IT’S OKAY NOT TO SHARE Author Heather Shumaker on Staying Sane in the Summer (So the Kids Don’t Drive You Crazy!)
Heather Shumaker is a journalist whose writing has appeared in Parenting, Pregnancy, Organic Gardening, and other publications. A frequent speaker on parenting topics and an advocate for free, unstructured play in homes and schools, she has a special passion for nonprofits; before turning to writing full-time, she worked for The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, and many others.
In IT’S OKAY NOT TO SHARE, Heather Shumaker describes her quest to nail down “the rules” to raising smart, sensitive, and self-sufficient kids. Below are some of Heather’s tips for staying sane when your kids are home for summer vacation!
As school edged to a close in June, my whole family grew antsy with anticipation. The school year was great – our best yet – but we all needed relief from that rigid school schedule. If you’re a part-time working parent or stay-at-home mom or dad, you know the feeling. The next question is what-to-do-with-the-kids-all-summer-long?
My answer is three-fold: empty day activities, daily rhythms and “you” time.
First, don’t try to be the Chief Entertainer. I’ve never really thought my job was to entertain kids. Maybe this is part of my “renegade parenting.” After all, I’m writing a book about this topic so I suppose it’s expected that my parenting views counteract the norm. My job is to raise kids, to give them the freedom and space they need to explore the world. Entertainment is pre-packaged fun - good fun, maybe, but usually following someone else’s idea. Summer is an excellent time for kids to learn to follow their own ideas. In fact, it’s essential. Kids need that time to recharge after being told what to do during the whole school year. And you need time to be an adult.
EMPTY DAY ACTIVITIES
Here’s what I believe kids need to fill summer days:
Creativity – When kids are left to their own devices they get creative and PLAY. All sorts of imaginative games with all sorts of creative props. When my two kids spontaneously fall into a make-believe game, my job is to stay out of the way and offer supplies like cardboard when needed.
Boredom – We need to let children be bored. To daydream. To gaze at ceiling cracks and clouds. Our job is not to entertain children every moment. It’s OK if they do not seem to be doing anything all the time.
Reading - Stories, stories, stories. Whether it comes from reading aloud, singing songs or looking at picture books by themselves or listening to a book on CD. Summertime is meant for reading.
Work - I’m talking about chores, which for very young kids is mostly personal responsibility. Putting their clothes away, picking up toys, bussing their dishes after a meal. Young kids often enjoy learning these skills and the sense of independence it brings.
Experiences – These are places I go out of my way to take my kids to so they can discover and experience the larger world. Experiences can be walks by the river, visits to museums, play at the beach, camping trips, or an outing to see owls at the nature center.
Relationships – Equally as important as experiences are relationships. I spend my time helping the kids get to know their neighbors, modeling caring acts, and putting them in the company of a variety of people. It’s far more important for them to see me taking care of an elderly neighbor than to be entertaining them.
Even in the bliss of summer days, kids should know what’s expected each day. Get dressed by a certain hour, have quiet moments, go outside. Here’s some tips to give gentle structure to summer days.
Wake up time – I love to see my kids, but not before quarter to 7. Even young kids can learn when “morning time” starts and you’re ready to be on the job. Try a “morning” light (a simple nightlight on a timer) to give young kids a signal to let them know when it’s OK to barge into your room and start the day.
Getting dressed – I find I go crazy fast if I can’t get out of the house by mid-morning, but my kids love to laze in their pajamas. So I let them laze until 9am. It’s a relaxed schedule compared to the school year, but it gets us ready for…
An Outing – Plan an outing most days. This is not always an elaborate, fun-filled destination. Sometimes it might be the grocery store or a walk around the block. Outings give everybody new experiences and a change of pace. Don’t give kids a choice: just tell them: “We’re going to the park/ post office/ for a walk now. Get your shoes on.” It’s nice to set up weekly outing rhythms. In our family, Wednesday morning is library day in the summer.
Quiet time – For kids too old to nap, set up a Quiet Time when they read or play quiet games on their own. After lunch for an hour is the perfect time. Kids can do this.
Evenings – Long summer evenings tempt us to keep the kids up late, but keep those bedtimes intact. Kids need the sleep, and adults need the adult-only time. It’s hard for kids to sleep in the bright daylight, so rig up their rooms with dark window shades. Summer days are much more fun if kids aren’t grouchy in the morning.
Adult time – Kids take a backseat to adult needs sometimes. For me this happens at least three times a day: early morning (no one can bother me until 7am), nap time (or Quiet Time for my older child), and evening. After bedtime stories are through, it’s adult time for the rest of the evening. Find times when the kids know they can’t intrude.
Of course, if you’re a full-time working parent, summer vacation brings a different headache: what-to-do-with-the-kids-for-summer-daycare? That’s a scramble, and a topic of its own for another post. But even if you’re away from the kids during working hours, some of these summer sanity tips can still help out.
How do you stay sane in the summer? What are your tips for other families?