Thursday, May 30, 2013

Planning for Summer: Details #2

Ready for more thoughts about summer?  :)

So, we talked about the academic piece but what about developing needed skills and talents?  I love these open months for doing just that!

Before we go any further, just think for a minute about what your child really loves.  Consider what skills they will need in the next year?  What talents are emerging for each of your kids?  What things do they need to do or learn that YOU believe will be helpful for them?  Summer is the perfect time to work at some of these!

Here are some things we are going to do or have done in the past:

1.  Sports and Christian Camps:  Generally, each summer I like for my kids to have one structured event to help them grow athletically and one to help them grow spiritually.  We look for places that offer reasonably priced opportunities that can move our children along developmentally in these areas.  We love the sports camps offered by Trinity Christian College because they are low stress, open to all levels, very local and affordable.  Sometimes other moms ask me what they should do if their child just doesn't want to do it... really just wants to sit around for the summer... We tell our kids that sitting around for the summer is not what we want for them.  We work with them to choose things that they will enjoy but yes, some of those things WILL be active and some will be athletic.  Are all of our kids athletic?  Nope.  But running around in the sun is good for any kid and because we are the parents, we get to direct them in ways that will benefit them.  The same is true for Christian camps.  We believe strongly in the value of such experiences.  All of our kids were not ready for sleep away camps at the same age but all of our kids have experienced some sort of Christian camp.  Some of our kids eat that up!  Some do not love it.  We have offered some flexibility here but also talk with our kids about how to meet those spiritual needs if going off to a Christian camp is not a perfect fit.  As someone who came to faith in the camp environment and worked all my college summers at a Christian camp, these experiences hold a deep and firm place in my heart.  My life was transformed in ways I could not have imagined while sitting with friends at camp.  If you have not considered this for your child, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.

Leaving for sleep-away camp for the very first time!

Soccer camp is so much fun! 

2.  Lessons:  While our summer schedule is MUCH more laid back than our school-year days, I have found that getting my kids lessons for the things that they love (or want to love) during the summer months can be really helpful.  With one of our kids, we began piano lessons during the summer months with hopes that he would so love playing piano that he would want to continue.  That plan totally worked!  On the flip side, another of my boys took guitar lessons during the summer and while he enjoyed it, he found that there was little time during the school year to continue this skill.  Both of these responses were fine with my husband and I and we did not regret encouraging the learning of a brand new skill in the midst of those summer months.  The long lazy days that are coming allow for plenty of time to try new things and practice a bit each day.  We have also done this with art, bike maintenance, drama, etc...

Cello lessons are on the docket for this summer! 

3.  Devotions:  While it may seem that this category doesn't fit well with skills and talents, this is something we want our kids to know how to do.  So, in the summer, we make a new effort to get the kids doing daily devotions and we do this together, as well.  I make a pile of devotional books available to my kids and also make a plan for what I would like to do with them.  This summer, we will structure our family devotions using this image I came across on Facebook:

My thought for this image is to focus on one of these truths each week throughout the summer.  We can even  memorize the verses together.  As parents, it is easy to overlook telling our kids how important they are, how forgiven they are, how VICTORIOUS they are, when we are racing through our busy days.  I love the thought of us focusing on this for the 10 weeks that lie before us and intentionally passing these important truths on to my children (while also reminding myself)!

4.  Volunteering/Service Work.  Each summer my kids use their skills and talents to volunteer.  One easy place to do this is through local Vacation Bible School programs.  Ever since my kids were too old to attend, they have volunteered at our home church's VBS program.  They have led groups, run the activity or craft station or served as a one-on-one helper to a child who needs a little extra help.  I love that these experiences make our kids take their eyes off of themselves and think about someone else.  This matters.  It matters that we teach our kids to do this while they are young so that when they are teens, it has already become a way of life.  Someone once told me that all teens are naturally selfish.  I have not found this to be true.  My teens are taller, more mature versions of the children they once were.  And I like them.  :)  Do they have selfish moments?  Of course they do!  (Don't we all??)  But because our family and our school have both placed a strong emphasis on the value of serving others, this has become a part of their very fabric.  They KNOW it is important.  Summer offers us the perfect time to find opportunities for our kids to do just that.  Need ideas?  What is your child good at?  Can they teach that skill to a younger child?  My older boys help out with a local soccer camp where they teach younger kids to play soccer.  My younger kids help in the nursery at church.  These experiences are valuable and help to direct our kids toward a life that does not place them in the middle... but instead teaches them to live side-by-side, in community, with those all around them.  It gives them a greater purpose in this life... and it turns out, its pretty fun.  :)

Last year, my older boys volunteered at VBS while my younger kids attended. 

Getting some ideas?  Think about the months ahead as a time when you can direct or redirect your kids in enjoyable experiences that we might otherwise not be able to add to our already busy days.  Dream a little bit... and talk to your kids!

The other night, rather out of the blue, my 10 year old Josiah asked if he could please create himself a web page.  As it turns out, he had been reading about how to do that, had already compared several ways to create a website and had formed an opinion about which programs and methods he would like to try.  I was pretty surprised.  :)  Faced with this question, I have two choices in this place... I could tell him no because I am too busy and too stressed to supervise.  I could tell him no because he is 10 and 10 year olds do not need web pages.  Or, I could dream a little.  I could wonder about why this is so interesting to him.  I could tell myself that gifts and talents present themselves in curious ways and that 10 year olds need some yeses in their days to encourage their growth and God-given interests.  I think this summer my boy will get a web page.  And maybe by next summer he will make one for you!  Who knows?  But the months ahead give room for my yes and that, I love.

So, talk to your kids and make some plans... not to FILL their days but to pour into their lives.  In the name of fun and growth, what do your kids need to learn this summer?

Blessings on your day!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Planning for Summer: Details #1

Including today, my kids have 7.5 days of school remaining.  The end is near.  It is time for us mommas to band together and make a plan for the days and weeks that lie ahead.  Last week, I blogged on this very thing.  (If you missed that post, click here to head back there.)  It is a tricky thing to face down the end of the year and dream about what is to come. The end of the year always leaves me feeling a little bit sad... It seems to me that watching my kids magically transform from 3rd grader to 4th grader or :::gasp::: 8th grader to FRESHMAN, causes me more pause and sometimes more tears than their actual birthdays.

My sweet boy, who has grown from this...
to this... 
to this confident 8th grader!
High school, here he comes!

And once we get past that final day of alarm clocks and school clothes and morning rush and homework and teary good-byes to teachers and friends, we are staring down 81 glorious, unstructured, hairy, hopeful days of summer.

I mentioned last week that we always set academic goals for our kids to chip away at during those summer months.  As a former educator, it is hard for me to imagine leaving behind the thrill of learning for nearly 3 months!  I want my children to embrace a lifestyle of seeking knowledge and embracing the wonder of creation.  I also want to think through each child's strengths and weaknesses and make a plan that helps them to begin their new school year feeling ready and capable!

Some ideas:

1.  We have always bought "workbooks" for our kids to process through during the summer.  Most days they will do a page or two and show them to use to check for errors.  I have found that a lot of workbooks are set a level that is below the grade level listed.  Because of this, I usually buy workbooks for the year AHEAD of where my kids are going to be.  Be careful with this though... books can differ.  Since you are the expert on your child, you know best what will keep them moving forward instead of just practicing standing still.  My kids have not really fussed about this because it has always been a part of summer.  So, when I bring home new workbooks, they so strongly associate them with those long and lazy days that they are happy to see them come in!

2.  What about teens?  It can be awfully hard to find workbooks for older kids!  So what do we do with that?  We use a lot of online tools and tap into the interests of each child.  For instance, my oldest boy LOVES math and science!  We love what Khan Academy does and will have them go through a lesson or two each day on that site to explore new ideas and reinforce old knowledge.

3.  I like to look at the summer months as a season of relaxed homeschooling.  So, thinking about what we can learn together in terms of a unit can be helpful.  Consider reading some Little House on the Prairie aloud to your kids and then follow those books up with a trip to local living museum.  In the Chicago area where we live, we can visit someplace like Naper Settlement to meet a goal like that!  Or we take a trip to Springfield and try to figure out where the history of Lincoln meets Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Think about the things you wish your kids knew more about... then jump in with two feet putting together something to do or read at home and something to go see and experience!

4.  One of my plans for my 9 year old daughter is to have her take her love for American Girl books and translate that into historical knowledge.  We will make a big poster to hang in her room with chronological time spans typed across the top.  As she reads different American Girl books, we will have her jot notes about factual events and details from that era on the poster.  By the end of summer, she will have a broader view of American history while she strengthens her reading and comprehension skills!

5.  A few years back, I found a book on Amazon that contained many famous stories that I wanted to share with my kids.  The book was a read aloud book with the approximate time it would take to read each selection printed on the title page.

We had so much fun going through those tales together!   I will never forget reading The Ugly Duckling to my kiddos while they laughed HYSTERICALLY at the fact that the duck was actually called ugly.  Being raised in such a politically correct time, it was beyond their comprehension that such words would be used aloud!  What a fun and funny afternoon we shared as they learned that classic story and I studied their precious faces and we giggled and listened together.  I highly recommend reading together! As you choose your books to read aloud, do not worry that your child has outgrown hearing you read.  You are making memories together and igniting memories of the past, as well!  Do it for the love of story.  Do it for the love of sharing something together.  Do it because it is good and it matters.

6.  We intentionally gather books that will make learning easier in the summer.  We put them out to be used and referenced.  We have a great bird book on hand in case something flies by that we cannot quickly identify.  We have a book on rocks and minerals that my kids love to to peruse when they find a new, cool stone outside.  Think about the kinds of things your kids enjoy to learn about and put books and supplies out that will allow them dig in on their own.  We love Half Price Books for books like these!

During the summer months, I want my kids to continue learning.  They do not spend their days over worksheets and tests!  Instead, they invest 10-30 minutes each day on one or more of the ideas above.  We put a high priority on playing outside and while we want them to extend their academic knowledge, we also want them to embrace the slow, relaxing pace of the season ahead.  The key to fantastic summer is to find a way to balance the things our kiddos need and the things we know they want.

A lot goes in planning a summer to remember.  My next blog will talk about how we plan for opportunities for our kids to invest in their needed/wanted skills... including some talk of camp!  (Those who know me well know that I could blog for a year on the value of camp!)  So hang with me and think about the weeks and months to come.  What really matters to you?

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer's Coming! Whatcha Gonna Do?

It's coming.

Year-end concerts and award banquets and school projects abound.  The days are winding down and summer is almost here. While some mommas are eagerly awaiting the beginning of summer, others are taking deep breaths to stave off the ensuing panic that comes in anticipating over 100 days of unstructured home life, children underfoot.

Where do you stand?

As I sit here today in my quiet home, I am deeply aware that, though I love this daily down-time, it is a privilege that is passing.  In roughly two and a half weeks, my children will come out of school with mixed feelings and summer will begin.  We will dry off last-day-tears and head to a local park where summer always begins for us.  We will gather with friends, eat some lunch, enjoy the distraction from a day of good-byes and stand together at the beginning of a long string of time to come.  I love having my kids home.  I love the peace that comes with plenty of rest and a lack of pressing deadlines.  But, 16 years of parenting has taught me that sleepy summer days can be rocky, too.  Because the truth is that I love my quiet, writing afternoons and my children love their structure.  So, while we dream today of some summer fantasy, it will likely not be that vision that plays out for us.

So, what do we do?

Last week, I decided to add a new talk to my topic list on this very thing.  I am excited to be thinking about summer as I prepare to speak on this for Spring '14.  For years, our family has approached summer planning in a way that offers some structure and lots of downtime while offering parameters that can curtail known frustrations.  Left to their own devices, my children will happily spend way too much time on screens playing video games or watching televisions programs that can only be described as "brain-candy".  This, I do not want.  But, if I spend a few minutes thinking about what goals I have for my kids, maybe the summer can take on a shape that fits for our whole family.

Here are some of the goals we have for our kids each year:

1.  Keep moving academically.  Yes, I totally get that school is over but as a former educator, I know that kids who continue to learn academically throughout the summer begin to see learning as a lifestyle and not a school requirement.  I do not want my children to tolerate academics.  I want to raise kids who are curious, eager, driven.  I want them to love the "a-ha" moments and to seek them instead of waiting to have those revelations spoon fed to them.  If we take the summer off of learning, we do not only lose what has been learned this year but we miss an opportunity to raise kids who see each day as an opportunity to seek knowledge and to explore God's creation.

2.  Work on needed/wanted skills and talents.  With the full and busy school-year schedule, it is hard for us to find time to really focus on things that are of interest to my kids.  The summer allows for time to work on soccer skills, take a drama class or head off to a Christian camp and learn a lot of amazing things all at once!  Over the years, we have really valued these experiences and have worked hard to budget for them.  In addition to this, I will dust off my teacher hat and work up "lessons" that might be helpful to my kids in a variety of areas.

3.  Extended family time.  There is no way around it. My oldest is 16.  I am staring down the end of our familiar life with four kids and I am deeply aware that in two years, my days with my baby will be drastically changed.  We need this time.  It may not be as idyllic as I would hope but it is needed for both my kids and myself. The chaos has a part to play and the spontaneous experiences that poke up out of nowhere become the stuff of family lore.  We need it.  Unplanned.  Open.  Available.  And we need to plan for time when we get away and there is no interruption in the midst of this passing privilege.

4.  Lifestyle learning. When we worked as residence directors at Trinity Christian College, we offered a curriculum of lifestyle lessons to freshman and sophomore students.  My kids need nothing less.  They need to learn basic skills like conflict resolution, living in community, household chores, etc... The summer offers us the opportunity to focus on such things and teach them well.  As mommas, we are the experts on our kids.  You know exactly what they are great at and in what areas they need growth.  Three months of downtime can lead to an awful lot of learning!

5.  Fun, fun, fun!!!  We need to find space for fun.  We need to laugh and relax and do unusual things and let it unwind the tightly wound springs that the school year has placed in my kids.  We need to use the time we have in ways that September will not allow.  We need to get away and we need to stay put.  And while so much of this can seem spendy, there are ways to have a lot of fun without spending much money at all.

While I have many mini-goals for my kids, much of what we do for the summer falls under these general categories.  Finding ways to plan for the things we want for our kids helps to offer structure to all those loosey-goosey days.  This gives me hope that the summer that is coming can have moments in it that feel exactly like what we want.  It makes me believe that the images in my head might come to fruition.  And maybe I will have to hunt for those moments or maybe they will rise up and make themselves well-known. Either way, we will make space for summer to become what we need.  All the days will not be good.  All the weeks will not be perfect.  My kids will argue.  The house will begin to feel small.  We will miss some goals and we will over-focus on others.  But in the end, it will be what we make of it and that, my friends, takes a plan.

Over the next several posts, lets take a peek at each of the categories above.  I will tell you what we might do and maybe you will share some ideas, too.  And then, no matter your feelings about the months that are to come, we can plan for the summer to be something good.  Not perfect.  But good and purposeful and needed.  And when September cycles back around we may still feel eager but we will also feel nostalgic for the wonder of three months of days that we got to experience together...

Blessings on your day.