It’s summer: who needs routines?

Daily  routines help reduce stress for parents and help children feel safe when they can  anticipate and predict what will happen next. The school year provides a predictable routine for many families. But what happens when school ends for the summer?

At our house we’ve been counting down the days to summer for weeks, looking forward to no more alarm clocks, no more rushed breakfasts or scrambling to make a lunch. We are looking having nowhere to be first thing in the morning.

Are you breathing a sigh of relief or anxiously eyeing the calendar wondering how to fill the weeks ahead? It’s a big change for us all.

Kids feel the change, too. For many, losing the routine that the school year provides can be unsettling. 

Maintaining a routine benefits everyone in the family. The Australian Parenting Website offers this, “Daily routines help family life run more smoothly. They also help families enjoy more time together. Routines help children feel safe, develop life skills and build healthy habits. Routines help parents feel organised, reduce stress, and find time for enjoyable activities.”

This is true even in the summer, when the school day routine is replaced with more family time, more travel, and opportunities for new experiences and activities.

What makes a good routine? 

Australianparenting.net.au says, “A good routine is one that suits your family. It also has three key features:

It is well planned. In a good routine, everyone understands their roles, knows what they need to do and sees their roles as reasonable and fair. For example, your children know that they take turns with washing up and drying up each night after dinner. As children get older, they can have a say in planning routines.

It is a regular part of daily life. Good routines become part of everyday family life. For example, you might all look forward to Sunday night barbecues with your children’s grandparents.

It’s predictable. In a good routine, things happen in the same order each time. Everyone knows what to expect for the day. For example, you always wash school uniforms on the weekend, so you know they’ll be ready for Monday morning.

Your summer routine doesn’t have to look exactly like the school year routine did. But having a consistent, predictable rhythm to each day helps everyone feel safe and secure and reduces stress for all.

A regular sequence of events to start the day that includes dressing, eating breakfast, and connecting with each other, can seque into a flexible free time that allows for a variety of activities for the morning or the whole day. 

Regrouping in the afternoon, with a routine for lunch, quiet time, and individual interests let’s everyone know that after new experiences or activities there will be some individual down time.

The extended sunshine of summer can make bedtime a challenge for young children. Despite busy days and being physically tired, with the sun still in the sky, they may have a hard time recognizing betime as it approaches. Ending the day with a regular routine for transitioning to bedtime can help young bodies know it’s time for sleep.

Summer is an opportunity to loosen up, but even in the carefree days of summer a predictable family routine can help make everyone’s day a little bit easier.

Helping Kids Through Hard Things

 

Watching the news from Uvalde, Texas last week was hard. Incomprehensible events can be difficult to process for adults – and talking about them with kids is not easy. Here are a few tips from the experts for helping kids handle difficult news.

Age appropriate support and responses

0-7 Your kids will look to you to see how you are reacting. Staying calm and rational helps them do the same. Turn off the TV and keep your young children away from the news. This includes avoiding adult conversation about the event while children are in the room.

Even very young children, who appear to be busy doing something else, can often be more aware of what they are hearing in the background than you realize. 

Says one young mother, “He was two and I thought he wasn’t paying attention as I listened to NPR in the room with him. Suddenly he says, “They said puzzle. I have a puzzle.” It was at that moment she realized that even though he was just two, he was hearing and being affected by the news in the background.

Keeping children away from media broadcasts is valuable in two ways. 

It gives parents time to fully understand what has happened, process their own emotions about it, and make decisions about how to answer questions their children will have. 

It also protects them from breaking news, which can contain incomplete or inaccurate information. 

When you have all the facts and have had time to think through your own response, you are better prepared to help their children cope.

Children want to know they are safe and cared for. When talking with them about difficult news stories, encourage them to talk about their fears. Reassure them that you are taking care of them and will keep them safe.

7-12 Older children continue to need reassurance that they are cared for and protected. Consider their maturity level when deciding how to talk about frightening news. Many children of this age can handle hard topics, but if your child is sensitive, consider following the advice for younger children – turn off the news and provide reassurance that they are safe with you.

Common Sense Media offers the following advice for this age group, “Talk about — and filter — news coverage. You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals.”

12 and up Teenagers will likely be exposed to the news in much the same way you hare – through their social networks or news stories that come across the media they are consuming. 

Since they will likely have heard about it independently, check in with them – invite them to express themselves and share their reaction to the news. Listen actively and address their concerns without minimizing or dismissing them. Take the opportunity to provide your take on things.

Teens may be eager to take action. Research ways you can do this together. Write letters to elected officials, attend peaceful rallys or protests, or make donations to support causes you believe in. Taking action can help reduce a child’s anxiety. 

Take care of yourself

As you work through your own emotions about the event, remember to take care of yourself as well. Take regular breaks from your exposure to media coverage to avoid becoming overwhelmed. 

Allow yourself time to do things you enjoy and reduce anxiety by keeping up with your normal routine, which will help you process both the emotional and physical effects of traumatic news events.

Traumatic events, even those far from home, affect us all. Give yourself and your children time and space to process the emotions that come up. A little extra togetherness, doing something you both love, could be just the thing. 

 

Gardening with Kids

The weather is finally (!) starting to warm up, which means it’s finally time to start your summer garden here in the Pacific Northwest. While cool weather vegetables, like snap peas, lettuce, kale, and chard can be started as early as mid-March, now we can start  warm weather vegetables like peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and squash.

The peas that we planted in early April have been languishing through all this cold wet weather, but they are still hanging on. Last week we spread some lettuce seeds, and they’ve sprouted this week. It’s made me excited about the summer garden.

Gardening is a delightful activity to share with kids, young and old alike. There are so many benefits to having a family backyard garden. It gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine and is an activity that can include all ages.

Here are a few tips to make it fun for everyone.

Begin with soil prep

Helping prepare the soil for planting means dirt and shovels and digging! What fun! If you work in raised beds, little ones will have an easier time knowing where their feet can go (outside the garden bed) and where their shovels go (inside!). It’s better not to walk  on the prepared soil, as that makes it harder for seeds to sprout. Seeds like the soil slightly tamped down, but not compacted. If you’re working in a garden with rows and paths, using straw to mark the paths for walking can be helpful for kids.

Start with quick to germinate crops

Choose seeds that are quick to sprout to maintain interest in the process. Green beans are one of the quickest to sprout and easy to care for. If you choose a bush variety there is no need to build a lattice to support vines.  But if a trellis is needed, you can easily make one with garden stakes and some twine. Tie the top ends of four stakes together using twine. Position the bottom ends about three feet apart, pushing them down into the prepared soil, then wrap the twine in a spiral on the outside of the stakes to form a trellis for the growing plants. Plant the seeds between the stakes, so plants grow up the twine to the top.

Create a garden log

Invite older kids to keep track of the garden’s progress with a daily log. They can record what was planted and when. You can also track daily temperatures, rainfall, and sunshine. Note when each crop sprouts. They can even measure growth rates and record flowering and harvest dates, for a full picture of how long it takes for a vegetable to go from seed to the table. Next year, your garden log will help you know when to start seeds and when to expect produce as the garden grows.

Don’t forget the flowers

I have one kiddo who loves to plant flower seeds and watch them grow and bloom. Marigolds are great at helping keep pests away from vegetable plants, so we often have marigolds at the end of each row, or around the edges of a raised bed.

Kids who participate in growing vegetables in a garden are often more willing to try new foods and eat what they have grown. 

Fresh vegetables, better eaters, and better nutrition – all brought to you by your backyard garden.

Board Games That Secretly Educate

April sure was a wet one! If you were anything like me, you were looking for ideas for yet another day indoors. We played a LOT of board games in April. 

That got me thinking about the games we played when these teens were younger. Not only is playing games fun but there is also a lot of great learning involved when you gather together for family game time.

Here are a few of my favorites, which are fun for parents, fun for kids, and a sneaky way to build on language, numeracy, geography skills, and more.

Bingo

Bingo is a great option for everyone. As soon as your preschooler is recognizing numbers and letters they can manage their own board. At our house, we invite early learners to help with calling out the numbers, giving them practice in identifying the letters and numbers. In addition to letter and number recognition, Bingo offers practice in fine motor skills and sequencing. 

Racko

Another great game for number recognition, Racko takes it up a notch and requires players to practice their counting skills. Kids who are skip-counting at school will love this game, where the goal is to be the first one to exchange randomly dealt cards for ones that create a rack that goes from lowest to highest. Players will work with numbers from 1 to 60 and practice waiting for their turn.

Uno

Uno is a great game for early learners, helping them practice color matching, number matching, and taking turns. If your players are really young, teaming up with an adult can keep the game fun for everyone. The adult on the team can help read the action cards while letting the child choose the cards to play when it is their turn.

Carcasonne

At first glance, this may not seem like a game suited for preschoolers, but our family has loved this game from the time my youngest was four years old. When they were younger we eliminated the scoring and competition, instead working cooperatively to build long roads and big cities. (I can’t take credit for this strategy. It evolved naturally out of my son’s natural inclination to help others. But it is a great way to play with preschoolers.)  The game is great for practicing pattern matching, as you must match the features on each side of your tile that connects to another tile. As the kids get older you can add more complexity, eventually adding actual scoring and strategy.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride takes the learning up a level, offering actual geography and language lessons. There are a number of different versions available, which provide lots of opportunities to spend time with maps and inadvertently learn the names of cities and harbors around the world. We had so much fun introducing some Japanese exchange students to Ticket to Ride that we sent our United States version home with them. These days we primarily play the Rails and Sails version, which is a world map and involves boats as well as trains. Like many of the best games, Ticket to Ride can grow with your family. Start with a simplified version for younger children and expand in complexity as they mature.

Power Grid

This one is definitely for kids who have reached double digits. It took us a long time to learn how to play, but once we figured it out, we discovered that this is a game that teaches not just gameplay and strategy, but also energy economics. Played on a board with a number of different cities represented, the object is to build and power the most cities. To do so, you must bid on power plants and acquire the raw materials to power your plants. As the game goes on, the value of the raw materials (and the power plants) shifts, creating the need to balance expansion with power plant upgrades. It took us a while to learn it well enough to enjoy it, but it was worth the effort.

How about you?

Does your family have a favorite game? Share with us in the comments below!

Cooking with kids

In the Montessori preschool classroom, an entire section of the curriculum is devoted to “Practical Life”. Practical Life activities embrace care of oneself and care for the environment. It includes things like learning to lace and tie shoes, close a door quietly, clean a table, sweep the floor, and sew a button. Preparing food for snack is also part of the practical life curriculum in the classroom. 

Even the youngest toddler enjoys activities involving food preparation. Toddlers can peel and slice bananas, stir together the ingredients for biscuits, and knead and shape them (think edible playdough!). They can help peel and separate oranges and hull strawberries.

Including children in meal prep is a wonderful way to combine time together with practical learning and skill development. Here’s how to make the experience fun for everyone.

Slow Down and Let Go

Remember that every child is still developing fine motor skills. Let go of any expectations that every step of the process will be executed quickly or neatly. Expect a little more mess and adjust the time needed for prep. Allow your child to go at their own pace, which may be much slower than doing it yourself. Give yourselves time to stop and clean up as you go along. 

Remind yourself that practice is the path to improvement. Let them try. Each time they will get better and faster, but in the beginning, we need to allow for the mishaps of early experience with a task. Not all the flour will end up in the bowl. Some of the eggshells will end up in the bowl. Carrots won’t be as neatly peeled as you might have done. Diced may look more like chopped. The imperfections won’t matter to the finished dish and there is value in providing the opportunity to learn a new skill or practice a familiar one

Prepare the workspace

Before you begin working together, get organized. If you are cooking with 2-4 year olds, you may choose to measure out the ingredients ahead of time. On the other hand, letting them help gather supplies and ingredients is good practice in following directions, provided items are stored on low shelves that are accessible to small people.

Lay out a large plastic cutting board to work on, so that it can be lifted and carried to the sink for cleaning. Have appropriate utensils at hand. Soft foods, like bananas and strawberries, can be safely cut by young children with specially designed knives that are not sharp. Smaller spoons and whisks can also help smaller children be more successful.

Don’t Show and Tell

Talking as you are demonstrating requires the child to simultaneously process both what they are seeing and what they are hearing. Instead, when helping your child do a new task, take a tip from the Montessori classroom and separate the telling from the showing. Begin by saying what you are going to show them, without any movement. 

Then show them slowly and carefully how to do it, without speaking. This allows them to focus on watching what you are doing and eliminates the need to also process what they are hearing. This video from Viola Montessori is a great example of what this looks like.

Cooking together provides children with practical skills they will use for a lifetime. By the time they are tweens, they will have the experience to prepare meals for themselves and their family. 

Enjoy your time together in the kitchen! Leave a comment and let us know how it goes.

Keep Your Kids Learning This Summer – and Have Fun Doing It

If you have a school aged child, then summer learning loss has probably worried you in the past – but never as much as this summer. This school year was a once-in-a-generation experiment in educational innovation. Your child probably experienced virtual school for the first time, and they may have even been in virtual school the whole year. If the coming of summer has you wondering whether your child will be prepared for the next academic year, you’re not alone.

But if you think that means it’s time to hire a summer tutor, think again. Many school systems are offering catch-up summer school, but after a year that brought unprecedented stress to children as well as adults, more time in the classroom may not be what your child needs. Before you shell out your stimulus check for a summer math class, consider what education your child really needs to be prepared for the next school year. 

There’s plenty of academic education to discover in the adventures of real-life – and after a year in front of the computer, real-life adventure may be exactly what your child needs most. 

Practice real-life math with cooking. 

Remember all that sourdough you baked last spring? Maybe it’s time to break out your starter yeast again. Cooking, and especially baking, offers plenty of opportunities for kids of all grade levels to practice math skills. Younger kids can measure and count; older kids can convert recipes for different numbers of servings (hello, fractions!). Try doubling the recipe and bringing a loaf of sourdough to your neighbor. For bonus skills, have your kids invent a recipe of their own. 

Explore science at the park.

Science was invented in the great outdoors, and nature is the best teacher for kids of all ages. The inherent curiosity of kids makes them naturals at the scientific method: they’re constantly observing and asking questions about what they see. This summer, instead of googling the answers, help them figure it out for themselves with real-life experiments. Can that broken dogwood branch grow into a new tree? What do ladybugs eat? Only time – and a bit of experimenting – will tell. 

Take a geography trip. 

After a year of quarantine, many of us are itching to get out of town this summer. If you are heading out of town, take some of the planning off your plate and teach your kids geography by inviting them to plan part of your route. While they’re practicing skills like reading maps and estimating travel time, they can search for interesting points along the route that they want to visit. In addition to adding some adventure to your trip, having your kids identify locations they want to see – and predict how long it will take to get there – should cut down the endless whines of “Are we there yet?” 

Read, read, read.

As a parent in the 21st century, the value of reading with your kids has been drilled into you from the day you found out you were expecting. But if reading has gotten a little stale after months of being stuck in the house, try something different to spark your kids’ love of stories. Spend an afternoon in the library together, or hit up the library storytime. And if overuse of screen time during quarantine has your kids bored by non-moving words on a page, try downloading some audiobooks to listen to together while you do a craft, or read a book and then watch the movie. 

Play board games. 

Board games are a lot more than a fun family night – they’re an amazing tool for teaching a wide range of social and academic schools. In addition to helping kids practice taking turns and following the rules, board games can teach math (Monopoly), reading (Cards Against Humanity Kids’ Edition), and even logic (Clue). While there are plenty of board games that are explicitly educational, pretty much every board game requires some academic skills to play, so play what your kids enjoy! 

Write stories. 

Sitting down and writing a story over the summer may not appeal to your kids – but storytelling is a human instinct, and there are plenty of ways to help your kids rediscover the joy of sharing their ideas through narrative. Try getting them a set of puppets and building a makeshift puppet stage, or download an app for the green screen so they can make movies with their toys. Encourage them to write the story down so they can perform it for you (and maybe even the neighbors, too). 

Learn social studies through advocacy. 

2020 was a big year for political upheaval, and many people found themselves involved in political advocacy, often for the first time. Talk with your kids about political news, especially local issues that affect them. What rules will their school follow for COVID safety in the fall? What guidelines does the county have now for swimming pools this summer? Kids can write letters to representatives, call the school superintendent, and even make signs about an issue they care about. 

Watch for learning opportunities.

After a year of spending so much time together with family, paying attention may be the most difficult thing to do this summer  – but it’s by far the most important. Curiosity and interest are the biggest drivers of learning, and if you want to help your kids’ academic progress over the summer, the best thing you can do is pay attention. Notice when they ask questions. Notice what they’re interested in. Then look for ways for them to explore those interests and questions. When kids are interested, that’s when they learn. 

This past year of upheaval and change has been harder for parents than for anyone. After a year of worrying about COVID, working while teaching virtual school, and struggling to entertain bored children, the last thing you need is to add more stress this summer. Instead of working hard to make sure your children catch up on academics, seek out ways to let learning happen naturally – and make it fun for you as well as your kids. Fun, after all, is the best way to learn.

5 Ways to Prepare Your Teen for Adulting

High school graduation, check. College decisions, check. Job applications, check. You’ve guided and supported your teen toward the next phase of their life. Or perhaps your teen has a few more years before graduation. But before you know it they’ll be fully grown, and there’s more to adulthood than the academic knowledge they receive in high school. 

This summer is the perfect opportunity to catch your teen up on any life management skills they’re missing. Here are five ways to help your teen get ready for the big day when they head out on their own – whether they are off to college, or simply onto their own apartment.

Ask your teen to cook a family meal.

Soon-to-be-freshmen might be eating most of their meals next year in a college cafeteria, but they should still know how to cook a real meal before they leave home. Being able to cook something more than ramen will give your young adult a boost on healthy diet habits. Cooking dinner for the whole family will give them some practice at putting together an entire meal instead of just one dish. Bonus? You’ll get a night off. (Added bonus tip: If you’ve got a teen that needs to earn some spending money, hiring them to regularly cook dinner for the family is a win/win for you both.)

Let them do laundry. 

If your teen isn’t already washing their own laundry, it’s definitely time. With a brief lesson on how to sort and what temperature to use, they’ll be able to avoid being that freshman whose white t-shirts are all pink from being washed with colors. Your child may not want to fold their socks as neatly as you do (or at all), but giving them responsibility for their own clothes early in their teen-hood prepares them for a lifetime of caring for their own clothes. 

Give them bills to pay.

Chances are you’ll be helping your teen – even your new graduate – with their living expenses for a few more years, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start paying some of their bills and managing their budget before they leave home. If your teen isn’t already paying for some of their own expenses like cell phone, gas, or clothes, this summer is a great time to start. Obviously, in order to pay their own bills, they’ll need some income, so if they won’t have a job this summer, consider giving them an allowance or pay for help with chores so they have a budget to work with. 

Let them clean the bathroom.  

The stereotype of the dirty college dorm room bathroom may have more to do with students not making time to clean than not knowing how, but if you’re not confident that your teen can clean their bathroom, this summer is a good time to make sure. This goes for other household cleaning as well. It’s never too early to include teens in helping keep the house tidy.

Help your teen plan for emergencies

As a parent, this one could be hard to think about. But if your teen will be living away from home next year, they might need to handle an emergency on their own. Do they know what to do if they’re in a car accident? What about if their apartment pipes freeze? Talk through emergency scenarios with them and make sure they have a plan for the major situations life might throw their way. 

If some of these tasks are new for your graduate, they’ll probably give you some pushback – after all, it’s summer and time to kick back after the rush to wrap up the school year. But knowing how to take care of household tasks before they leave your house will be worth it for them in the long run.