Jul 18, 2014

S.O.S... Save Our Summer!

So, this is my first summer home with 2 kids.
In previous years we would send Noah to a summer class or two and I would be home with the baby princess. Or before that, I was at work and he would be at a summer camp full time. So, yes, I was absolutely dreading a full time summer with a 3 and 10 year old. The age gap is also a challenge since learning the alphabet with macaroni art is not a 10 year old's idea of a good time.

I began my research for how I would keep sane during the summer 3 months before school was out. I looked online for ideas on how to keep 'em busy and how to prevent brains from turning to mush during such a long break. I ended up incorporating a few different systems/techniques I found into one happy summer schedule.

We have been using it now for over a month and I have to say, it is working wonderfully!
Here is the secret...

The kids think they are in charge of what we do!

*insert evil laugh here*

Before summer began I had a group of moms and their kids over for a small birthday party for Maya. They happened to see the board up in the kitchen (I had put it up early so my kids could get used to it and ooh and aah at the activities we would be doing... something to look forward to!) and asked if I would show them how to make one. As is always the case, trying to get busy moms in one room for an extended amount of time without their kids is like trying to herd cats... Aint. Gonna. Happen. We are all pulled in too many directions. SO... here it is... from the comfort of your own home. Or office. Or bathroom.
(wherever you may be hiding for a moment to yourself)
(I wont tell)

This is the finished product. Don't worry about the white cards just yet. I will get you there :)

Phase 1: Pen & Paper aka The List Phase
This is not gonna look pretty. Just keepin it real here...

The first thing I did was make a rough outline of our days. What was our day going to look like? When did I want things to happen? What was non-negotiable? (uh... naptime!duh!). This step took some tweaking. I didn't want to micromanage the day and then freak out when they were still building with blocks or coloring and the schedule says it's time to move on to the next thing.
I wanted some structure but also some freedom for them... and for me!
After jotting it down, I noticed my day would be divided into two halves where I would need to find an activity for us to enjoy. 
(I say enjoy loosely... there is nothing about a Chuck E Cheese outing I enjoy, but I did it anyway)  lol

I decided on which activities would take place every week. Missing from the list here is Maya's gymnastics class and Noah's basketball practice twice a week. This is also a good time to list things that you know the kids have going on and you cannot schedule over. Dance, sports, standing weekly appointments, etc...

Okay. Next was 'The List'. 
This was basically a list of things I thought would be fun to do over the summer. Some things were free but I knew I wanted some other fun outings that I would spend a little money on. Nothing extreme of course. Disneyland and Magic Mountain are not in our budget as weekly outings!
I just began listing places I knew the kids enjoyed and even some mama would enjoy too.
I also added weekly necessities, like cleaning, running errands and getting the groceries. 
I put a 'W' next to the activities I knew I wanted to do weekly: parks, beach, summer movies at the local cinema, play dates...
I did a quick count of weeks to see how long summer vacation would last (10 in our case) and with that number in mind I went through the list again to make sure there was an outing per week. The painful-for-mom/more expensive/time consuming activities I marked with a '*'. They totaled 4, which meant I needed 6 more activities (preferably indoors during CA summer afternoons!). Those I marked with 'in'
Weekly fun outings - check!

Phase 2: Let's fill in the calendar!

I sketched out a quick 10 week calendar (weekends not included. I didn't think my husband would appreciate having a schedule to stick to on his days off work... lol).
Now that I knew what was happening weekly and the times I couldn't change, I started filling in the blanks.
Examples: I knew I had a workout class every Tuesday and Thursday morning from around 9:30am to 11:00am, so that would take up most of the morning on those days. I knew the boy had basketbawl practice every Tue & Thu in the afternoon. And gymnastics for the little princess was on Tuesdays too (but before his practice). I also knew that I would be taking them to the $1 summer movies every Wednesday morning and that groceries would be done on a Thursday or Friday. 
When I was done filling in the 'have-to's' I could see where I had blank spaces of free time. 
So I scheduled foot rubs, massages and bubble baths for myself on all those times. Har. Har. Har... just kidding!
At that point I could decide when I wanted to do the other weekly things, like parks and beach visits or play dates, etc. and again what would leave an opening on the calendar. 
I also kept in mind that my day was mostly divided into morning and afternoon activities. 

Enter Phase 3: Let's Focus on the Weekly

Here is where I have done the job of 'designing' if you will, what the final schedule will look like. It took some trial and error and a lot of simplification. I didn't want the kids staring at something they couldn't make heads or tails of. It needed to be user-friendly! I won't spend too much time explaining here, since the finished product says it all. But this was a good place to visually see how the week would play out and again, where I had 'free' time.
(btw... as a mom, I don't think that the words 'free' and 'time' actually belong anywhere near each other, but lets just entertain it this one time, shall we?!)

I could now see my week and what I still needed to work on and what I needed to shift around. I could play with the schedule and make sure there was time for gymnastics and movies and outings and beaches and...
I also realized that I hadn't planned on arts and crafts anywhere and my kids thrive on that. They love creating or building or getting dirty or making crap that I need to find wall space for. I knew that after my workouts on Tue and Thu I had an hour before lunch (and needed that time for a shower too!). So, I decided that would be the perfect time for an easy craft.
Hence, another list was born...

The list on the right is 20 easy crafty activities I could set up for the kids. Two per week for the ten weeks of summer (something both ages would have fun with). The list on the right were some ideas for morning entertainment on their own, but I never used it. They are on their own in the mornings for free-play time. And mommy-needs-to-wake-up-on-her-own-time-dammit time!
lol :)

Phase 4: Card Me! aka printing time

I had some Avery Business Cards that I wanted to print all the options of what we would be doing on. You know, make it look all cool and stuff...
Above are examples of some of the 'fun activities' we have planned for summer. These are my weekly Wednesday afternoon choices. 
Below are examples of the arts and crafts the kids get to choose from on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I also printed out the names of the movies we would be watching and the date it was showing, so the kids knew when to put them on the calendar. I looked up 10 parks that we either hadn't visited in a long time or had never been to before and printed those out too. I did the same thing with a list of beaches not more than 20-30 minutes from the house.
I also added another option... Edible Fun! I don't usually keep desserts around the house, so I thought Fridays would be a good time to make something fun and edible. Some of the things on this list were brownie in a mug (controlled portions!), Lego jello, cookie pizza, art frames, cake in a jar, etc...

Oh, I decorated the cards with whatever stickers I found that the kids had. Just to fancy it up a little... lol.

Phase 5: Putting it all together... 'bout time!

Since I am completely impulsive and have almost no patience, I dug around an old art folder and found a big enough yellow poster board that I could use. This one happened to be approx. 20 inches wide by 27 inches tall. Turned out it fit perfectly! Whew!
I snapped a photo of this half way through our week. When we are done with an activity we throw away the card. Other than the permanent things we do, like basketball, gymnastics and play dates. Those stay on there every week.

So, working from the bottom up, I began measuring the space I needed for each line as well as the bigger spaces to fit the business cards I had printed out. I used a Sharpie to make sure no one would mess with my design. Yeah, I'm anal like that. And also Sharpie'd in things on our daily schedule that wouldn't change.
Tip: I used a long piece of clear packing tape across the sections where the kids would be taping the cards, so that we didn't rip the board every time we removed a card. We use the very advanced technique of wrapping a piece of regular tape the 'wrong' way round to create a cheap version of double-sided tape. 

Finally, I stuck 6 envelopes to the top of the board and put the printed cards in each one.
The kids now know that for the blank space on Monday morning they go for the green envelope (the one that says Mon - Park AM). And so on until the week has been filled up.

So, like I said at the beginning of this post... the kids feel like they are in control of the week. They are 'choosing' the activities. But in reality, mama has made sure to pick the places to go that will least make her want to drink heavily that night and she has picked out the crafts that take the least time to prep and explain and bake it and clean up after. She has also made sure that no one touches her or calls for her during quiet time and that there are bananas left out on the breakfast table in the morning so no one keels over from hunger until she comes downstairs!


Some questions I have answered about this system:

Yes, it works. Like a charm. The kids love it. The obsessively organized anal mom loves it too!
It empowers the kids to feel like they have a say in what they do and also gives them some things to look forward to.

We do have some rules/consequences in our house about this schedule. For example, for my son: If he hasn't read in the morning and completed his workbook pages for that day then he doesn't get to rot his brain for the remainder of quiet time with the Playstation. Today, driving back home in the car, he said he just wanted to come home and do his workbook. I asked why (alarmed, of course) and he said, 'Well, then I can play on the PS4!'
Hey... whatever works.
I also haven't assigned a ridiculous amount of work for him to do. Reading takes 20-30 minutes in his room in the mornings. He is an early riser. The floor creaks something fierce in this house and wakes the dead. I don't want to hear it until 7:30am. He also needs to write three sentences for every chapter he reads, so I know he isn't staring blankly at pages for half an hour. We use Summer Bridge workbooks. He is three days away from finishing the one we got him. I told him I would give him a week off but since there are still 5 or so weeks left of summer he has to do another book. His choice though. He chose a Math book. I am not very strict with his work, but the answers should mostly be right and he has to redo a few things here and there.
My son is also a master 'deal-maker' so today he wanted to skip a day and do two tomorrow. I agreed. He is good about keeping his word at least.

The little princess has a workbook too, but we found it to be a little too advanced for her.

Yes, the kids still have plenty of down time for twiddling their thumbs or free play. Even time to be bored... *gasp*... it's a good thing! I have made sure not to over schedule them (or me) and leave plenty of time for playing in the pool, lazing on the couch and just being a kid enjoying summer!

Yes, we do sometimes skip or miss an activity. It's usually a craft or maybe even a beach day. When this happens I don't dismiss it completely unless the kids decide they don't want to do it at all. I give them an IOU that I have to complete by the end of the week. That means, if we didn't have time to do Popcorn Art on Tuesday and we put it on the wall off the calendar, mommy has until Sunday to have them do it (if they want to).  This also teaches them that their choices matter to me and I will only throw it out if they have agreed. Some Fridays we may be too tired to go to the beach, so we have asked daddy if he wants to come with us on the weekend as a family outing. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. But I try. 

Most importantly... this is a SUMMER schedule. If you all don't want to go to the park one day... DON'T!
Have fun. Be flexible. Let it go! Spend quality time together. Enjoy each moment you have with them!

If you have any questions please write to me and I will try to answer as best I can.

How do you plan for your summer?

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