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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.  

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