Store.  The bad news?  It’s about bad news.

Sadly, it’s inevitable. But that’s the very reason we don’t want to think about a family member getting sick.  As in:  it’s going to happen someday so why dwell on it; we can worry about it when the news comes.  Which seems the healthy mental thing to do, really.  So of course we don’t think about receiving bad news, much less the painful task of telling our kids, or how to work through the new reality as a family.

But it never hurts to be a little prepared.  Hearing the news that a grandparent, a beloved aunt or a family friend is ill comes as a shock.  It’s difficult to collect our thoughts when our own emotions are running high.  So having a plan on how to tell our kids seems like good sense.  Fortunately, there’s a lot of info out there that can help with the process, but unfortunately, too, there’s a lot of info to filter through.  So I pulled together info from some wonderful websites and pdf’s and hope it can help you as parents when you are faced with receiving and then giving bad news. Continue reading

Only Children as Parents

Expressing my independence at age 2. Even the ducks are impressed.

Expressing my independence at age 2. Even the ducks are impressed.

When I typed “only children as parents” into Google, I found very little that discussed only children and their children.  Here’s what I found instead (among other things):

“9 Reasons Why Dating An Only Child is Difficult.”  (Ha, only 9?  My husband would love to add to that list!)

“What Being an Only Child Says About You.”  (with a title like that it can’t be good…)

Various sites regarding support groups for the parents of only children.

and finally (I almost peed a little when I saw it.):

“Only Child Adult Blog:  Are You an Only-Child and a Parent?” which I immediately clicked on, only to find the most recent of a handful of comments was in 2010.  

I guess we only-children parents aren’t as interesting as I had hoped (insert obvious joke about self-centeredness here).  But on the bright side, I guess we aren’t screwed up enough (or screwing up enough of our own kids) to warrant being studied.  I consider that a definite win. Continue reading

Kids and Antiperspirant Use

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My twin boys are rapidly approaching adolescence.  Moods are swinging, zits are erupting here-and-there, and oh, yes, BO is making its presence known.  Of course, my younger, sweatier son would be the first to need the Speed Stick.  Because in direct opposition to his brother’s love of the shower, he can turn on the water, physically get in the shower, and emerge with a perfectly dry head.  In other words, hygiene is even less on his radar than his brother’s.   Brushing his teeth is a small victory; getting him to use his “deodorant” is nearly impossible.  Fortunately, he is only starting to need it, so there is time to develop the habit.  Maybe.  Fingers are crossed.

I use “deodorant” in quotes as it is something of a misnomer, like we tend to call all facial tissues “Kleenex.”  The name is misleading:  it implies the actual removal of odor.  Plus there are “deodorants” that are just deodorants, which mask, or simply cover up, odor (they don’t eliminate it). But then there are “deodorants” that help prevent odor from happening in the first place. Continue reading

Don’t Get Burned by Your Sunscreen

Small victory: he's wearing a hat!

Small victory: he’s wearing a hat!

A couple years ago I was walking through town with one of my boys when a complete stranger exclaimed, “Oh, my, you’re sunburned!”

The concerned individual was referring to my son, whose face looked rather like a strawberry, red with his brown freckles like berry seeds punctuating his nose and cheeks.  My guilt resurfaced, a day after my son’s sun-soaked adventure.  Even though I had done my best to slather my son with sunscreen, he, like every time before, wiped his face immediately to remove the offensive gooey cream he hates so much, and keeping a hat on him is akin to bringing two repelling magnets together.

In short, much as my husband and I try to keep our kids protected from the sun, we aren’t always successful.  Like, for instance, our family’s recent trip to the beach for spring break.

Especially like our recent trip to the beach. Continue reading

Nurturing Creativity in Our Children: More Mess, More Time

 

"Creativity comes through us, not from us." ~ the concept of the muse.

“Creativity comes through us, not from us.” ~ the concept of the muse.

Creativity:  putting things together in novel ways, or seeing the world, or a given problem, with fresh eyes. (ahaparenting.com)

“Oh, my, he’s such a mess!!”

Grandma could barely get the words out through her laughter.  Her loving observation of my older son at age three was spot on.  There he was, sitting at our kitchen table working on crafts:  stuff was piled everywhere, stuck together randomly with glue from a dripping bottle.  His clothes were streaked with food (oddly, even now, breakfast is on his person before he’s even had any), his face mustachioed with lunch.

The perfect picture of a creative kid.

“Fresh” is not a word I would use to describe my now eleven-year-old son (he prefers to play with water balloons in the shower rather than lathering up), but “novel” certainly does.  He struggles with actual math but can reason out a correct answer.  He brings motion to a lego beach scene by adding a surfer riding a wave.  He is so not me in this respect and my jaw drops at his way of manipulating and perceiving the world.

Which got me thinking…is creativity something we are born with or something we can practice and develop? Continue reading

Standardized Testing: a Primer

Bummed about bubble sheets? Don't blame you...

Bummed about bubble sheets? Don’t blame you…

March Madness!!!!

I never realized how zany a month March is.  I mean, take a look:

~Will March arrive like a lamb or a lion?

Wait.  No one really cares that much about that anymore, do they?

~NCAA basketball, the ultimate in cager mania.  Go Skyhawks!!! (Fort Lewis College, NCAA II tourney, in case you b-ball enthusiasts were curious.)

Wait.  They lost.  Darn.  Well, there’s always next year…

~The beginning of daylight savings time!  More sunlight after dinner!

Wait.  Actually, who likes “spring ahead?” I was so tired I accidentally made decaf the morning after.  Not. Good.

Anyway, what seems to be really ca-razy about March, and parents, I’m sure many of you will agree, is this:

Standardized testing in our kids’ schools.

True March Madness. Continue reading

The Creative Thinker: Is Your Child One of Them?

This is awesome, but...

This is awesome, but…

Legos (and Grandma’s sugar cookies) are like crack for kids…at least they are in our house.  Once any of us, dad and mom included, starts snapping together those technicolor pieces, time and reality disappear.  But for my older son, Legos are a way of life.  He eats, sleeps and breathes Lego creations, and he is truly Pavlovian when he watches a Lego master build ships and shopping malls on YouTube.  He is well on his way with logging his own 10,000 hours to attain Lego mastery.  His goal is to be an architect but his dream?  To work for Lego.

Lego blocks are his passion but his stumbling block is math, and school in general.  Without success at either of the latter, he will find it difficult to become a master designer or builder of any kind.  In last week’s post I described how he is a bookend on the bookshelf of traditional schooling, but is something else, too.

A creative thinker.

I was actually doing research for a related post when I stumbled upon a chart put together by Bertie Kingore, PhD, author and teacher.  On this chart he compares the characteristics of creative thinkers, high achievers and gifted learners.  And the column for creative thinkers may as well have included a picture of my son, captioned “Yeah, like this kid here,” because, wow, Doc Kingore has him pegged.

And no wonder my son struggles in the classroom.  And socially.  He is fully as Kingore describes.  And maybe your child is the same way:  he may have trouble with school not because he can’t understand the work, but because he approaches it and his environment in a different and unique way.

 

Could your child be a creative thinker?  Perhaps,  if he or she:

•daydreams (easily mistaken for inattention)

•is an idea machine…but rarely fleshes out any of those ideas

•starts multiple projects and finishes few

•doesn’t care about school performance or good grades (think of homework power struggles…)

•shares offbeat ideas and opinions (for example, “Those cows are staring at us because they are maniacs” ~my son, age three)

•likes to work alone, but thrives in a small group of other creatively-minded peers (even after a full day of school, my generally-fried son, is the life of the party in his Destination Imagination group)

loves to make, create and invent

(taken from Bertie Kingore’s chart, posted on exquisite-minds.com)

 

My favorite part, however, is how the creative thinker likes to ask questions.  Two in particular.  The first is “What if…?”  The second (my interpretation):

“Do I have to know this????”

The creative thinker, according to Dr. Kingore, questions mastery.  When I read this, I could glimpse understanding of my son’s hatred of school work.  No wonder he and I clash over our after school sessions at the kitchen table.  He feels homework is a waste of time because he has to log on to Sims to complete a challenge or tweak and revamp his latest Lego creation.

Because, if you ask him, he needs the practice if he is going to build his mom a house with a real waterfall inside.

I mean, how can I argue with that?  He’s still learning.  Instead of taking pencil to paper he is using his hands and his imagination.  He’s experimenting to make future creations even better.  He‘s  approaching problems in new ways and finding new solutions.  He, like many creative, nontraditional learners, needs a Lego-type world in order to be engaged in learning (which I doubt, when in the “Lego Zone,” he even realizes he is doing).  The question is this:  How to teach creative thinkers without crushing the very part that makes them…them.  Is there a way to reach these kids effectively in a classroom’s structured, scheduled setting without squeezing the creativity out of them?  To answer this question we need an outside-the-box solution from a…

creative thinker.

Which our world needs.  A whole bunch of them.  We need cures for disease, or at least a better way of treating illness.  We have this big old ball of fire in our sky, begging for its energy to be harnessed and utilized.  I think I speak for most of us when I say a (cost effective) robot who can do the grocery shopping, vacuum and clean the toilets would be an outstanding household addition.

We just need the right creatively-minded people, educated in a way that reaches them, to do it.  And that starts with our children who like to experiment, ask “What if?” and, yes,

daydream.

These are even better!

…These are even better!