After 36 weeks of approximately the same Monday thru Friday schedule, the transition into summer for my little "angels" is... taxing, to say the least. Right now at my house, there are copious tears, more than our share of shouting and foot-stomping, and lots of walking the stairs. We here on the Crazy Train don't shift gears very easily (greatest understatement of all time, y'all). It's a little something behavior specialists like to refer to as rigidity. This wonderfully spectrum-y quality means that "fun" summer is still a couple of weeks away at my house. First, we have to live through "settling into summer", where we try to shake off the idea of the old schedule, and ease into the new schedule as
It has been my experience that this "settling-in" process goes a lot more smoothly if we immediately institute a loose schedule for our summer, as soon as school ends. I'm not talking about scheduling every minute of every day, down to the millisecond. I'm talking about choosing one or two main activities for every day of the work week.
Our Special Events Summer Schedule 2012 Schedule looks like this:
- Playground Monday-- Every Monday morning is spent at one of the numerous local playgrounds in our area. We often invite a friend to join us on the playground trip and sometimes we pack a picnic lunch or snack, too.
- Free Movie (or $1 Movie) Tuesday-- Most of the local theaters where we live show free or almost free kids movies on a weekly basis all summer long. Cobb Theaters have the free Summer Kids Shows Program and Regal hosts the $1 Summer Movie Express. These programs are FABULOUS! Not only do I get to take my kids to the movies on the cheap, but the kids also have the opportunity to practice good behavior in public. And the best part? I can go without the added stress of worrying about wasting $30 if we have to leave early due to a meltdown, sensory overload, or general grumpiness. Mama wins no matter what! (Especially since Mama has a fondness for movie theater popcorn for lunch!)
- The Wednesday Swim-- Every Wednesday we go swimming at one of the community pools. The admission cost is included in our HOA, so it seems free, and it is great exercise for the girls. We always go early, before it gets super hot or super crowded, and we stay until the first signs of "losin' it" begin to creep in. This could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours, but is usually about an hour and a half.
- Artsy-Fartsy Thursday-- Arts & Crafts day is a good way to unwind and rest. We get into whatever crafty mess looks like the most fun that day. Often we will go to the craft store so that the girls can pick out a craft kit from the $1 bins in the back of the store. (At least, that's what I tell the girls. We really spend most our time there in the yarn department while I decide what my next big crochet project is going to be... but whatever. Let them think it is about them.)
- Free-for-All Friday-- We use Friday to do several thing. If we had to miss one of our other regular activities due to bad weather, we may make it up on Friday. We may plan to do something that is only fun or affordable to do once in awhile, like going to one of those indoor bouncy gyms, or going to the Rathole (aka Chuck E Cheese) for lunch. We also use this day to visit the public library, where we participate in the Summer Reading Program. Sometimes we get there in time to watch the afternoon movie matinee they have in the multipurpose room, complete with free popcorn. Friday is our day to practice some flexibility in our schedule. It usually works out okay since we scheduled this day this way-- at least the kids know in advance that Friday won't ever be the same two weeks in a row.
- The occasional One-Day-Vaca Saturday-- This summer we are going to try out a few One-Day Vacations and visit some local attractions either for the day or overnight, rather than doing a week-long stint in one place. I'll let you know how that goes-- maybe. If I live through them. You just never know.
Now just so you know, I didn't dictate this schedule all by my lonesome. For this thing to be helpful, the events on our weekly to-do list had to be things the kids love to do, not just things that I can tolerate supervising. To make sure it was properly motivating, our schedule was agreed upon in a family meeting. We listed our favorite activities to do in the summer, decided which ones would be best to do weekly and which would be best on occasion, and then we slotted the top four activities for Monday through Thursday. The other activities, including the "best on occasion" ones, were set aside to be used as either Friday or weekend activities. Also, you may have noticed that I was careful to follow a high exertion activity on one day, with a lower-key activity the next, just to make sure that I didn't exhaust my babies so much that they stopped having fun. Keeping them well-rested keeps them more agreeable, and me a lot happier.
This is our second summer doing a schedule, and I have discovered some advantages to having a predetermined activity planned each day. Even though it doesn't look like it yet, this schedule is already helping. (One more week and we'll be golden.) Obviously, my structure-needy kids find some comfort and balance in knowing what they have to look forward to on a particular day. They don't feel surprised or at a loss for things to do when they know that one really fun activity is on the agenda for the day. Not as obvious, however, is the fact that having a fun event on the schedule also gives me leverage over their less-desirable behavior. I can use going to the pool or the movies or whatever as a way to "gently nudge" my darlings toward making better behavior decisions. It is truly amazing how much harder they try to "be good" when they know their trip to the _____________ (fill in the blank) is at risk. The most surprising advantage of the schedule, to me, is that having this schedule prevents me from scrambling on a daily basis to find some way to keep the troops happy and busy. It is so much less stressful for me, now that I only have to figure out our plans for one day a week-- the rest is already figured out. This schedule is the gift that keeps on giving! Yay!
Before I close, I do want to take a moment to state the obvious here: this is not all we do. Many other little things happen on a daily basis in a very regular way, too. Meals always happen at about the same time. The kids always get up and get dressed before coming downstairs for breakfast. There's always a cartoon while I take my shower in the morning. Bedtime almost always happens at the same time each night. The above schedule is just the list of "main attractions" during our week-- kind of like the "specials" schedule at school that lets you know when art, P.E. and music will be. If the little stuff doesn't happen regularly, we will never get to the big stuff! We will only whimper and moan and never be productive again-- ever. (Okay, so that may be a little dramatic.)
So now, if I can just make it through the new summer schedule for a second week, things will start looking familiar to Princess and Birdie again, and I will find some summer peace. I may even be allowed to leave the Netherworld and join the Land of Happy People once again. *sigh*
How do you and your family survive summer?