What are your summer plans? Summer is when moms often need more solidarity and brainstorming power. How do we keep our children busy in productive ways without breaking the bank or adding a crushing burden to our already full lives? How do we love our children well when time is plenty but fleeting? And how do we leave our best laid plans in God’s care when they don’t turn out as we hoped?
It’s possible to schedule so much that our children don’t have time for unstructured play, something I believe is of vital importance for children’s development. Especially for younger children, a day at the playground or a park is never wasted time. A child’s busy moments may appear insignificant, but don’t underestimate the value of those lazy days of playing in mud, catching bugs, and climbing on the monkey bars.
On the other hand, I have observed that children benefit from a parent’s help in finding things to do during that unstructured time. While we could micromanage their lives, it is far better to teach them how to keep themselves busy and profitable. So I’m not envisioning a summer full of camps and outings and field trips. Instead, I’d like to help my children make a plan that helps them shape their magical block of time into something refreshing and perhaps memorable.
You may laugh at my non-linear approach to making plans. If you’re a planner, understand that I’m brainstorming here; have mercy! I’m not a micromanager; I am more likely to plan things in a week rather than a specific day and time. I also like lots of margin for my time. My children also like margin, but they respond well when I nudge them into new places and skills. I pray for opportunities to keep my children’s brains occupied productively. With these thoughts in mind, I’ll share the process of ordering our summer.
The most important part to me is when I ask my children what their priorities are for using their summer. This conversation typically happens over a period of time. Every so often they have a bunch of ideas immediately, but most of the time they give me a blank stare when I ask them what they want to learn or do for the summer. My intention is to get them in the habit of making goals and plans, even if it takes effort on my part to help them create a written list. When they’re bored, they can go to the list instead of to me. I also want them to ultimately assume responsibility for finding productive things to do. That’s a kid job, not a parent job. I’m a resource, not a full-service concierge. For the next few weeks, we’ll keep adding to this list as we think of things.
Now that they are older anyway, I give THEM the fun lists on pinterest and have them choose and plan something each day or week! Throughout the year, I’m on the lookout from library sales or thrift stores crafty type books. When they were younger, I’d do more of the work for them, but even young children can choose between two activities, or help mom come up with a good list. My children are going to prefer to play computer games if I give them the option. But if I tell them the computers are done for the day, and tell them they can get some ideas from the books on the dining room table, then they’ve proved quite resourceful at finding their own fun.
Although kids can watch youtube videos for just about any skill, sometimes you want them off the computers, even for profitable pursuits. Here are some how-to books we’ve appreciated:
- Book of Whittling. Have your olders learn how to sharpen their knives (youtube to the rescue) because all that whittling will dull their knives, if they aren’t already. Trying to make things with dull knives will dampen their enthusiasm. Trust me.
- Super Book of Popups This book had relatively easy to follow instructions, and the popups are really fun. You’ll need cardstock.
- Sea Glass Crafts
- felting birds
- Origami (Here are two our children enjoyed, one super easy and one when they were older.)
I’m reminding myself that it may be worthwhile to plan ahead to obtain supplies as needed. That’s something I need to do if my plan for summer is to succeed. They’re old enough to send me links. (within reason! Some of their ideas are a little excessive at times!)
I also take a look for things that might be fun to do with friends. Summer is a good time to connect with church friends and neighbors who have different school schedules. Team up and do something weekly– park days or book clubs, science clubs, art clubs. Perhaps you can host something at your house, and you can invite neighbors to join you. I’m planning a picture book club for a few church friends, and I’ve already started checking in with my neighbors to see if any of them would like to join us. Talk with your neighbors and ask them what THEY are doing for their summers.
Besides planning for friend time (particularly with friends who attend traditional school and who don’t have the luxury of choosing their days off) I plan summer school– a few larger projects or skills that the children want to learn or accomplish over the summer. My goal is for these projects to take an hour or two each day at a minimum, with flexibility for more or less time depending on whatever else is happening. Past projects have been: learn calligraphy, improve one’s chess rating, make a knife, learn to type, sew a dress. I often make suggestions. I usually include practicing typing for a few minutes each day. When the kids were younger, I made them drill math facts each day. If the children are wanting to learn something that’s not in my skill set, then I look for or pray for someone who can teach it! Last summer one of the grandmothers in our church sewed with our girls. It was a great experience for them, and wouldn’t have happened if I had been the one trying to teach them to sew! God has answered my prayers for ideas and help. I’m sometimes sheepish when I ask God for help keeping my children busy, but since it’s a concern of mine, I figure he cares about my cares, too.
I like to make a booklist for my children, or have some kind of plan for their summer reading. As my children have grown older, the library reading programs in the summer have become less exciting. Some years I have made our own reading program. The basic idea was that you set your own reward structure. One year I gave them I think .50 for short books and 1.00 for challenging books. (not sure if I capped the money but you might have to for some children!) Other children may like the competition among other children, regardless of the incentives. In any case, do a google search for good summer reading programs in your community! This article from last year may give you some ideas to start. Do a google search for “reading bingo pdf” or make your own with your children’s input! I like the idea of asking them to read a set amount each day, but having other incentives is also helpful for us, since not all of my children love to read.
I like when my children are able to choose their own books, but they (like many of us) do well to choose from some recommendations. How to find a good summer reading list? Here’s one from a Christian school in Virginia. I like the graded book lists at sonlight.com, a curriculum company for homeschoolers. Although you can purchase these books through the sonlight webpage, they are just normal books you can buy anywhere. I especially appreciate how Sonlight seems to balance not only the reading level but also the thematic material as well. Shorter books that might be easy to read may be on a higher grade list because the themes fit the older ages better. Have you been discouraged by the young adult fiction section at your library? If you’ve got a child who has exhausted all the good books, start expanding their exposure to other genres besides fiction: history, poetry, how-to books, and so on. Get them started writing their own fiction. I often encourage children who gobble books to slow down or even stop reading so much!
For our family, summer is also a good time to try new recipes and foods. Again– I put this on the kids. Sometimes I give them recipes, but more often I have them look for menus, make a grocery list, and then (depending on their age), let them have the floor. Mine are at the age where they are pretty independent in the kitchen, but still need some help when everything starts to come together, getting the whole meal ready at the same time. If I don’t put them on the meal schedule, they’re not going to volunteer, but they all feel satisfied when they’ve made something fabulous.
Keeping my children busy and happy is a monumental goal. We may not do everything we planned, but I’m happy if in making plans I accomplish more than I would have without them. And, I have some goals for myself also! I’m going to do my elementary book club. I’m also going to set aside one day a week for exploring and finding some hikes. I bought some Indian spices and want to make some things from a south Indian cookbook I bought a little while ago.
Is planning activities a spiritual activity? Can be. Giving our children the resources they need to plan and set goals is one way we love them well. More than anything, keeping my children’s minds and bodies busy is a matter of prayer for me. I don’t know what experiences or skills they will need in the future, but God does. I can work hard on behalf of my children, but rest in the knowledge that God loves them more than I do. I don’t always know the resources available, but I’ve seen God supply when I’ve asked him for help and then gone looking!
Cast your burden on the Lord,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. Philippians 4:19-20
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