Fun,Learning,Health and Spontaneity Make for a Healthy but Happy Break Summer’s Coming: Healthy Habits Smooth Rough Transitions It’s about that time when end of the school year performances and parties are in full swing, and tweeting birds, blooming flowers, and warm breezes are all luring our attention away from school and on to summer escapades. The end of school is the annual event that my kids anticipate most, second only to Christmas. Rough Beginnings As exciting as the pending freedom from books and rigorous routine is, however, the transition from school time to summer does not always go as smoothly as we would hope. Many children and adults, alike, thrive on structure, and the lack thereof lead to abnormal behaviors such as irritability, lack of energy, and an overdependence on others to entertain them. We parents are all too familiar with the phrase, “I’m booooooooooored!”, and with breaking up squabbles among siblings. If we are not careful, the whimsical and carefree summer we have in our dreams can quickly degrade into a summer of whining and bickering. Alas, have no fear?—?there are lots of ways to maintain the summer dream! Here are some healthy habits that my family uses to maintain a great balance of structure and freedom during the summer, maybe they will work for yours, too! 1. Plan for Fun with a good deed reward game Reward your children for good deeds with future fun! Set an end-of-the-summer goal that every member of the family can work toward. For example, I like to plan a trip in May that we will take in mid-August, and we all work toward funding the trip throughout the summer. I fill a “good deed jar” with coins (or tokens), and then reward my kids with money or tokens from the jar for the healthy habits and chores that they perform throughout the summer. For example, each time they complete a ‘good deed’, I take money or tokens from the “good deed jar” and add it to the “family trip jar.” Reverse order! Let your kids reward you as well. They can also reward me and my husband for doing things that they really appreciate?—?making a favorite dinner, spending time with them doing a craft, or playing a game together. Over the summer, we all watch the funds for the trip accumulate and we get excited for the fun that is to come. I started this system when my oldest was just 3 years old, and it has worked for many years (she is now 12!). The following are all examples of good deeds and habits that deserve rewards. 2. Plan for Learning Life is learning, never stop Learning stimulates our brains and opens up new avenues for understanding ourselves and our world. Summer is a great time to learn, whether it be reviewing something done in the past, or starting something new. It could be academic, or completely whimsical and freeform. No matter the subject matter, however, the theme should be experimentation, either with topic or method. Organizing a plan of action! Try something…anything…new! We all have our limits for how much we crave or tolerate predictability, so respect those limits in yourself and in your children, and introduce a healthy dose of learning to your kids’ days. Plan to learn by setting aside time each day or week that you and your children can focus on learning. Discuss with them topics that they may want to pursue sooner rather than later and create a plan with them to address their goals, and develop a ‘curriculum’. Summer days slip by faster than we think, so it’s best to think and plan for it ahead. Be the spark of your child’s life Summertime independent study projects often lead to new interests that children continue to develop over the following school year and even decades past. For example, my younger daughter is quite artistic, so last summer I downloaded a bunch of graphic design apps for her iPad that she could experiment with a few times per week in the mornings. Now when she has spare time, she frequently uses these apps to create new doodles and images. A graphic designer in the making, perhaps? Common Sense Media has some great suggestions for creative tablet apps for kids:https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/best-creative-apps 3. Plan for Health Lazy Summer habits Having access to the family pantry more often than normal during the summer months can lead kids to develop unhealthy snacking habits that may persist longer than the summer. It’s hard to resist a package of Oreos or a can of soda that is within reach, after all! And not having recess planned into the day may make it more difficult for our kids to get their wiggles out and flex their muscles. Healthy Summer habits for your kids Planning for health helps to keep the sweets in the category of a treat (rather than a given), and help kids maintain their healthy exercise habits throughout the summer. Our family likes to limit sweets to one per day, to be enjoyed at any time of my kids’ choosing. We are careful to educate them that health comes from moderation, so it is important to enjoy our treats, but to set limits on them. We do our best to provide whole grain, fruit and veggie-centered meals during the day to keep their tummies full and their bodies well-fueled. As for exercise, my husband and I have been running together regularly for over 20 years, and we are lucky that our kids also enjoy it (albeit on a more limited scale). We try to do a family run once every two weeks or so, which helps to instill the importance of exercise in their lives. My girls happen to be what I call, “indoor kitty cats” that prefer to read books over anything else, so I have to force them to go outside to play more than I would hope. Summer is the perfect time to inspire them to enjoy the outdoors (i.e. kick them out of the house), whether it be in the backyard woods or the neighborhood park. Fresh air, tree branches, and dirt piles tend to get kids’ bodies and minds moving naturally. Fun family exercises Additionally, our family tries to use our evening TV time as a period for stretching and doing some mat strengthening exercises. It’s more fun than it sounds, trust me! Think family crab walking around the coffee table, and handstand contests against the wall. Sometimes we go hog-wild and let the kids be our drill sergeants?—?oh, the craziness that ensues! Even the most grueling and boring of tasks can be made fun when you do it together. And of course, don’t forget to drink water throughout your day! The benefits of regular exercise and healthy eating & hydration to the mind and body are well-documented, and maintaining them will make your summer happier for everyone. Parents magazine has some great suggestions for ways families can exercise together: http://www.parents.com/fun/sports/exercise/10-ways-to-exercise-as-a-family/ 4. Plan for Spontaneity Sounds like an oxymoron, right? But it’s not, really. On those days when you are running around from one “have to” to the next, we need to plan time into our days for things that come up suddenly without warning. Sometimes we can keep up with our schedules, but most of the time we end up having to deal with a situation that we hadn’t planned for and we fall behind, which leads to anxiety and even blow-ups (I’ve had my share!). Transitioning from one activity to the next So what’s the solution to keeping our family’s lives and emotions on track? Buffer time! We cannot expect our little ones to transition smoothly or quickly, and we need to build in time to our schedules to allow for them to move from one activity to another, no matter if you have toddlers or teens. We need to allow them the space and time to transition from the high emotion of a really fun activity, to the lower emotional level of a mundane one. For example, if you need to leave a 6-year-old birthday party to go to a doctor’s appointment, your kids may not be leading the way to the car for an on-time departure. But if you plan for an extra 20 minutes of buffer time, you will have time to deal with any “road blocks” that come up?—?tantrums, leaving something behind and having to turn back to get it, a bathroom stop, or just a prolonged negotiation with a persistent offspring. Time to Connect If all goes smoothly, however, you may even have some extra time in your schedule to add an activity of their choice on the back end of your errands. Perhaps it is a quick stop at the beach where you can frolic for a few minutes, or maybe a jaunt the library where you can pick up books and movies. Planning for buffer time is a healthy habit that will afford you more patience to address your family’s physical and emotional needs, and will lead to your kids’ gradual understanding of the benefits of transitioning smoothly (I cannot emphasize the word ‘gradual’ enough!). Here are some 10–20 minute long activities that can fill those short gaps of time with giggles and love: http://www.mykidsadventures.com/boredom-buster/ It’s hard to hit that balance between too much structure and too little, but hopefully these tips help you strike it just right for your family. Maybe you have other great ideas? Please tell us, we are curious to know what works for your family!