I sometimes think I should have the hang of this summer stuff by now. But, every year I find myself learning more and remembering again lessons I have learned in summers past. Here is a short list of things running through my head today. Some are reminders to myself and to you. Some are things we are learning in a while new way.
1. Kids need structure. This is no less true in June than in January. Children need to have an idea of what will happen next... and what is expected of them. The weeks when we offer clear structure, easy to reach goals and good follow-through on chores given are far more peaceful than the weeks without. We continue to work, read, pray and play every single day.
2. Kids will choose healthy when healthy is a choice. I have begun (again) to put out fresh fruit each morning. Today on the island in the kitchen is: grapes, blueberries, watermelon slices, cups of mandarin oranges and a small glass of toothpicks. My kids wander in from time to time, grab a toothpick, skewer some fruit and eat to their heart's content. In addition to this, there are four water bottles, each labeled with the initials of my children. I find that when I start our days this way, there are fewer requests for cookies and candy... and if there is one, I feel better about saying yes. My only rule? The water bottle needs to be empty by bedtime. Hot days require more water... some of my kids are great at staying hydrated, others not so much. This way, I can keep better track of who is drinking and eating well... works well for us.
3. Academics has a place, even in the summer. Our kids are matched up into pairs each week. One of the older boys works with a younger one on some household chores and to work on flashcards. They have come up with some great flashcard games all on their own. The older boys get a deep feeling of accomplishment by helping Josiah and Elizabeth learn new things. 'Siah is working on addition flashcards to reinforce math facts and EB is learning sight words to help her become more confident as she learns to read. It has been fun to watch Noah and Benjamin play the role of big brother so well in the lives of their younger siblings.
4. Summer is a perfect time to read! This is not a child-only lesson! All of the kids have been enjoying long periods of reading each day. Noah and Benjamin are pouring through books and working on their summer reading lists for school. Josiah has just discovered the joy of the Magic Treehouse series and Elizabeth and I are reading The Velveteen Rabbit together. I am reading, too. With four kids here all day long, it is slow going but I keep reminding myself that it is important that my children see me reading, also. I have two books started... A Year of Living Biblically (still thinking about this...) and The Weight of Water (drew me in quickly...). Our challenge now is keeping enough books around that there is always something new to read.
5. Outside is the place to be. If you read this blog regularly or have heard me speak, you know this is something important to me. Everyday, my kids go outside to play AT LEAST three times. Some days this goes smoothly and other days, it takes a bit of encouragement. I am ready to help with bubbles and sidewalk chalk on hand but I know that free-play is best. I have to remember that I am their momma, not their cruise director. As the summer progresses, they get better and better at finding things to do in the yard, while bike riding, on a walk with the dog and I am happy to see them come in smiling, smelling like sunshine.
6. Limiting screen-time makes for a better day. I do not know what it is about spending time watching TV or being on the computer that leads to crabby children but I know it is the truth. Our new policy is that they can have one hour or less (my discretion) of screen-time per day. I like that they have to think about what matters to them when they are handed a limit. Do they REALLY want to watch this mindless TV show and lose half an hour of screen-time or do they want to spend that time playing a computer game instead? We so want to raise mindful children who are careful with their choices and evaluate what matters most along the way. This is a small way to work toward that goal.
7. Rested children (and parents) have better days. It is tempting to ignore established bedtime routines and spend every night running freely through the yard filling canning jars with lightning bugs. But, morning comes early and waking short on sleep puts everyone on edge. We do indulge in a late-night bug collection from time-to-time but we really try to keep up with our children's need for sleep. It is a careful balance sometimes, but it is important.
8. Water rocks! What is it about a well-placed sprinkler that can make even my oldest 'tween squeal with joy? When the question posed to me has anything to do with water, I try to say yes. One of the favorite activities? Putting the hose on lightly at the top of the driveway and watching the "rivers" form on the way down. Noah and Benjamin started this years ago when they were both very small but the wonder of it has never waned. Sometimes, they race small leaves or Popsicle sticks down the rivers. Sometimes, they just watch. It is simple but it makes them happy.
9. Friends matter. While the blessing of hunkering down as a family is something I fully embrace, there is good in fostering friendships outside of the school year. Play dates and kids in the driveway shooting hoops is a wonderful thing and helps my kids to not find themselves suddenly sick of their siblings. It can feel like another thing to do but we have found that it is worth the work and worth the planning and worth the hospitality to make it happen.
10. Special outings, even small ones, are remembered for their magnitude more so than their price tag. On our way home from our Lexington weekend, Mark mentioned that we drive past so many cool places on that drive. I remarked that we will be driving very near to Indian Dunes State Park on the way home. We made a quick decision to stop and play a while in the waves and stay to watch the sunset. We were there for about an hour and a half. If you asked my kids about that time, the stories they would tell might lead you to believe we had stayed beach-side for a solid week! They had so much fun and laughed so hard and ran up and down dunes and the sheer bigness of that night built memories for them that were worth far more than many well-planned vacations. We need more of this... more small but memorable experiences shared with our children by our side.
We have spend just slightly over a month on summer break. These ten lessons are likely just the tip of the iceberg of what we will learn in the months to come. While learning is important and I want to pay attention... I want more to pay attention to the ones in the lessons. I want to notice them, cherish them as they are today. May these simple lessons not distract me, but instead bring me closer to that deepest desire of my heart.
Enjoy your day!