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BONUS EPISODE: Transitioning From School Routines to Summer Freedom

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

*A note from the author: This podcast episode (as well as all future episodes) will be transcribed automatically. The author is currently aware of, and getting hives at the thought of, all of the grammatical errors she's finding as she proof reads her transcript. She recognizes that her former English teachers are likely rolling over in their graves, if that is where they currently reside, but also knows that some things just have to give. Please feel free to listen instead and be sure to read non-podcast posts so you can rest assured that she does, in fact, know how to compose written words into proper story telling.*

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Several years ago, when I was teaching first grade in Iowa, I had a little boy in my classroom named Marshawn. Marshawn is not his real name. It's a pseudonym, but Marshawn was a sweet little boy. He was as sweet as he was cute. He had a vibrant smile. He came into the classroom with this wonderful energy. He got along well with his classmates. He listened well to direction and redirection when he needed to, he overcame learning challenges and was just really excelling. Marshawn was delightful to have in class...Monday through Thursday, Fridays roll around and a different Marshawn walked through my door. Marshawn on Fridays was cranky. He was defiant. He did not get along well with his classmates. He didn't want to listen to what I had to say. He got angry at direction and redirection. And if you can imagine he needed a lot of redirection. On Fridays Marshawn was a different little boy, and it took about five weeks for me to start picking up on this pattern that Monday through Thursday, Marshawn was sweet and compliant. And on Fridays he was not. I had my suspicions about what was going on. I chatted with the school counselor and the principal, and I informed instruction for Marshawn on Fridays to help him in the way that I thought would help him. I'll reveal what it was in a little bit. A couple of weeks went by then a couple more weeks and we were now approaching Thanksgiving break - our first substantial break over the course of the school calendar. I needed a break. The kids needed a break.

If you were to be in my first grade classroom at the time, you would have seen lots of hands-on learning, lots of creativity - lots of learning that took place in a fun way. That particular week we were having a Friendsgiving. We made our own food and we served it and we dressed up and we had all of the history that was going into the lesson. And that week was hell with Marshawn. That week was the worst week yet. And from the start to the end I earned my paycheck. He was defiant. He was rude. He was belligerent. He was unkind to his classmates. He was all the things. I desperately needed a break. And when I left that day, packed up my classroom, locked the door and left - I needed a break and I enjoyed that break. And as much as relaxing as I was doing, Marshawn was going to work. Marshawn in his six year old self was trying to make sense of his little world outside of the structured environment that I had created for him.

It was work for him. Marshawn came from a really lovely family and had lots of wonderful support with brothers and sisters who cared for him and a Mom and dad who cared for him. Marshawn, though, was entering into an environment where he didn't know what to expect in the morning, what to expect in the evening. He didn't know what rhythms and structures and systems were put into place in order to make his day go smoothly. And that lack of structure for him was debilitating. That lack of structure led to all of those Friday disturbances and all of those days leading up to break disturbances. It made my job harder, but it was his angst of the unknown coming out. So in my classroom environment, though, all those creative things they just shared happened, what you would expect on a day to day basis was really structure in action for Marshawn and all the other students.

What we know historically, and this is generally speaking, most children thrive with boundaries and structure. They thrive when they know what the expectations are. And of course every kiddo is different. You'll see different kids on different levels of the continuum of that. But generally speaking, most kiddos thrive with some semblance of structure. So walking into my classroom, you would have already been greeted with something to do at your desk. It's already laid out. There you go. We would have worked on that for about 10 minutes. And then we would have had morning meeting. In morning meeting if anything was changing throughout the day, we would have talked about it. Then we would have headed right into reading groups for an hour and then math and then recess. And it's all laid out. Not only is it laid out and it's the same every day, it is written and laid out on the board with pictorial representation if kiddos aren't quite reading yet, and with words for those who are. There were timeframes, for those who need that. It's all laid out. So imagine going from all of that structure then to not knowing what time you're going to go to bed and who's coming over and going to be actually taking your bed; to what you're going to be eating and when you're going to be eating and who you're going to be playing with, and what's going to be happening and who's coming over and where are you going? All of that caused a disturbance for Marshawn that led to all of the Friday behavior, all of the week leading up to summer or not summertime, uh, Thanksgiving behavior. I learned a lot from Marshawn that year.

Fast forward a few years and now I am at home with my own babies and we are starting school.

We are now well into school routines and we have several of the kiddos in school and what I have noticed is that each transition period for us, not necessarily Fridays, but definitely winter break and summer break, the first few days within those breaks - I am working extremely hard. I am getting angry at the children. I am super frustrated. And honestly, if I'm being quite honest, resentful, resentful that now that we're on this break and I have all these fun things planned and isn't this great, and you're being a stinker. Your behavior is being a stinker and I'm feeling resentful because gosh darn it I could, I could have a job somewhere instead of being here with you. Isn't that the worst thing to think, okay, I'm just laying it all out there. That's a mindset that I had in those dark moments. A couple of years went by into this routine, thinking this is really, really hard. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Marshawn flooded into my memory and it was an aha moment. And I am so thankful that it happened early enough on that I was able to change the trajectory of how we approached the transition from school year into summer. And even the school year into Christmas break, extended breaks.

Here's what happens. Here's what we do. So I know that out of my three kiddos, we are on that same continuum of - some of us need a whole lot of structure and some of us don't. Some of us can go with the flow and be happy with whatever comes, but some of us need to know to the minute what to expect all the time. And it can be anxiety producing when that isn't provided. So understanding that about your kiddo, understanding that about my kiddo was essential, but in this case, not all cases but in this case, we all approach together. We weren't singling anyone out and we were all in this together. On the first four days of summer break we would play school. And it was a lot of work on my end. It was a lot of work to set up what I'm about to tell you, but we would have timeline for five classes. And those five classes were generally PE, reading, science, art, and math. We would know that maybe 45 minutes for each class. We knew what time we were starting. We would take a little break in between. Sometimes we would have a recess maybe after two subjects. Recess, of course looked like just going outside and playing, but I would call them in at the 10 minute mark, and then we'd get back to it.

For PE we would go out and play four square, or maybe a game of soccer. We would do something, maybe go to the park and play basketball. For art maybe I got out the Play-Doh, maybe we actually did a painting project, something creative. For science we did a small science experiment. A lot of times it was something with the garden or sometimes it was science in the kitchen. For math I would buy the math workbooks for the kiddos from Costco, and they each did their own age level/learning level-appropriate math page. And then for reading, because I'm a book nerd and I have all the books from my days of teaching, we would start with a couple of picture books and then they would read independently. And at lunchtime, of course we had hot lunch. Hot lunch joined the fanfare too. And I had thrifted three vintage school trays. So vintage, meaning I think they were from the sixties. They were, and I still have them. They're the colors orange, avocado green, that dusty yucky mustard yellow - those ones, you know, from the sixties. Your moms probably had the blender, the fridge, the appliances of those colors - think that trio. And I have them in my kitchen, the school lunch tray, and I would set up lunch. It was a hot lunch, so maybe macaroni and cheese or soup. And then they had a choice of a couple of veggies, a choice of a couple fruits and then a dessert and a special drink, very much like school. And they loved that. They loved that. Now, as the days went on, the first day was very structured. The first day we did it to the letter and we did the entire 45 minute class before moving on to the next.

And we did the, you know, the cow belt or for recess and all of that. As those four days moved on, we could eliminate one lesson or we could eliminate one time block. We could eliminate just a little bit of that rigidity, that structure. And by the end of those four days, we were seamlessly flowing into summer. We were able to transition super smoothly into what summer looked like for us. Now, as the kids are older, we don't necessarily need to do that anymore, but it's become tradition. So now - traditions are fun and fun is meant to be had. So we sometimes do that just for a day. And if not that we sometimes just do an art thing together. And then of course I will bust out the vintage school trays. And we'll have that on the first day of summer break. It's just now tradition.

But those days of transitioning from the structure of school to summer were so essential. I'm not saying that these were perfect or there was no misbehavior at all, but comparatively, if you were to be a fly on the wall to those early days to we'll say even three years ago, oh my goodness. It was a dramatic difference. And it was a game changer. And I am so thankful to have figured out that little nugget that Marshawn taught me all those years ago. So keep that in the back of your mind. I know that right now, our summer is officially starting on Wednesday, the 23rd of June. And that's really late in our nation. A lot of you have are well on your way, but tuck that away, tuck that away in case you're wondering why it always seems like your little one, your sweet little angel is always acting up the first couple days of summer. Maybe they just need a little bit more structure.

I want to talk to you too, about the idea of creating a little bit of framework for your days in the summertime and how sometimes creating that framework can be beneficial for those kiddos who just need a little bit of structure. Now, I love to play with my kids during the summer. I have always been working in some capacity, but it's creative work. And it is always been - I work when I have time or I have flexibility or it's nap time or Greg is home. I've always worked in that way. This summer is going to be different this summer. I am going to need to have dedicated time to really focus on my business. I'm going to need that space. And thankfully, because I've laid out this framework in years past, it should flow seamlessly into plan for this summer as well.

So here's what we do when the kiddos were little - when they did need more structure. They just did. But as they're getting older, of course they can inform their own timelines. They can, they just need the framework to fall into place. Two of the goals I have for creating this framework for my kiddos in summertime, actually three. One is so that I can get some things accomplished so that I am not relied on to be their entertainment, because that's just exhausting. Another goal I have for creating this framework for them is so that they are not stuck on their screens all day long. And then the third one, the third goal I have for creating this framework is because I want to avoid the phrase, "I'm bored. I'm bored. I don't have anything to do. I'm bored." In our home they will often hear "boredom is a choice." Boredom is a choice just like going and playing Legos is a choice. Boredom is a choice just like going outside is a choice. Boredom is a choice just like playing board games is a choice. Boredom is a choice that you choose. When we provided all kinds of things for the kiddos to do for indoor or outdoor activities. You know, if you walk into their room, you might trip over a toy that tells me they have things to do. So. Boredom is a choice.

What I found too, before I go into the framework, what I found too, is that when we take away some of those screen time options, more creative play happens. Like recently it was a non-screen time day. We do have days in our home that are screen-time days and non-screen time days. And it was a non-screen time day and my two little ones have collected GI Joe toys, and they've inherited some of the ones that were Greg's from when he was little and they love playing with their GI Joe's. On non-screen time days more dramatic play happens. I love dramatic play. It is so much fun. And it really reminds me of when we were little. But on one of our non-screen time days they created their own video game with their GI Joes. In fact, I'll post the video of it on in the show notes for this, because it is just the most adorable little thing. We had a fighter plane suspended over the rail. So it's hanging down the stairs. We have all kinds of strings attached to men who were being manipulated by the video game operator. We had the video game announcer. We had one guy operate the strings to move the airplane, but my words just will not do it justice. I will post it in the show notes and do take a peek because it's the most adorable little thing. And this is something that is a product of not giving into screen time. Quite honestly, not relying on screen time as being the babysitter or the end all be all. We want our kids to stretch their minds in different ways. And this is an example of that.

Okay, so the framework that I use and I've used for a long time is really actually taking shape this summer. I'll report back actually to how it's going to go. But if you were in the teaching world, you might, or you even have heard your kiddo, your young kiddo say, oh, mommy, we did Daily Five today in class. Without going into the details Daily Five is generally a reading thing. You focus on five different skills within the language arts reading realm every day. That's why it's called the Daily Five. So it might be reading, writing, word work, that kind of thing. But we're taking that principle and we are applying it to summertimes.

The younger they are of course the more prep it is for mom, right? The older they are the framework now acts as a suggestion. So let me give you an idea of what our daily five are and what they have been, and I'll give you some examples of some of the activities for both younger and older children. So our daily five, and this is for us this summer, they are going to do each of the five things each day, for one hour each. This will allow me to have five hours of uninterrupted work time. Do I need five hours every day? I don't think so, but it allows me that space in that time to have it if I need it. What I'm hoping for is that I will be able to work four hours a day and call that good, and then work a little bit here and there because ultimately I do want to play with my kiddos, but my daily five is going to be set up so that I can have that space and that time so that I won't necessarily just see them plugged in or asking for screen time all day long, because that drives me crazy. And it gives them just that framework to fill in.

So here they are - our summer's Daily Five: something creative, something where they're learning, something where they are outdoors, something where they're with their brothers or with their friends and something independent. So right now, because they are older, they are going to choose something creative and do it for an hour. They're going to choose something where they're learning and do it for an hour. Something outdoors, do it for an hour. That gives me five hours. Let me give you an example of the creative. So they can do Legos, which by the way, they could do literally five hours a day. They could do Legos. They could play GI Joes. They could write, they like to make comic books. They could do that. They could make still motion movies with my phone and the Legos. They could draw. We have a couple of coding programs they could do. They like to create their own games so they could create their own games.

Something learning: my kids are all voracious readers. They all like to read, so I imagine it's going to fall into that category easily. They could get on National Geographic and look at some of their kids' programs. They can do some coding. They can puzzle books and we have a crossword puzzles, Sodoku - that sort of thing. They can do those kinds of things that all falls into that category of learning.

When they go outdoors, they can play soccer. They can play at the park. They can ride the bike, they can shoot hoops, they can set up the slip and slide. They can play volleyball. They can even work out in the garage if they wanted to or maybe go running if they wanted to go running. If they wanted to work on the elliptical, it's up to them.

Something with their brothers or with their friends. If it's within the neighborhood, they're able to go and hang out with the kiddos within their neighborhood and just check in with me to tell me what they're doing and where they're going to be. Sometimes they like to play board games together, neighborhood play, whatever it is that they're choosing to be with their friends or with their brothers so they can focus on building those relationships.

And then the independent hour. And I think that's really critical because not all of my children are, are extroverts and I think they do need a little bit of time to recharge and regroup even if they are extroverts.

Okay. So how does that look if you have a 14 year old, right? I have a 14 year old. I have a 12 year old and I have a ten-year-old and basically I'm not, I'm not going to dictate what they're doing. We're beyond that. They are old enough to be able to choose what they're doing. I don't care what they're doing as long as they are being kind to each other, they are staying safe and they're giving me space to work. So I don't really care if they are drawing versus Legos or if they are making a still motion movie, if they're doing it independently or together - that doesn't bother me. I don't mind. It'll be fun to see what they choose. And I can't wait to see what they choose because they are always so creative, but I don't have to micromanage that. Now, when they were little, when they were four, six and eight, I would have things set out for them and choices to be made. I might even have a schedule. I might even have like Monday, these are your creative choices. Tuesday these are your creative choices. Wednesday these are your creative choices and give them like a menu that they could choose from.

It's not needed now because my children are a lot older. But when they were little, it's an unrealistic expectation to think that your kiddo is going to be able to fill five hours. If that's what you needed, we'll say of time coming up with things on their own to do so. Providing a menu within that framework is a good thing. So here's an example of some of the menu items I would provide for each of my categories that I just laid out for you, something creative, something, learning something, outdoors, something with your brothers or with your friends and something independent. So if they were little, let's say they were in their 4, 6, 8 year old stages. A menu item I would have provided for being creative might be Play-Doh, kinetic sand, watercolors, chalk coloring, doing an art kit.

A menu item I might've created for their learning - it might've been using their workbook, doing a science experiment, playing with their steam toys or doing a steam project, setting up different books that they could read independently.

Something for outdoors would honestly look a lot like the ones I just laid out for you, soccer, playing at the park, bike, riding, playing volleyball, doing slip and slide playing in their backyard. Those kinds of things. Now, when they're little, of course, they need to be monitored a little bit more. If I had something to do, we might just say, okay, these activities are happening in the backyard and you need to stay in the backyard so that I can get whatever it was I was working on done, but it also could look like me modifying, whatever it was I was working on in order to go out, you know, set up a chair and let them do their outdoor activity while I was still working on whatever it was I was working on.

It's a framework and the structure that I'm setting up is intentional. It's intentional so that I don't become the entertainment, so that they don't focus on me for absolutely every minute of their summertime. Can I provide ideas? Absolutely. Do I want to provide ideas every day? No. I tell them that is why the framework is here so that these ideas are already thought of, and they know that they can freely choose within the confines of that framework. I'll give you an update maybe a month in, I'll give you an update about how it is that this framework is working and what our five categories are looking like. And some of the successes we've had within that framework.

I hope this is helpful for you. If you are finding yourself scratching your head and pulling out your hair, thinking, I just need to get some work done and even if it's not like work on my business, but I just, I want to like mop the floor or my kids are telling me all the time that they're so bored or I'm tired of looking at them looking at their screens, whatever it is for you. If you need just a little bit more of a framework, I certainly hope this is helpful. And the next time Christmas break rolls around or next summer when next summer rolls around and you were wondering why your kiddo went from sweet angel to a little bit more defiant, ask yourself if they thrive on structure. And if they thrive on structure, chances are, you might need to transition them in a way that would make summertime a success. If you have any questions, of course, reach out, pop into my DMs @ figandfarm on Instagram or on Facebook and ask away - I'm an open book. All right, guys, I hope you enjoyed that bonus episode and I'll see you real soon.

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