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Summer Survival by Eleanor Warren

Eleanor Warren is married to Peter and is the mother of five children, ranging in age from 8 to 24. She works part-time as a nurse and also serves on her children's school parent council. For several years, she has been involved in a club for girls aged 7-12. Ellie enjoys reading, crafts and planning family adventures.

Summer. What a wonderful word! As the end of the school year approaches, we are almost as excited as the kids! Summer is an opportunity to spend more time with our children, to see them in a different light, to slow down and smell the coffee, the flowers, the insect repellant....

Vacation does not mean a time to do nothing. It's a time to do different things! Sometimes our kids try to get out of chores, saying: We don't have to do this, we're on vacation!! Nice try, Honey! (Once one of our kids tried this and I replied, A Great idea! I'm on vacation, too! I didn't cook lunch, do laundry, make popsicles, offer to drive them to the community swimming pool ... By the end of the afternoon they came around. We had a pow-wow and I explained that if everyone did their share, there would still be plenty of time to have fun. And we did! It was a great summer)

Great summers take some planning, though. First of all, what are our goals for each child? What skills do we want them to learn? How can we help them develop their character? Perhaps, we want to work on our children's manners. Maybe, we've noticed that one of our kids is very impatient and expects everyone to jump when they snap their fingers. Perhaps, we want our child to learn how to tie shoes. Maybe one or all of our children have messy bedrooms. A goal could be to spend some time organizing and decorating their rooms with their input. What about cultural development? We may want to expose our children to music. How can we achieve this? School may be over, but learning never ends. As well, it' important to reinforce what has been taught in the past year. There are many ways to reinforce math concepts (more on that later) Consider learning new skills like keyboarding. How about life skills? Summer is a perfect time to learn cooking, how to do laundry, how to clean the bathroom, how to weed the garden, how to pack a suitcase, how to polish shoes, how to paint furniture ... the list is endless!

It's important not to set too many goals, but it's a good idea to have a few clear ideas. Write them down. I have a simple notebook to keep track of things. I also consult our children. What do you want to do? What would you like to learn? The answers can be surprising. (One year, one of our kids asked if we could go to the library every week!!! Good idea! And we had fun going, if not every week, every second week.) Have a family meeting. Brainstorm! Write all ideas down on a large piece of paper. Do not allow any negative comments like Ah that's a dumb idea!! I don't want to do that! Consider each idea, and see what would work best with your family. Look for things the whole family can enjoy, but also look at things that individual children might like to try as well. Keep on the look-out yourself, in newspapers, on the radio, TV, on the web. What festivals are going on? Is there anything our family might enjoy? What tourist attractions are in the area. If you have a car, look outside the city. There are so many neat things to see and do and all within an hour's drive from the city. Always be on alert for craft and activity ideas ... in books, magazines. You can borrow these from friends, the library, garage sales, dollar stores, bookstores. Keep these ideas in the notebook.

OK, so we have some goals, some ideas. How do accomplish it all? Back to planning. I print up a calendar for the months of June, July, August and September. Something with squares that I can write in. I mark off holidays, soccer games, swimming lessons. I add in when we are anticipating guests from out of town. This is my working tool.

Kids thrive on routines. Summer is no different. Routines are important, but they can be looser, more flexible.. Up, breakfast, dressed, morning chores, play. I try to keep the kids out of the sun during the hottest/highest UV time, between 12 and 2 pm. This is when we do indoor activities or go out on excursions or run errands. A quiet time in the afternoon is good for everyone! You can sleep, read, play quietly with Lego or Barbie, write in your journal ... the rules are that it must be done quietly in your own room.

Some people think that summer vacation is also a vacation from God. If God is important in our lives (and hopefully He is), then he's important every week. We all need to make time for him, He doesn't take holidays. For Catholics, there is such flexibility with Mass times, there is really no excuse not to be able to get to Mass. Planning a picnic getaway for Sunday? Going away for the weekend? Going away to a soccer tournament? Look at local churches for schedules and make the time for family worship. It sends an important message to our children that faith and life always walk hand in hand.

The house is bound to be messier in the summer, because there are more people hanging around. Our own kids, neighbour kids, friends and their kids, family and visitors from out of town... So, lets talk about chores. Have a meeting with the kids. They need to know what is expected of them. You need to know what they can and like to do. Get everyone involved (A good book to consult is : 401 Ways to get your kids to do chores) Make chores fun. Yes, it is possible!! Little kids are eager to do things. They need to learn how to do things. For older kids, call it teaching them survival skills!! For chores, I use a timer ... a lot! It's a very effective tool. For example: keeping a bedroom tidy, may seem like an endless job. Try breaking it down into 15 minute units. Day 1, kids tidy the top of their dresser, desk, dust and de-clutter. Day 2, kids pick up everything off the floor. It has to be put away, put in the laundry or garbage pail so that the floor can be vacuumed. (Empty the waste basket while you're at it!) Day 3, tidy up the drawers in your desk or dresser. Day 4 work on the closet, Day 5, change the bed sheets and de-clutter around the bed. (This is just one idea. See what works best for your family) Breaking any job into small chunks, makes it seem less onerous.

All families have different ways of getting chores done. Some families break down the house into zones. Set the timer for 5 minutes. Each person runs to their zone and tidies it up. You can do this anytime of the day, but it's very effective before dinner and before bedtime! (A good website is www.flylady.net. If you struggle with organization, this is a wonderful website.) Bottom line, chores do not need to be done perfectly. Everyone just has to do their best. If you have major cleaning to do try this format: work 15 minutes, then free time for 15 minutes. Everyone wins!! Make it fun! Beat the clock! Can we get the kitchen cleaned up before the timer goes off? Sorting and folding laundry was always a tiresome chore until we gave each kid a small laundry basket. We throw the t-shirt at them and they try to catch it in their basket. Matching socks? Make a pile on the living room floor and see who can match the most socks in three minutes!

Put together a A Get up and Go bag. It could be a knapsack or other comfortable bag, containing: tissues, wipes, sunscreen, insect repellant, gum, granola bars, mini first aid kit, diaper/wipes, whatever you need when you go out on excursions. Always have that bag ready to go. Another bag to set up is a swimming bag: bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, pool toys, little swimmer diapers, mini first aid kit. Do your kids play little league baseball or soccer? Have a bag for that, too. Your child should have a bag with all the appropriate sports equipment in it (check it the night before, and make sure the water bottle is made up while you're at it!!) Your bag should hold: sunscreen, insect repellant, water bottles or 1 larger bottle and extra plastic glasses for all the people you are bringing to the game, activities for the little ones, like books, bubbles, skipping rope, frisbie, colouring books and pencils, little snacks - nothing that melts!!! If you're going alone, bring a book, or your summer planning notebook, or an easy craft activity (I worked on a needlepoint picture during soccer season. I only did it in the summer and it took 9 years to finish, but it kept me busy during warm-ups, between games at tournaments. It was very easy to take along. Now it hangs in our family room) Don't forget a fold-up chair or blanket to sit on and an umbrella!!

Plan your week. What things do you need to accomplish (eg. Get the oil changed on the car, visit an aunt in a nursing home, paint the backyard fence), things you want to accomplish (e.g. have some of your children's friends over for an arts and crafts day) Plan your day the night before. As part of your evening routine, try to organize and prepare things for a smoother morning. Try to do as much preparation as possible the night before. It makes a HUGE difference. Try it.

Summer is a time when we seem to do a lot more entertaining. We invite friends and family over, folks drop in, neighbours congregate together. It can be a wonderful and it involves more work. This work can be shared, though. Make a list of what needs to be done. Share the load. Even the littlest ones can help pick up toys or help set the table or suggest what to make for dessert. It's also a great opportunity to practise being good hosts, sharing their toys, coming up with activities for other visiting children.

RESOURCES:

Family Fun magazine and books

401 ways to get your kids to do chores around the house by Bonnie McCullough

Confessions of a happily Organized Family by Deniece Schofield

Sink Reflections by Maria Cilley

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