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June is the New December: 10 Ways to Calm End-of-School-Year Frenzy

As a parent, I’ve always found the end of the school year to be a mixed bag. It can be an exciting time to look forward to summer plans and the relaxation, fun and family time they portend. It can offer meaningful rituals and warm celebrations with family and friends. It can also be ridiculously busy and packed with obligations and graduations (from pre-school on up), not to mention parties and ceremonies for every classroom, team and group.

This time of year definitely got easier for me with the passing years. There seem to be less scheduled events now that my daughter is a little older, and the events themselves seem to be more relaxed — I always thought all-day picnics at rented pools, with transportation and activities and awards and lots of necessary parent-volunteer help were too much for smaller kids anyway. Likewise, endless award ceremonies and graduations for tiny children who would rather be playing. And, for that matter, a too-busy calendar.

One special year (over objections from some parents – is that who these parties are for?) the kids in my daughter’s class all walked to a teacher’s house because they had wanted to play with her dogs. They had picnic lunches and played games in a park and walked back to school for the end of the day. It was probably one of the simplest, most memorable year-end parties of all, because it came from the hearts of the teacher and the kids, and not from another adult’s idea of what a year-end party should be.

So, how can you keep year-end frenzy at bay, for yourself, your family, and possibly a class or group?

Check in with yourself and others. Ask yourself and your family members if you’d prefer some down-time to attending one more activity, or taking part in just one segment of a multi-part event.

Give yourself permission to sit some events out. You probably know if an event is too much for your child or your family. Try to honor everyone’s limits. There will be ample opportunity for more celebrations in the future. Also, look at each event practically. If younger siblings can attend, if everyone is fed — these things might make an event more palatable, workable and fun.

As a parent, You don’t have to volunteer for every task. It’s nice to do your part, and volunteering can be a lot of fun. It can also allow you to make the most of each activity and not feel as if they are flying by. However, do listen to your gut if it tells you you’re taking on too much or the wrong thing. Sometimes well-meaning parents create very complicated activities and projects that ultimately don’t have a lot of meaning for the kids (or for you). I wish I would have extricated myself from a couple of those.

Create some unstructured family time. It will take some extra effort when things are especially hectic, but that’s just when you need some unstructured time the most. As counter-intuitive as this may sound, if you need to write it in your calendar, do so. Take an afternoon to lie on the grass and watch the clouds, or take a family walk in your neighborhood. Pull a chair outside at twilight and watch the first stars come out. Eat a simple dinner as a family. Let yourself get so bored that time actually seems to slow down, or keep a free day open to do whatever you really feel like that morning.

Spend time in nature. Nature truly does have a way of relaxing and rejuvenating both body and spirit. It can be just the antidote to a hectic schedule. Children and adults can experience awe in nature in a deep, profound way. It’s also often a great place to run around and let off steam, or, conversely, to be contemplative and quiet in the midst of a busy season. Nature also provides a wonderful perspective and a place of fresh wonder that has little to do with the busy-ness of modern life.

Let children be children. Consider which events have the most meaning for your children and prioritize those. Try not to feel pressured to participate in an event or a schedule that doesn’t feel right for your family. If you are in any position to help plan the activities, try to keep the playful, and the age-appropriate meaningfulness, in mind. Perhaps others will follow your lead.

Discuss your child’s feelings. Despite the celebratory nature of the events, some children will feel a tremendous amount of confusion or dismay about the passage of time or the possible change that it brings. Others may be overwhelmed by any celebration or attention. Try to allow some time and space for children to express themselves and their needs.

Get enough sleep. Force yourself and your children to go to bed at a reasonable hour (possibly even unwinding a bit before bed). Save some tasks for another day — they’ll still be there. Getting enough rest, eating well, and treating yourself well are fundamental tools in warding off the stress of a busy schedule.

Let go of perfection. The end of the year can mean houseguests or the hosting of meals. So, to our busy schedules, we add the task of making our homes appear perfect. Clean what you reasonably can and let the rest go. If people have come to celebrate you and yours, that includes your home in its glorious imperfection. Besides, most people don’t look at our houses with the same critical eye we do.

Charge up the camera batteries, bring some Kleenex, and Enjoy the rituals. If you are attending a full-fledged graduation or similar rite of passage or achievement, delight in the moment and the celebrant and enjoy the blessings of family and well-wishers.

And, if all this still doesn’t help, remember that things will be relatively quiet soon.

 

These tips were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities and slowing techniques.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Why Finland’s Education System is the Best in the World

No Child Left Behind, with its accelerated education practices and emphasis on standardized testing, seems to be leaving many American children behind much of the industrialized world, according to a new global table of education, produced for the Intelligence Unit of The Economist. The U.S. is ranked 17th in education, far below first-place Finland and many other countries. Read why Finland has the best education system in the world.

What are their secrets?

For one, Finnish children don’t start school until age 7. (Waldorf education advocates that children not read until 7.) Phenomenally, Finnish students only take one standardized test, and that is at the age of 16. By that age, a typical American child will have taken dozens of standardized tests, and will have spent much educational time preparing for them, at the expense of other learning and discovery. Finnish elementary school students receive 75 minutes of recess per day, as opposed to an average of 27 minutes in the U.S. There is very little homework.

Education in Finland is 100% state subsidized, as is teacher training. The results of all this attention to teacher support and developmentally appropriate learning, free time and play? 93 percent of Finns graduate from high school, a figure that is 17.5 percent higher than that in the U.S.

Some might point to Finland’s smaller size or relative homogeneity as possible reasons for their success, but their success is notably higher than other Scandinavian countries, which have similar demographics and diversity. 30 U.S. states have populations equal to or less than Finland’s, at 5.5 million.

This article from The Atlantic notes that Finland’s acclaimed education system owes much to the idea of economic equity.

Read more about why Finland’s education system is Number One.

So how does the U.S. educational system stack up against that of other countries? According to a 2011 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), American 15-year-olds scored at the international average of industrialized nations in science and reading, and below the international average in math.

The above article goes on to note that high-performing countries recruit and retain talented teachers. It noted some interesting cultural differences, as well. For instance, Japanese students are encouraged to struggle through problems more than American students are. According to UCLA psychology professor James Stigler, who studied the Japanese educational system:

American students “aren’t socialized to struggle hard. They’re socialized to put their hands up and say, ‘I don’t know.’ ” While Japanese parents would be inclined to tell a child’s teacher, “Thank you for helping my kid struggle,” American parents are more inclined to say, “Why are you torturing my kid?”

That’s a very interesting point that speaks to many parents’ well-meaning, but sometimes misguided, attempts to rush in and fix perceived problems, a habit that ultimately robs their children of essential problem-solving skills and the mastery and confidence that come with them.

The original Economist report quoted above makes some of the same key recommendations about economic success in its Five lessons for education policymakers:

  • There are no magic bullets
  • Respect teachers
  • Culture can be changed
  • Parents are neither impediments to nor saviors of education
  • Educate for the future, not just the present

And this comes from NYU Research Professor of Education and Former U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, in her review of Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? in the New York Review of Books:

U.S. policymakers have turned to market-based solutions such as “tougher competition, more data, abolishing teacher unions, opening more charter schools, or employing corporate-world management models.” By contrast, Finland has spent the past forty years developing a different education system, one that is focused on improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals.

The last word about our (relatively unsuccessful) competition-driven, test-obsessed educational model will have to go to Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience:

If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.

These are Top 20 Countries in the World, in Education, as ranked by the global table of education:

  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Russia

More reading (some of these are referenced above):

Why Finland’s Unorthodox Education System is the Best in the World, Business Insider

The Pearson Report for the Economist

What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland’s School Success, The Atlantic

Schools We Can Envy, New York Review of Books

From Finland, An Intriguing School Model, New York Times

Why are Finland’s Schools Successful, Smithsonian

UK Education Sixth in Global Ranking, BBC News

Great Ideas from Finnish Schools, Two in the Middle

American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids, Slow Family Online and Christian Science Monitor

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let the Play, Slow Family Online

Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast, Slow Family Online and Christian Science Monitor

 

Photos: wstryder, edushyster

American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids: try these games!

Even as some parents and schools try to schedule as many academics and extracurriculars into their children’s lives as possible, at times to the detriment of even the briefest school recess, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released a policy statement that recognizes the value of recess to every aspect of children’s lives. The AAP wrote:

Recess during school offers children cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits they don’t get through academics alone.

According to the AAP:

  • Recess is “a necessary break in the day” and “should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.”
  • Recess offers important breaks from concentrated classroom work, which allow children to be “more attentive and more productive in the classroom.”
  • Recess “promotes social and emotional learning and development” through “peer interactions in which they practice and role play essential social skills.” Children learn negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem solving, as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.
  • Recess offers benefits that are “unique from, and a complement to, physical education — not a substitute for it.”
  • Recess can help offset risks to childhood obesity.

The AAP also noted that some schools cite safety issues as a barrier to recess and free play and offers steps to protect children while offering free and unstructured  play.

The AAP statement provides a large boost to those who have been advocating for recess and free play, in the face of calls for more academic and scheduled time for children. Last year, an important study published by the AAP revealed that pre-school children are far too sedentary for their physical and psychological health. The recent policy statement notes that “even minor movement during recess counterbalances sedentary time at school and at home.”

Read the complete AAP Policy Statement on The Crucial Role of Recess in School.

Many of us grew up with free play and recess games, some of which were made up on the spot, and some of which we learned from others. Here are a few games that kids (and even parents and teachers) may not know, which can add to recess and other fun and play. Many more playground and other game instructions can be found in my book, Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World.

Playground Games

These fun, easy games require little or no equipment and have been creating memories for generations.

Duck, Duck, Goose

South Asians know it as Kho Kho, Ghanaians as Antoakyire. German children play a version called Plumpsack, which involves dropping a handkerchief at one player’s spot. Young children play this timeless game around the world.

Players sit in a circle, facing each other. Choose a player to be It. It walks around the outside of the circle, tapping each person on the head and saying, for each tap, “duck”, “duck”, “duck”. Finally, It taps a person on the head and says, “goose” and begins to run around the outside of the circle. The person who is tapped as a goose gets up and chases It around the circle. If the goose is able to tap It before he or she sits down in the goose’s spot, then that person is It again. If the goose does not tag It, then the goose becomes the new “it”.

Red Light, Green Light

Another game played around the world, Red Light, Green Light has many charming variations. In the Czech Republic, it’s called, Cukr, káva, limonáda, čaj, rum, bum! (“Sugar, coffee, lemonade, tea, rum, boom!”)

One player is chosen to be the stoplight. That person turns his or her back to the group, which forms a line approximately 30–90′  away (depending on the ages of players). The stoplight calls out, “Green light!” and the players advance toward the player who is the stoplight as quickly as they can. When the stoplight wishes, he or she calls out, “Red light!” while turning around to see the runners. The runners must stop immediately. Any player caught moving after a call of “red light” has to go back to the starting line. “Green lights” and “red lights” are repeated until the first player reaches and tags the stoplight and is declared the winner. If all the players are out before they reach the stoplight, then the stoplight wins that round. The winner becomes the new stoplight.

Four Square

Not sure what to do with that four-square court painted on your school playground? This classic game couldn’t be easier or more inclusive. If you don’t have a four-square court, you can easily draw your own with chalk.

You’ll need:

A standard-size rubber playground ball
A court, or chalk to draw one

If there isn’t a court, draw a large square, approximately 16′ × 16′. Divide that into four squares, each 8′ × 8′. Letter the squares clockwise, from A to D. The player in the A square begins by bouncing the ball once in his or her own square, then hitting it underhand so it bounces into the D square. The receiving player then hits the ball into another square, with play continuing until the ball bounces more than once or goes out of bounds. When that happens, the player who didn’t hit the ball in time, or hit it out of bounds, moves to the D square, and the other players move up in the alphabet. If there are more than four players, a waiting player in line replaces the one who would have moved into the D square, and that player goes to the back of the line. Play continues without anyone having to permanently leave the game.

Blob Tag

There are so many fun tag games, you needn’t limit yourself to basic tag. Try this fun variation:

Once a player is tagged by the person who is It, the two join arms and become a blob, which chases players together to try to tag them. Other players who are tagged also join arms and become part of the blob. Some play a version in which, when the blob reaches four people, two split off to become a new blob. The last person standing alone becomes the new “it.”

Jump-Rope Games

Jumping rope has gone in and out of fashion since ancient Egypt, when both men and women jumped over vines. It wasn’t until the 20th century that jumpers incorporated singsong games and rhymes. Many of these are passed down through the generations like oral history, with different regions using different chants. I learned many of these from my mom and passed them down to my daughter.

You’ll need:

One regular jump rope for one person, or a longer jump rope for two turners to turn while a jumper (or more) jumps.

The jumper jumps over the rope each time it hits the ground. Jumpers can jump in one jump each turn or take one big jump followed by one smaller jump each turn. A turn ends when the jumper fails to jump over the turning rope. The following are classic, easy jump-rope games. They don’t have tunes so much as chants, so they are especially easy to pick up.

A, My Name Is Alice

This is a fun add-on game that also calls for a little creativity and is different every time.

The first jumper starts with the letter A and fills in the blanks in the following sentence, however he or she chooses:

A my name is ____ and my husband’s name is ____ and we live in ____ and we sell ____.

For example: A my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Al and we live in Albuquerque and we sell apples.

If the jumper hasn’t tripped up, he or she moves on to the letter B: B my name is Betty and my husband’s name is Bob and we live in Boise and we sell beans.

Jumpers move through the alphabet as long as their turns last. New jumpers usually start with A, which makes it easy to compare how far each jumper gets, and choose new names.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

This jump-rope game is a little more advanced, as it requires players to pantomime the activity they are singing about (to the best of their abilities) as they jump.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, tie your shoe.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, that will do!
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, go upstairs.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say your prayers.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn out the lights.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say good-night!

Apples, Peaches, Pears, and Plums

Apples, peaches, pears, and plums.
Tell me when your birthday comes.
January, February, March…

Count one month for each turn of the rope successfully jumped.

I hope you all take the AAP recommendations to heart and enjoy recess and play!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Let the Children Play

For more information see:

Resources about Play and Slowing
News about Play and Slowing

You might also like:

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let Them Play
Slow News: Let the Kids Play
Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play

 

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let them Play

When German Frederick Froebel created kindergarten in the 1800s, little could he have envisioned what it would become. Those first kindergarten students, indeed the first children to experience early childhood education, learned through play, music, movement, paper-folding and games. Froebel recognized that early childhood was a a period of dramatic brain development during which children thrived when they learned holistically. His work influenced Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner (whose work led to Waldorf Schools), and the Reggio Emilia approach to education, all of which are popular and well regarded today.

Kindergarten, as recently as many of our own childhoods, was a laboratory of discovery and wonder, social skills and play. It was not viewed solely as preparation for grade school.

Fast-forward 150+ years since Froebel to arrive at a time in which not only is kindergarten regarded as preparation for grade school, but preschool is considered preparation for kindergarten. Online parent message boards are crammed with questions from anxious parents, asking, “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” Kindergarten readiness tests and commercial kits denote and teach multiple precise skills children should know before starting kindergarten, including the abilities to count from 1 to 10, identify colors, cut with scissors, create rhyming sounds, and skip.

Yes, skip. This piece of information includes the especially ridiculous coda that pre-school children around the U.S. are being taught to skip, in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Sadly, many children do not have enough outdoor play and free time to develop this skill on their own and are now taught it, not as a joyous life skill, but as part of the readiness curriculum.

But what if “readiness curriculum” emphasizes the wrong things? Perhaps our anxieties about “kindergarten readiness” and our rush toward academics for our kids are fueled by our own desires and fears, rather than by education and early childhood theory. We are taught early that there is tremendous competition for college spots and for jobs. Because we’re often busy ourselves, we view time as something to be used efficiently, even and perhaps especially in regard to our children and their childhoods.

In addition, parents today are led to believe that we have to choose between academic preschools and play-based preschools. But what if the play-based schools actually fed children’s academic, social and physical needs and success?  According to studies, that’s exactly what they do.

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith of The Center for Early Childhood Education writes that “Play is necessary for success in school” and that play enhances language and literacy, counting and math, symbolic thought, cooperation, self-awareness and self-control. Longitudinal studies show that even the gains achieved by some academic preschools are largely lost by third or fourth grade.

If that weren’t enough, recent studies also show that today’s preschoolers spend only 2-3% of their time doing vigorous activity. In our rush toward what many of us think of as academic achievement and readiness, we’re actually robbing many young children of the ability to learn the way they do best — through play.

Alison Gopnik, psychology professor and author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, refers to “guided discovery”, the notion that small children learn best through exploration and interaction, wonder and play. Schools teach mastery, which is wonderful, writes Gopnick, but mastery should follow discovery. She uses an example from baseball:

Routinized learning is not an end in itself. A good coach may well make his players throw the ball to first base 50 times or swing again and again in the batting cage. That will help, but by itself it won’t make a strong player. The game itself — reacting to different pitches, strategizing about base running — requires thought, flexibility and inventiveness.

How do we encourage qualities like thought, flexibility and inventiveness in our young people, the very qualities that underlie later academic and other success? Let them play when they’re young, when their brains are elastic and they learn best through exploration. Encourage various social, physical and other experiences that enhance children’s natural senses of curiosity and wonder. Allow them to move their bodies more, especially in nature when possible, and not be unnecessarily (and unnaturally) sedentary. Studies show that even older elementary students need recess and play and that physical activity helps them perform better academically.

It seems that letting preschoolers be preschoolers is the least — and the most –  we can do for them.

Photos: Let the Children Play, Creative Child, Let Children Play, Academic Advancement

For more information see:

Resources about Play and Slowing
News about Play and Slowing

You might also be interested in:

Slow News: Let the Kids Play
Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play

 

Slow News: Let the Kids Play

The subject of Play is getting a lot of serious attention these days. For good reason – study after study is illustrating that, in our rush to feed children what we perceive as quality academics, and in our over-scheduling and over-hovering, for fear they’ll be injured or abducted, we are neglecting to give them what they truly need to develop, grow and thrive:

Play. Independent, free, age-appropriate, active, imaginative play.

Nanci Hellmich in USA Today reports that preschoolers spend too much time on sedentary activities. As a result, they’re missing out on important motor-skill development, as well as opportunities for discovery, peer play (and the learning associated with it) and fun.

Alice Park in Time Magazine tells us that physical activity is associated with better academic performance.

At the same time, many schools have reduced recess, and 30% of American schools have cut recess altogether. This may be a bigger problem for children in less advantaged neighborhoods, who may not be as overscheduled as their better-off peers, but lack access to safe play spaces, says a new study from the American Association of Pediatrics.

It’s time for a cultural shift toward recognizing the importance of play for all children’s growth and well-being.

Update. This just in:

Parents are Biggest Obstacle to Letting Kids Play, Janice D’Arcy, Washington Post
Playgrounds too Safe to Keep Little Kids Active, Crystal Phend, MedPage Today
Both feature this study in Pediatrics on the physical activity of pre-school children.

Photo: Susan Sachs Lipman

You may also be interested in:

Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play
Slow Family Resources

Back to School: How to Tame Fall Frenzy

The flood of school-related papers seems to come earlier each year – the “first day” packets, the emergency and permission forms, the sports and other schedules. The start of school seems earlier, too — it’s up to mid-August in my neck of the woods.

A peruse around the internet shows that I’m not alone in feeling dismay at the loss of the long and leisurely summer. Parents in Chicago and Newburyport, MA, successfully lobbied their school districts to start school after Labor Day. Indiana senators are trying to mandate a statewide post-Labor Day start to school.

Hopefully, you were fortunate to have had some leisurely family time this summer. Or, at the very least, some time free from homework, schedules, transportation, meetings, appointments, a busy calendar and a frazzled household. No matter when Back-to-School hits for you, it can be a challenge and a desire to keep the pace and spirit of summer in your family. Here are a couple of ideas for taming Fall frenzy.

Create Unstructured Family Time

Consider turning down the occasional invitation or activity to ensure that your family has some time by itself. Then devote to that time by not answering the phone and emails, and putting away the electronics and the to-do list. Families need to regroup and simply have unstructured time together – to play, to talk, to inadvertently create the small instances that go into the family memory bank. It is the little things that tend to bond families, and these often occur during unstructured time. This can be time to explore a craft or make music, just for the fun of it – in contrast to being in “achievement mode”. It can be a time to have a family game night or be outside in nature, to tell stories that meander as you do, or to merely observe the world. In earlier cultures, it was more common for people to take a break from the everyday. Today, in our 24/7 world, we sometimes have to create that time for ourselves and our families, in order to refresh, as well as re-engage with one another. If need be, schedule a family night on the calendar.

Eat As Many Meals As Possible Together

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Mealtimes are often the only times families have together. It can be incredibly grounding to just sit down all together at the end of the day and share triumphs and thoughts. It can take some planning to find the time between activities and work for everyone to come together, as well as the time to plan and prepare meals. If you enjoy cooking, doing so as a family can provide fun bonding time. If not, aim to keep weeknight meals simple and buy what you need for a few meals at once, to keep cooking and shopping times down, as well as costs. You can also make double batches of food, and then have the leftovers the next night. Or pick up take-out food on your way back into the house. While home-cooked meals are great, the time spent together is even more vital.

Spend Time in Nature Together

Nature’s schedule is so much broader than our busy one, that one can’t help but gain a little perspective simply by being outside. And, chances are that when you’re outside as a family, you’re getting some fresh air, physical beauty and exercise, which enliven the spirit as well as help create healthy habits for everyone. For some children, nature is where they feel happiest, and there are plenty of ways to enhance their experience of nature, whether through creating poetry or art out of what is observed, collecting items to display at home, playing games like Tag and Hide ‘n Seek, building forts, watching stars, or telling stories and playing word games together while on walks. Other families might enjoy biking, rollerblading or water sports as a way to be active together and do something a bit special. Chances are, even if you live in a city, there’s a bit of nature nearby. Looking for ideas? Check out the Children & Nature Network.

Cultivate Friendships With All Different People

Have people in your life who are different ages than you, or whom you don’t know through your child. Sometimes what gets lost as a parent is a sense of who we are as people, and others – with whom me might share non-parenting interests – can help us reconnect with that part of ourselves and with a broader range of interests and ideas than may be prevalent in the immediate circle of school. People who don’t have school-age children may be less harried themselves, so that you can’t help but slow down in their presence. Perhaps there is a neighbor or friend with whom your family would enjoy taking a walk or doing a craft. Especially if there are no grandparents nearby, a relationship with someone older can be a wonderful, life-enlarging experience for a child. Many senior facilities welcome young visitors with a parent. Performing a service, such as visiting a shut-in, is an excellent way to slow down, gain perspective and make a friend.

Say “No” to More Things

We parents don’t have to volunteer to take on more at work, or to serve on every school committee that needs us. Periodically assess your needs and your output and, if something is out of balance, readjust. Likewise, children don’t have to sign up for a lot of activities. Often, children are over-scheduled to the point of creating stress for the whole family. Perhaps explore one or two activities at a time, and carefully consider costs and benefits before adding any new ones. It may help to assure yourself that it is usually not the last opportunity for your child to enjoy ballet or soccer. More pleasure may come from devotion to one thing at a time.

Evaluate Your Own Desires

Are you signing your child up for activities you would have liked for yourself? While exposure to many things is delightful and, indeed, a luxury, too much of a good thing can backfire. Try to be clear about whether your own needs or anxieties about your child’s achievement are fueling a desire to over-schedule activities. Often what children want, when asked, is simply more unstructured time with their siblings, friends or parents.

Make Time for Yourself and Your Spouse

This is often the first thing that gets bumped off the list of priorities. Adults who are burned out have no resources left for their children. Perhaps, having cleared more time for family time, some self and couple time can emerge as well. If need be, schedule time to spend alone, as a couple, or with friends from other parts of your life, even if you can only do so once a month. Consider doing more family activities that, while age-appropriate, are not necessarily child-focused. Sometimes children come along on our activities more readily than we expect them to, and the results can be rewarding for everyone.

Get Enough Sleep

Missing out on sleep puts everyone in a bad mood, which can add to daily stress. Try to have a regular bedtime for children and for yourself. If work remains to be done into the night, tell yourself it can wait until tomorrow. If there’s time, a nice routine before bed, such as reading out loud (to children of any age) can be calming and put a nice cap on the day, which helps everyone get to sleep better.

Let Children be Children

Sometimes, in our rush toward achievement, we forget what it is like to be a child. Childhood still lasts about 18 years, which leaves plenty of time for  structured activities. Some unstructured time for children (to be alone, as well as with the family) is desirable. Don’t be afraid to let your child have down time, to daydream or explore on his or her own. To even — be bored. Every activity doesn’t have to lead to a future goal. And every moment doesn’t have to provide outside entertainment. In fact, our tendency to over-schedule and over-stimulate children can create undue stress for them, as well as the inability to simply entertain themselves, play freely, tolerate stillness, or discover their own inner compasses — who they are and what they like to do.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

These tips were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities and slowing techniques.

Thank a Teacher with a Book or Other Gift

The end of the school year is again upon us. In the flurry of activities for the students, it’s always good to take a moment and thank the teachers who give so very much of their wisdom and their time throughout the year.

teacherbooks

The middle school my daughter attends has a wonderful tradition I wanted to pass on. At the annual school Book Fair in Spring, teachers are invited to take a look around before its opening and create wish lists of books. Each teacher/book combination is written on a library due date card and filed in a pocket, which is mounted with the others on a board.

Parents can attend the fair and shop for their teachers, in what is the ultimate win-win situation: Teachers receive some books they want, just in time for Summer; parents know they are choosing a wanted gift; and, in our case, some proceeds from the book fair go to the school. (The card is a nice touch, as it serves to remind the giver which book is intended for each teacher.) These needn’t be high-end gifts. Most teachers requested books under $10 in their mixes.

Anna’s elementary school also provided a gift wrapping service, which was also a fundraiser for a specific class. The children in that class had hand-stamped and decorated the wrapping paper, as well.

Most people don’t have a lot of money to spend on teacher gifts, especially as children get older and have multiple teachers. We’ve given teachers homemade soap and jam, thinking that those are both things we’re able to make at home that someone would really use and appreciate. For certain teachers, homemade, personal art pieces or cards are very meaningful. If you don’t want to give a teacher another “thing”, gift cards are always welcome.

And if you really want to think outside the box, you might consider making a donation to a charity in a teacher’s name. Justgive.org is a fantastic organization that lets you do just that. Minimum donations are $10. There is a wide variety of organizations at the site, which is very easy to navigate and explore. Many are relevant to education, and some would apply to a teacher’s passion, as well. Let your child help pick the gift to learn more about helping others, and the kinds of groups that are available to do so.

Happy Summer to all, especially our hard-working teachers.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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