As I venture outside of the comfort I’ve created for myself in 14 years working in childcare and education, there is one job they’ll have to pry from me. I spend my summer’s “off” from the school district herding a small pack of wild and imaginatively fun beasts around Southern Wisconsin (and occasionally Northern Illinois).
I try to fill our days, but not schedule them. Living just south of Madison affords the opportunities of city activities AND adventures on the beautiful lakes and prairies.
And, of course, the free-er, the better.
This series will give parents, grandparents, babysitters, and other summer caretakers ideas, resources, and a guide to plan a summer void of boredom (by everyone). A summer of exploration and expansion.
I’m working with a short crew of 4. A, C, and J are 10, 10 and 8, while Big M is 4 (going on 13 and the Big is solely indicative of her personality), so the activities are designed for a range of interests and abilities.
I’ve created a binder, our Bible, for the summer. Each day has a page, listing everything that I know is going on in an approximately 30 mile radius that day. It also includes brochures and a listing of activities that can be done anytime. Not only does it make it an easy one stop resource for me, but I’ve made it clear that, “I’m bored,” is not an option. They can use the binder as a resource, as well.
One important concept that has made my summers easier is to remember that as a caretaker of school age children, I am the facilitator not the entertainer. Provide the resources and then let them create their own adventure. You’re doing nothing for their critical thinking skills by being the cruise director.
We have a few activities that we do daily (or weekly) that will be our constants throughout the summer. Swim lessons and swim team happen every morning. My one short breather in the day is a half hour overlap by all 4. I generally take that time to get in a quick chapter or social media check.
As I’ve done in the previous two summers, I require 30 minutes of reading and math a day. Thankfully we are truly a pack of book nerds, so the 30 minutes is usually far exceeded. However, during that reading time, they must read a “challenge book.” A good fit book that they haven’t read before and that occasionally requires word deduction. Big M is pre-reader, so I will read to her and she’ll return the favor by doing a “picture walk” through the book.
I was lucky enough to find a math workbook and a multiplication facts dry erase workbook early in the summer at a garage sale. A, C, and J rotate 10 minute stations between the two workbooks and www.freerice.com. Each correctly solved problem on FreeRice is a donation of 10 grains of rice to support the United Nations World Food Programme. We’ve set a goal of reaching 50,000 grains by the end of the summer. The other easy aspect of FreeRice is the ability to quickly change between difficulty levels, which makes for smooth transitions between stations.
Finally, each week we are cooking a lunch of traditional foods found in different locations around the world. One person closes their eyes and points on a map. There is a trifecta in benefits from this experience. Most obvious is the practical knowledge of preparing and cooking food. So, you are welcome, future spouses. They are also responsible for the grocery shopping. They lead the way, Lewis and Clark-style, through the grocery store with list,cart, and calculator in hand. We try to keep our total under $10.
Beyond the prep work and (age appropriate) cooking tasks, they are responsible for researching the types of traditional foods for that area. As the two oldest move towards middle school (they will start 5th grade in the fall), reports and research papers will become commonplace in their homework. While researching we talk about what a good source is, how we can tell that a source is trustworthy, and the most efficient way to collect their information.
Now the real reason that we do this activity each week: I’m cultivating a mini-horde of future travel partners.
Not really, but I think that global awareness cannot be taught too early. More exposure to different cultures, even more exposure to maps, is an easy way to plant a seed towards community-mindedness.
Beyond these constants, we track down all the most fun museums, fairs, parks, fishing holes, swimming spots and other activities South Central Wisconsin can offer. I’ll play catch up this week and post about our first few weeks, but then look for the Harried Poppins series posts weekly for ideas on how to entertain your short crew this summer.