Aaaaaaaaaand just like that it’s been months since I’ve written. Does time seem like it’s flying for anyone else or is that just me?
Here’s the deal. Summer happened. And having an extra kid around means the tiny little window of time I was stealing to write in disappeared. Not to mention we have cut screen time WAAAAAAY down around here (watch for a post on that coming soon). So cutting screen time for little people naturally led to cutting it for me as well. Which leaves a tiny window of time in the evening for me to get caught up on all the household things that didn’t get done during the day, clean up the tornado path the kids created, shower, exercise, speak to my husband, relax, and read something before passing out. Ha.
Did I mention the baby still isn’t sleeping through the night? Yeah, more on that in a forthcoming post as well.
So what have we missed in the last several weeks? The oldest started piano lessons, performed in her first dance recital, “graduated” from first grade, took a round of swimming lessons, turned 7, and broke her arm. Good times.
The middle has cried through two gymnastics classes so far and has learned how to hit. And by hit I mean people. We are working on that. Her vocabulary is still developing but there are also still days where I wonder if we will ever communicate effectively. Ah the roller coaster of toddlerhood.
The youngest is finally eating baby food. And cheerios. She has four teeth and will do “sooooo big” with her arms when prompted. And occasionally patty cake. She likes to shake her head no, crawl all over the place, and pull her self up on the sharpest edge she can find.
The whole family traveled to Wisconsin for a week, which was mostly successful considering traveling with little people can be horrifying, and it was actually even somewhat relaxing.
I’m sure there are things I’m missing, but the baby is climbing all over me trying to push buttons and the toddler is trying to smother her with a blanket in the name of peekaboo so my brain isn’t working.
Which probably doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the next part of this post where I promise I’m going to try to write more. But the truth is the posts are adding up in my head and I need to get them out to make space for sanity, because we all know the space for that is limited anyway.
So hopefully we will be seeing more of each other. Hope you all are having a great summer!
It’s officially the last full week of Summer. Next week, school starts.
It’s no secret that I’m enjoying the lazy Summer days at home with my little people. So I’m dragging my feet about restarting routines and schedules and all other forms of “busy-ness”.
Yet this is the time when we should start adjusting bedtimes and wakeup times so that we can function on the school week schedule again. And it’s not just the schedule. It has come to my attention that there’s probably more I should be doing to help her prepare for this transition. For example, it might be time to teach her to sit at a table to eat food again. Actually, just sitting still for more than two minutes at a time might be a good goal. And I suppose a little (or a lot) of screen time detox probably wouldn’t hurt.
Honestly, we did try to keep up with our academic endeavors over the summer. We read each night before bed. We practiced sight words sometimes and handwriting sometimes. We played school with weekly spelling words (that we remembered to work on a few times a month).
But it’s obvious this week that Summer has taken its toll. When I ask her to read me a book, we get a page in before the “I’m tired of reading” starts. When we work on counting coins, before five minutes has passed she is giving me an apathetic stare like I’m torturing her.
So it seems like a no-brainer to me that we should spend the coming week in “transition bootcamp”. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to shape our days to more closely resemble a school day schedule in hopes that the transition to the school year will be as smooth as possible.
On the other hand, though, it’s our last week of Summer. (Please read italicized text in pouting voice with foot stomping.) Shouldn’t we soak up the last little bit of sleeping in, eating snacks on the couch, watching too much tv, and playing whatever we want whenever we want to? Why waste any part of this precious time “preparing” for what will be here soon enough as it is?
So after reviewing the pros and cons of each argument, I’ve determined there is only one course of action to take.
We will be doing both.
Because seriously. How could we choose? One approach helps make a tough transition more manageable. Why wouldn’t I do that for her if I could? And the other approach is about savoring something beautiful, living in the moment, and making the best of the time we have. Isn’t that equally as important?
Really, it’s the age old balance of trying to live for the day and also prepare for the future. Is it possible? I freakin’ hope so. Because we’re sure as hell going to try.
We will wake up in the morning at a near school schedule-ish time. And then we will savor the slow mornings with heart-shaped pancakes with sprinkles. We’ll cut back our screen time. And we will replace it with mud kitchen adventures outside and swimming and field trips. We’ll sit down and practice our reading stamina and our math skills. And then we will reward ourselves for our hard work with dance parties and family board games. We’ll eat lunch at the table using our best manners to practicing sitting still and cleaning up our own plate. And then we will have pizza and movie nights on the couch in the evening.
Because finding this balance isn’t just about the last week of Summer. It’s about how we approach every day. It’s about finding a balance in how we parent our little people. And how that balance will help them to find balance in their own lives.
And honestly, it’s about finding balance in our own lives as parents. I’m constantly trying to find the sweet spot between enjoying this moment and thinking about what I should be doing to prepare my children (and myself) for the future. I need to correct her manners so that she learns, but I also need to find time to appreciate her silliness and laugh along with her. I need to help her learn responsibility, but I also need to let her savor this time of still being a carefree child.
And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? I can’t choose between preparing and savoring because she needs both.
I woke up this morning and they had arrived: the Panic Days of Summer.
I knew it was them because I walked past the whiteboard calendar on the side of the fridge like I do every morning, but this morning was different. This morning, on some almost subconscious level, it hit me just how few days were left until the start of a new school year.
And I did the most natural thing possible: I panicked.
It wasn’t a full blown panic. More like a pilot light relit itself somewhere in my core and the anxiety furnace starting spewing ideas. I’m going to miss her! Just think how much less time I’ll have with her every day! We haven’t even done half the stuff I wanted to do this summer! (This is false: we have done zoo, vacation, camps, water park, playdates, children’s museums, etc. this summer. But panic is not a logical emotion so don’t try to reason with it.) What if someone is mean to her? What if she misses me while she is gone? What if she falls off the playground equipment and gets hurt and I’m not there?
Several instincts began to clash in my brain.
First, the instinct to hoard my child. To hold her close and give her as much adoration and attention and carefree childhood as I can in such a short time.
Second, the instinct to do ALL THE THINGS. To follow her every whim and give her free reign of choice of activities before she goes back to having no control over her daily schedule.
Third, the instinct to drink too much diet coke and coffee and lay on my face until the instinct to do things passes. (Actually, I think this one might be more of a pregnancy-induced feeling than a panic-induced feeling.)
Perhaps it’s just a normal resistance to change or fear of the unknowns that a new school and new class and new teacher will bring.
Perhaps it’s due to the impending arrival of #3 and knowing that “quality time” with each child will change in nature (because I will still only be one human).
Perhaps it’s simply the ever-present awareness of how fleeting this days are. I blinked and she was done with Kindergarten. I blinked again and the summer was gone. I will keep blinking and time will keep passing and it’s a beautiful thing, I know.
But these sweet summer days where she still wants to play with me and snuggle with me, but she is old enough to get her own snack sometimes or help me out with household tasks or the toddler…these days are a beautiful thing, too.
And once they’re gone, I can’t get them back.
So really, there’s only one thing to do: try to cram as much summer into the last three weeks of summer as humanly possible.
SO THAT’S WHAT WE WILL DO. (I’M YELLING BECAUSE PANIC AND ALSO ENTHUSIASM FOR THE CHALLENGE AHEAD.)
I’m signing off now because we are heading to the children’s museum. And also the library. And then to buy school supplies. And then out to eat for a mommy daughter date before swimming lessons. (See? I’m totally not joking. The panic is real.)
We are to the point in the summer where today and the first day of school fit on the same calendar.
I don’t like it.
This summer hasn’t been the easiest one ever. Trying to juggle swimming lessons and camps and a very active six year old with a toddler nap schedule while pregnant in the heat is kind of a recipe for “muddling through” rather than “savoring the moments”.
But the truth is, even though it hasn’t been easy it’s been pretty great. And we have gotten used to having each other around. The toddler wakes up every morning asking, “Sis? Sis?” until sister finally makes her appearance. I’m not the only one who will miss her when school starts.
And it’s not just a matter of missing her. I can’t help but be a little nervous. There are some great things about school but there are also things I’m not convinced about. The focus on testing. The limitation on recess. Kids are resilient but school in this day and age isn’t exactly a place designed for wildly curious and energetic children like mine to thrive.
I don’t want her to think that if she doesn’t succeed at standardized testing then she has failed. I don’t want her to think that because it is hard for her to sit still that life will be hard for her. I don’t want her to think that a report card is a measure of who she is as a person.
I don’t want to see her spirit crushed.
It’s a hard adjustment to go from the free spiritedness of summer to the structure of the classroom. Summer feels like childhood and school feels like growing up. As a mama I can’t help but feel the bittersweetness of it all. I can’t help but feel a tiny loss when another carefree summer draws to an end.
So I’m nervous. I know it will all turn out ok and that she will learn so much and have a blast with her friends. I know she will be amazing and I can’t wait to see her grow a little more this year.
But for just a moment today, when I pass by the refrigerator, I will flip off the calendar. For reminding me that these precious, lazy, sun-filled days won’t last forever.
Preschool graduation was this morning. We are now officially on summer break. So we made our summer bucket list.
I love asking her questions and really listening to the answers she comes up with. It’s like a secret window into her incredible little mind.
The secret to asking open-ended questions is to really listen to the answers. To ask with a curious heart and receive with an open heart what comes back to you. I’m starting to think that applying the same thing to parenting is as good for the parent as it is for the child.
Ahhh summer. Long hot days filled with kid-energy just waiting to be harnessed. If you’re like me and have younger kiddos, the transition from school time to kids-home-all-the-time can be an adjustment. I start off the summer with big plans for fun activities to fill the time. But life happens and some days we still end up with me sprawled on the floor across a pile of laundry while she plays with the iPad.
I too often fall into the common idea trap that tells me I have to fill her time, I have to entertain her and be actively involved all the time, not wasting a minute of precious time with her in order to be a “good” parent. And every time I fall down that rabbit hole, I’m brutally reminded that that isn’t a reasonable expectation, for parents or for children. It’s not my job to entertain her all the time, to be her constant playmate. It’s my job to to teach her how to entertain herself, to learn how to play on her own when no immediate play buddy is available. It’s not my job to help her avoid discomfort, it’s my job to help her learn resilience in the face of discomfort, or perhaps even to use that discomfort to fuel creativity.
My dear sweet firstborn will turn five this June. Each year she grows older she gets a little more space and trust to go do her own thing in the great wild backyard. I have countless memories of playing in my own backyard growing up and all the ways we would explore and make believe. As her parent, I want to give her the safe space in which she too can explore and play the long summer days away. This allows her space to listen to her own ideas, follow her own impulses, create her own world. Pure, authentic, open-ended play.
Kids are natural explorers. Given the space they will inevitably find something to do to entertain themselves. It may be a safe and creative way and it may not be. 🙂 While it can certainly be good for them to explore those natural consequences (like how it hurts to jump off the deck stairs), I’ve found that a few little well-placed props can help guide them in the right direction.
Here are some ways to guide “productive” open-ended play this summer:
1. Clean out your old utensil drawer and put together a small bucket of pots/pans/pie pans/utensils. I got a bucket full for less than ten dollars at Goodwill. On sunny afternoons, I dump the contents out of the bucket and fill the bucket with water. This can literally entertain her for hours. She can play with the water or add mud. She can incorporate other toys for making “food” or can scoop water out to water the plants. The possibilities are endless.
2. Wood blocks. Paint. Markers. The local hardware store often has a wood scraps bin. With a small pile of wooden blocks, she can build chairs and fire pits, she can color on the blocks to turn them into books, a television, anything. Between decorating them and playing with them, the possibilities are endless!
3. A tent/fort. If you have a tent, set it up in the back yard and turn them loose to play camping adventure. If you don’t have a tent, why not do the old chairs-and-sheet trick outside? Any “shelter” can become a starting point for adventure.
4. Rock painting. Enough said.
5. A bucket of water and paint brushes. They can paint on the sidewalk, the swing set, rocks, anything. Then it dries. No cleanup!
Inside (or outside for less mess 🙂 )
1. Make a bucket list. Ask what they want on it. Don’t veto anything, just let their imagination run wild. This can help get their creative juices flowing. 🙂
2. A flashlight. Then send them to the dark basement or the dark bathroom or into a dark blanket fort.
3. Paint. I know this can be messy, but it is also a great way for kids to jump into creating. Keep it exciting by changing things up. Hit up a Hobby Lobby and buy a canvas bag or a tshirt and fabric paints for them to paint on. Have them add salt or sugar to a painting for texture. Have them paint pictures on old newspaper. Use straws to blow the paint. Paint with forks. Paint on paper plates. Ask them if they have any ideas! My four year old asked if she could use ice cubes in her paint the other day. I was skeptical, but it turned out amazing! I am framing it and hanging it in her room as a reminder to follow our ideas.
4. Hit up the dollar store or the craft store. At our local dollar store we found pipe cleaners, picture frames to decorate, glow sticks, shoe laces, etc. My four year old played with pipe cleaners, making people, trees, etc. for HOURS. I never expected them to be so popular.
5. Keep boxes and let them create with cardboard.
6. Give them a roll of tin foil and let them create! (I take it out of the box so the sharp edge isn’t a problem.) They can make bowls, car tracks, rivers, statues, etc.
7. Give them bowls with food/spices and a cup of water and let them mix and stir. We do flower and sugar and salt and pepper and occasionally some other spices like cinnamon. Then I give her bowls and spoons and water. You can even go crazy and give a bag of frozen peas or vegetables to add to the “soup”.
8. I buy old books at goodwill and let them paint and glue all over them. This is a fun art project even as an adult!
9. You know those strips of paint color samples at hardware stores? I collect handfuls of them every time I walk past. My four year old cut apart the colors and turned it into an alphabet game. With older children, we’ve take the paint color names and turned them into “paint chip poetry”. Best of all: they’re free!
10. Just let them draw! Some of my favorite creations from my kiddos came from a simple notebook and pen.
These ideas are really just a starting point. The purpose of open-ended play is to turn your child loose to discover and create. Ask them what ideas they have and then listen. Let their imagination drive the activities.
Reminders for Parents
A few things that are important for parents to remember when trying open-ended play with your kids:
1. Kids get used to the way things are. So when you change up the way “play” works, they might be a little confused at first as they learn the new “rules of the game”. It’s ok to explain to them why that they are going to practice playing on their own.
2. It can be really hard not to want to “edit” kids’ wild imaginations. But do you best not to stop anything unless it’s dangerous. Kids will figure out the natural limits on play, and it will be a more potent lesson because they learned it on their own.
3. Remember that the purpose of open-ended play is for them to discover what it is they want to try, not what you want them to try. There is no “right” way to pain or create or play. Acknowledge every effort as an act of bravery on their part, but make sure you praise the effort and not the outcome. This will encourage them to keep trying, rather than simply trying to please.