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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

summer buzz kill momma

Last year I wrote this post about making my kids work over the summer.  Well, I make no apologies once again as I burst bubbles around here making my kids do school work over summer.  

In everything the teachers sent home at the end of school implored parents to work with their kids over the summer so to avoid the "summer slide."  My friend Shannon, who is a first grade teacher, told me that part of the reason to have kids work over the summer is not just to retain information or learn new things but to keep their brain in the habit of learning.  Apparently, like an unused muscle that grows weak,  children (and I would imagine adults) who take long breaks without learning actually "forget" how to learn, making it harder to get back in the swing of things when school starts.   In my experience, the transition back to school is painful enough and we don't need any lazy brains making it harder. 

All the hubbub of the first 2 weeks of summer around here made it very difficult to get in the swing of summer.  I found that when the wedding and Camp Winni were over, the girls would just look at me when they would wake up, bleary-eyed and exhausted and mumble, "Can I watch TV?"  The first few days were a blur of trying to keep them happy, trying to decide how much TV I could, in good conscience allow them, and maintain my new-found zen.  They were unmotivated and cranky and I knew that we all needed a large dose of structure.  

I gotta tell you in case you think I am a total buzz kill:  my kids LOVE structure.

Last year I made them work, but maybe this year, it was time to give them a little more freedom of choice. 

I got up early the next morning (actually I get up early every morning) and made a plan. I started cutting and writing and taping and when the kids woke up they were intrigued to find this:

"What is that?  What do we do?  How does it work?"

Using my best impression of a teacher, I explained my system asking them to hold all questions and comments to the end.  

Here's how it works:  the week begins on Saturday (because that's what day it was when I got the idea).  All their cards, both work cards and TV/screen time cards are on the left side of the dotted line.  When they complete a card, they move it to the right side.   They have until Friday at bedtime to move their cards over to the right.  They are in charge of managing their time to accomplish this.  (I do give them a lot of information about what we are doing each week so they can plan ahead for days we might be gone all day or driving far and they might want to save their TV cards for the ride.)  

If they complete all their work cards by the deadline, we pay them $3.  If they don't, they pay us $3.  

The TV cards can pretty much be used at will and can be banked if they aren't all used during the week.  

Ella's work cards are more extensive than Maya's with longer work increments and additional math cards.  She needs to master multiplication before she begins 4th grade in the fall so she has "flashcard" cards as well.

The idea of this system is to have them work but also to learn to manage their time and to have a little more power and choice in how they spend their time.  It is less of me telling them what to do and more of them just looking at the wall and figuring it out.  

We also came up with some summer goals to work on.  I helped Maya write hers and it is something about not interrupting and making unnecessary noise in the car and at the table.  

Ella wrote this one for herself:

And I wrote this one:

Also, wanting to give the kids more say and ownership over their summer, I asked them what they wanted to make sure we did this summer.  Their list was more simple than I would have expected.  (And, interestingly, Ella reiterated that she wants to play with her sister more.)  I was pleased that "week long camping trip" did not make the list.  Neither did "fly to the moon."  I was disappointed, however, that purge the house, paint the play set and wash the mildew off the siding did not make the list.

Here's the lowdown about this system:  overall it is hugely successful for us.  I am proud of what the girls are doing and especially how much Maya's reading is improving with such rigorous practice.  I am proud of how they are in charge of it.  

However,  I both applaud and kick myself for giving them 6 hours of TV time a week.  I don't know about your kids, but TV makes my kids (especially one of them) incredibly cranky so less is better.  But less is less and I will be honest and say that it is hard on me.  I am so pleased they are not sucked into a TV all summer long but sometimes, on long days on end of being the only adult with them, I just want to turn the TV on and have some well-deserved peace and quiet. 

So the system is hard work for all of us, making it very equitable all around. 

In the end there is something very good about being forced, and having your kids be forced, to problem solve down time without the aid of electronics.   It feels very old school.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Camp Winni 2014

Just 1 day after we got back from our amazing wedding week, it was time to turn right around and head back to the coast for 3 days of fun at Camp Winniaguamauk.   This meant an abrupt bursting of the wedding bubble, a dumping of all the wedding and vacation detritus into the house to be shuffled, stored and/or repacked for several more overnights away, and saying goodbye to my wife as she went to work and we went to play.  

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure I was up for it.   

We all adore Camp Winni.  It is like a safe haven in a crazy world.  Our girls childhood summers are shaped partly by their time there as were Sandi's.  We went last summer with my niece Michaela (when Ella and Michaela were true campers for the first time) and two summers before when the girls were quite a bit younger and went as volunteers with us.  We had to skip the year in between because it conflicted with Sandi's graduate school assigned summer vacation which we spent instead at Schoodic.  It is a marvel to watch how the girls have grown through the years using Camp Winni as the steady benchmark it is.  

The camp is run by Trish (Tia) and many of the camp staff are family members so it is such a safe and adored place for our kids.  They gets hugged and loved by adults everywhere they go (as do all the campers).  This is a small camp for kids Ella's age and there is actually more staff than campers.  It is a place kids are taught about kindness, inclusion, conflict resolution, love, and God.  There is also as much playing as can fit into 3 days. 

Needless to say, although my energy was in a completely different direction and I was dragging my feet a bit, the girls were super psyched to go.  And, as always, it didn't disappoint. 

Maya and Makenna are both too young to be campers so they are "mini campers."  They help out with their moms, participate in whatever camp activities they want, are doted on by all the older girls and generally have free reign to catch butterflies, change their shoes 100 times in an afternoon and come into the kitchen to have a cookie while the campers are still in theme class.  To be honest, it may be difficult for these two to go from mini camper to actual camper status since they kind of have the run of the place right now.  
While the cabins were busy making up their team names and their team flags on the first day, these two decided they needed a name and flag as well.  And thus "Team Butterfly" was born.  They even had a poem.

I was the kayak instructor and the cabin inspector again this year and I take my job of insuring cleanliness (more like teaching about cleanliness) very seriously.  Trish actually gives me a lot of power and I get to assign points and give out awards and such.  When inspected the girls cabin I found this sign made my own daughter.
The boys cabin was kind of a stinky disaster the first day.  But they totally stepped it up the next day after the girls got all the awards.  They cleaned, swept, organized, used air fresher and even decorated.  They also left me this hilarious note:

One of the highlights of camp for the kids is the water slide.

It is incredible to watch my big girl so competent and independent.  She knew where to be, what to do and came to me for very little.  (I told her that she could come to me whenever she needed but I would leave her be otherwise.  It was an odd feeling to be so close by my child and so far from her. I actually missed her a lot at camp.)  She found herself accidentally embroiled in an ongoing frenemy situation with two girls who both wanted to be her friend but not each others'.  I was proud of how she handled it and all she learned from it.

One gorgeous evening we took the kids to the beach.

I think this is the world's smallest green crab.
Check out this jellyfish!

Can you tell these two are related?

Peace sign watermelon.  This confirms what I have always suspected:  the way to peace is through the watermelon.

Can you tell these two are related?!
Camp ended at noon which meant bringing two exhausted girls home on a blistering summer day.  I had mountains of compounded unpacking to do but I knew that might make us all cry.  So instead we rounded up the twins where were leaving in 2 days to spend the rest of the summer with their father in Texas and we hit the pool.
Maya, always the jokester, loves to pretend to "wear" the decorative flip flops on her beach towel.
So much fun packed into 10 days and we were all toast when it was over!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

wedding post 3 of 3

It is hard to write this last post.  When something is this perfect, closing the chapter is difficult.

I have very few words, mostly pictures.

The kids, as usual, came up with a dance routine.  This one was to Pitbull and Ke$ha's "Timber."  The adults had to listen to that song on repeat no less than 70 times.  Kathryn said, "Well, some people have a wedding song. We have Timber."
It was exhausting to stay up until 10 pm playing with cousins.  It was necessary to be forced to nap a couple of times.

Besides getting hitched there was just so much other fun to have.

Have you ever played "Farkle?"  If you haven't, you should totally try it.

So what I haven't told you about this ginormous house we rented is that the decor was a little, how shall we say, out of date.  Let's just say 1982 called and it wants back its silk flowers, floral sheets and mauve countertops, along with its jean jackets and fish net stockings.   There was a McCall's magazine in one of the bathrooms from 1991!

One of the things that we noticed when we looked at the house last fall was that the old-fashioned bed spreads just had to go.  We bought solid colored down comforters for each bed, along with coordinating high thread count pillowcases to give the rooms a more updated feel for our families.  We also surreptitiously moved glaring decorating faux pas that were intolerable and stowed them a communal cabinet to be systematically returned at our departure.

For whatever reason, there was a multitude of stuffed cats everyone.  And one mole-like animal that gave my sister the creeps.  We joked all week about these creatures (as in, how many stuffed cats does one house need?) and then when we were packing up, we decided to have a little fun.

Kathryn had left already and we began staging the animals, photographing them and sending her the pictures.

This one features the adorable bird house Braeden and Michaela so proudly made for us as a wedding present.  We thought they would appreciate having it featured in our shenanigans.
Here is the creepy mole.   We truly could not help ourselves.
Trish took it upon herself to try every single drink on the drink list.  She made up a check-list and had it signed by the official bar tender (Kristi) and both brides.
I haven't stopped being wowed by the shiny bling on my finger.   It has a story all of its own and was chosen with such intention and love that it makes me happy with each and every glance.  Sandi has a beautiful celtic band with bezel set aquamarine stones that is so perfectly her. 

I cannot tell you how painful it was to say goodbye to this place, to this week.  

This will always be the place we got married, right here on this lush knoll before the sea.  It is indelibly marked on my heart as one of the richest and deepest experiences of my life. 

And now our gorgeous, hand-made bench has a spot of its own in our backyard.
There is much left to say except thank you.  Have I said that?

Thank you.

The outpouring of blessings for Sandi and I and our family has been enormous.  We feel each with such depth and cannot fully express how much we cherish and appreciate them.  Blessing and love right back to each of you.

And while this is post 3 of 3, I will share some more of Mark's AMAZING pictures in a while.  But for now, I shall give you all a break.