My Lost Podcast :) We recorded this one two weeks ago, only to have the microphones go fussy midway. We haven't had a chance to rerecord since :). And summertime is quickly slipping through our fingers. So, here are the notes :)
I hope to get a fresh recorded episode for you next week. Enjoy!
Summertime. Summertime means that most kids are out of school. The days are long, probably hot. Everyone wants to be outside, or go to rivers or lakes. The juggling act for many of with disabilities becomes a wilder challenge.
I follow a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter who are looking for ways to entertain kids, with or without disabilities. And it’s not just parents. You may be a grandparent, or aunt or uncle, or family friend, and you may find yourself helping out by watching kids for a day or afternoon.
Watching kids is exhausting. Physically, mentally, emotionally exhausting. Staples or Office Depot had a commercial a few years ago singing, the most wonderful time of the year, for when school started again in August. August feels a long way away here in the last week of June.
As you know, my husband is out of work. Past years, we like to travel, visit friends and family. We go on day trips. Play in the pool. Mix up the time home and away to keep ourselves entertained. We’ve found summer camps and kept Ian’s daycare going a couple of days a week through the summer. But this year, we have to try and make more out of less. The budget is tight. And we’re not alone in this challenge. So I got to thinking, I’m a thirteen year teacher. I can handle my two kids for two months.
That lasted about two days. I realized I need a plan. We started Backyard Summer Camp. I bring my teaching sense to our home-life. We have a very loose schedule around here. I like that. It works for weekends, but not for days and days in a row. The big question becomes, “What are we going to do today?”
“And then what?”
So I start with a flexible schedule. Relaxed morning. Breakfast. Activity. Active-Play. Lunch. Siesta (my favorite), Activity, Active-Play . . . etc. Then I look for a few activities each day to put in the open times. Kids do very well with a schedule similar to breathing- a focused activity followed by wild activity, returning to focus, then wild. A kid’s attention span can usually be counted on for their age plus 5 minutes. So for my 8 year old, that’s 13 minutes, and the 2 year old, 7 minutes. Which doesn’t mean they won’t draw or focus for longer. It just means that they may get restless. That means, in theory, that my 2 year old could engage in about 10 activities in an hour. Phew! And sometimes he does
Now, before we dive into all of this planning and organizing which just sounds exhausting in itself, I want to share two types of parenting. I made these up so there is no scientific basis for my observation- just my own ideas. I’m sure someone’s written a book- the premise is fairly simple. I can be an active or a passive parent. Passive parenting gets a lot of press these days- mostly because parents of all skills and abilities are busy/overwhelmed/distracted, or not paying attention. Passive parenting relies on television, video games, computers and other big-interest activities that will engage kids for hours (seriously! Even my two year old!). Passive parenting is necessary sometimes. And it becomes more necessary for those of us with pain or fatigue or other limitations. But we all know that we don’t want screens raising our children. So many of us step up into the role of active parent. And this takes work. Active parenting means engaging kids. Turning off the screens. Interacting. Being present, listening. Doing the big work.
One of the blogs that I love, Nate’s blog at adarkandstormyblog.blogspot.com, is following his Dad adventures through the summer. And he wrote a couple of weeks ago that we shouldn’t expect much in the way of fiction writing or otherwise over the summer because he’s busy being Dad. And that’s a cool thing. We tend to forget, in these busy times, how important it is to be involved with our kids. I’ve made similar choices, ignoring my fiction-writing, etc. because it just takes too much energy to do it all.
But we can make it a little easier. The schedule helps. We’re practicing an ebb and flow to the day, including a quiet time (Siesta) where we all get books or draw quietly for half of an hour. My 2 year old is still learning this routine (I do let him use the iTouch after his 7 minutes of focus-time are spent). But it’s good to learn how to be calm
And, when we have a plan, as the adult, it’s easier to build short-cuts into the day. This is super-important for me as a parent with a disability. Yesterday we baked cookies. But we didn’t bake them from scratch, even though I can mix a yummy cookie dough. No, we had premade dough so I didn’t have to set up and clean up and spend a lot of energy in that part of the activity
We’re also going to start themes each week to help me pick activities. Things they are interested in, like gardens, or sharks, or dragons, because then I can make the activities more interesting. We’re not just painting, we’re painting sharks.
That said, I also think it’s so important to have unstructured time in the day. This generation of kids is growing up with an expectation that they should be entertained all day long. They use “I’m bored” as a way to criticize the event or the activity. Many children are used to having so many classes, camps, or otherwise, that they have no idea what to do with empty time. Many of the nostalgic summer-stories involve lots of time away from adults. We don’t really let kids out of our sight these days, and I’m not advocating that we do that, but I think it’s fine to make yourself unavailable to kids and let them fuss about being bored for awhile. Play and self-entertainment is a skill and if they are never given time to practice, how will they learn to plan and coordinate their own fun games and activities?
In classrooms, I see a frenzied energy after I let them go to Creative Choice (free time). I say the rules for inside-play are being calm, kind, and creative. If they want to run and be wild, go outside. Easier in the summer-time outside a school setting. For the first 5-10 minutes, the kids need lots of reminders and guidance. Then, something shifts. The energy changes. And the real fun begins. They start building, or creating story-games, or drawing.
At home, this could look like the “I’m bored,” “What now?” whining. And if you keep gently reminding that they have the power to end their own boredom, they will eventually figure something out. And hopefully it will get easier as the summer goes on. Now, it’s important not to have the screen-activities for unstructured play, because the screens turns into the entertainer. Children do not really have to plan and implement an idea when the computer keeps offering ideas.
One of my daughter’s favorite times for unstructured play is when I give her craft stuff- felt and beads and thread. She can engage for a long time making little treasures.
Another thing that I think gets hard for those of us with disabilities, I know it gets to me . . . but I also know it’s a widespread issue among families these days, is the sense of guilt. A sense that we, as parents, are not doing enough to raise incredible kids. That we need to do more. And when I lie on the couch with a book instead of helping my daughter research dragonflies, I feel guilty. Even baking cookies from a pre-made batter gave me a twinge of guilt. I should have more energy, be more for them. Since my surgery, I cannot carry Ian hardly at all, which is hard for a 2 year old, especially when we see other kids his age in their parent’s arms.
It’s not always easy. But every family, every parent can feel like they’re not up to the challenge. Like they’re not doing enough, or not doing things right, or failing their kids in a hundred different ways. And it’s so sad. Because the real measure of parenting success cannot be captured in a book or boiled down to a concise checklist. What works for one family is a disaster for another family.
So we just keep checking in with ourselves, our health, our energy levels, and try to take care of ourselves while we take care of others at the same time. Modeling that is good for kids to see. That we all need to slow down. We all have limits on our time, our obligations.
All we can do is listen to our kids and celebrate the gifts unique to our family. My daughter loves that we get fancy parking spots. She loves that at amusement parks I get a pass to skip lines. She loves our alternative activities. Since I can’t hike very far, we sit at the beach. We go on train rides into the woods, or take ferry rides (when we can afford them). She doesn’t see it as a less-than story. For her, this is family. This is normal. And it will all be okay.
I’m keeping track of our summer activities over at Lenkaland.com, including plans for our activities and sample schedules and all of that good stuff, so come on over and share your ideas. We’ll make it a summer to remember, one way or another. :)