“Tag! You’re it!” ~ Teachers
It’s finally summertime! Teachers are recovering from this school year before they gear up for the next one. Parents, it’s your turn!
As an educator and a parent, I have the immense joy of flipping my life from one calling to the other. As an educator, I understand the typical loss of knowledge in reading and math over the summer. As a parent, I understand the daily fight over boredom and living life as a family. My husband, also an educator, and I have spent years reading research about child development and best practices. We have used this information to develop a plan to guide our summer.
Our guiding premises, based on research, are:
- Children need consistency, in schedule and expectations. Kids need a routine they can depend on. When do they get up? When do they begin the night time routine? When will they eat? What will they eat? And, what happens when the schedule changes? We treat our boys like the little people they are and communicate freely with them about what the standards are for the day. If we need to change the standards, we let them know ahead of time, explain why, and stick to the new plan. Kids also need to know what the expectations are for their adherence the schedule and rules. What are the requirements? What, if anything, can they choose to do? What things will they be held accountable for? What things will they “get in trouble” for? What does that look like? Decide before the occasion arises. And stick to it. Both parents must be on the same page and not undermine the schedule or expectations.
- Children learn through play. Kids are natural scientists. They want to know why and are fantastic questioners. They develop hypotheses about physics, gravity, light, and food. They test them out. As a teacher and parent, it’s beneficial to channel that natural curiosity into the activities that we know are necessary for their development – reading, writing, and math. Use what they love to teach what you want them to know.
- Children grow when challenged. Noone grows by repeatedly doing the same thing. New tasks and skills are necessary as a kid matures. Raising kids that are life-long learners requires a growth-mindset approach. Failure will occur. How we teach our kids to respond is crucial. They must not fear failure, but see it as a step in the process of growth. They must learn to assess what they have done and try again.
- Children follow your example. This is perhaps the hardest one for parents. Your kids are watching your every move. They see how you deal with chores, how you respond to stress and failure, how you interact with them and others, and where you spend your time. They are watching, processing, and modeling their behavior after you. If you want to influence their actions, begin with yourself as an individual and then as a couple or caregiving team. What they observe in you impacts their choices.
With these premises in mind, my husband and I developed standards for the summer. (Please note that this plan is different from last year’s plan. And this year’s plan will need to be re-evaluated and tweaked for next year’s plan.) Here’s what the Heinemann family is doing this summer:
- Summer Sleep Schedule: You may not leave your room for the day until 7am. Prior to 7am, you may go to the bathroom and then play quietly in your room. Bedtime routine begins at 9pm. Lights-off is at 9:30.
- Daily List: Each family member has a daily list (Summer Daily List Template). For the boys, it is a list of tasks that will help them develop character and learn necessary life skills. It includes personal hygiene, personal and spiritual reflection, academics, creativity, fitness, servanthood, and household chores. (Subsequent posts will expound on these daily tasks.) If the boys want any screen time for the day, they must complete the entire list. If they don’t want screen time, they must only complete the personal hygiene and household chores. They don’t get in trouble for not doing the list, but they are held accountable to the standard. They do get in trouble if they lie about completing the chores or are disrespectful.
For the parents, it is a list of daily tasks for a perfect day. Unlike the boys, we don’t have to complete everything every day, because we are parents and days and tasks vary.
All four charts are framed and hang on the kitchen wall. Dry erase markers allow items to be checked off and the list to be reused each week.
- Family Fun: Children want to spend time with their parents. They want to try new things, play games, go on adventures, tell stories, and be valued. We plan opportunities for family fun multiple times a week. A day trip to the beach, a free children’s play, family movie night, family game night, epic Nerf gun battles, bike rides, long walks with the dog, family art projects, cooking meals together, and more. While these aren’t costly events, they give our children what they want most…time with us!
- Respectful Communication: Our family lives in a two-story house and it’s very tempting to yell commands and answers up and down the stairs. My husband and I have made a commitment to avoid this. We walk up and down the steps to talk to our kids in their rooms; and, they must walk down the stairs to ask us questions. We talk with each other calmly and respectfully. There are rules and expectations, but yelling about them only raises the tension in the home. As parents, we calmly hold them accountable. When one of the kids throw a fit (which still happens), we stop the conversation until they are calm and ask them to try another response. When we yell (which still happens), we step away to recenter. It’s a work in progress. Additionally, we ask our boys how they are doing, what they think of their day, and what they would like to change. It allows them to have a voice and allows us the opportunity to explain our rationale and to reflect on our parenting choices, discussing with each other if a change should be made.
Our summer plan is not for everyone. It’s ours. We customized it for our family, our principles, and our beliefs. Borrow what is useful to you as we borrowed to create ours.