Friday, June 20, 2014

"Summer Camp" at Home

As you probably know, I'm a work-at/from-home mom (WAHM). This means my days are filled with a combination of childcare, school and activity schedules, and my own paid work (and my blogging and videos, of course!). With school out, I was worried that the kids would end up spending eight hours a day watching TV and playing with their tablets - neither healthy nor desirable. When they're on screens, I find, they're generally lazier: plates and garbage hang around in the living room, they stay in their pajamas until lunch time, the house somehow ends up being messier and dirtier than usual even though they haven't done anything. On top of that, they tend to be more rude to me and to each other and are less inclined to help me or each other out with things. The reason I lean heavily on screens, though, is it does keep them busy without me so I can work. It's a difficult trade-off.

So, I knew I needed to come up with a plan for the summer that allowed for screens and relaxation, without going overboard, but also allowed for me to work. Sending them to camp for any length of time is not financially feasible, and since I am at home, we don't need paid childcare, it seemed the most reasonable thing to do was to turn the house into a mini-summer camp for them.

The main take-away I had from perusing preschool calendars and summer camp schedules is themes. Either by day or by week, there are activities that are specific to certain days. Rather than just being open-ended, the days are structured in a way that gives some direction to what they should be doing today and what they can look forward to tomorrow.

The flip side of that is knowing that (a) I am not a camp director and do not want to be needed for entertainment all day long (they should be able to occupy themselves for the most part), and (b) I'm not that good at setting up and taking down activities and I don't like big messes that have to be cleaned up. So I had to find a middle ground of sorts.

I spent some time coming up with a weekly schedule that incorporated screen time under clear limits along with some new and different but self-directed activities. Then I played around in Excel to make this calendar:

(click to see full size)

If you can't see the picture, basically Mondays are art-themed, so I'll have art supplies available that aren't normally out. I'll put down a plastic tablecloth on the floor so they can do watercolors and Play-Doh without making a big mess all over the house. Tuesdays is "unlimited screens," except for mid-day when we can go out and get lunch, run errands, and so forth. It's important to break up the day somehow for me as much as for them. Wednesdays is for outdoor play. If I can't make them go outside every day, at least one day a week they'll have to go out, and they'll have some special toys to play with only on Wednesdays. Thursdays are "spread out and build." We'll move the couches and give them space to build train tracks and Lego and such. And then Friday is chores. They'll clean up from the week, help me with laundry and dishes, and as long as they get their assigned tasks done, I'll allow screens otherwise.

The idea is that each day has a theme, but you can also choose to do something else that day, and I've made some suggestions so they're not flailing around randomly. But I'm also not going to run structured games or schedule activities, so I'll give them ideas and leave them to it. Rather than trying to regulate screen time by the amount of time they spend on screens (because there's three people doing three different screen-y things at any given moment), I'm scheduling the times they must be off screens. I simply made a general rule that screens are not allowed from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. except on Tuesdays (unlimited screen day). The reason for this is that they can get up in the morning, turn on the TV, relax themselves into the day, and leave me and my husband alone so we can get up and ready. Then the screens go off approximately after breakfast and they have other activities to choose from, both general activities that are available all the time and specific activities that we'll take out once a week so they stay novel. Then in the afternoon, they can start winding down again, watch TV while I get dinner ready, and so on. 

A secondary goal is to have them learn how to entertain themselves without needing screens all the time!

Figuring that summer camp and/or paid childcare would cost something like $200-300 per week, per child, I decided that spending a couple hundred dollars once to get them some new toys and activities for the summer was both reasonable and justified. I can tell them to go outside and play, but if they don't have even a ball to toss around, it's not really fair of me to say, "Go entertain yourselves." 

So we went to Target and explored the toys section and the outdoor activities section and picked out some neat stuff. We got Play-Doh and markers and watercolors and paper and a Spirograph for Art Day. We got a jump rope and a baseball mitt and ball and sidewalk chalk and bubbles and water guns for Outdoor Play Day. I got them a new Lego set for Spread Out And Build Day (they already have tons of building stuff). 

So far, they've made kind of a muddle of it, wanting to try out all their new toys and activities. But I'm keeping some things aside so they'll actually be interesting when the themed day arrives. If they've been doing Play-Doh every day, then Monday won't be special. If they play with water guns every day, then Wednesday won't be special. 

At least, that's the idea.

I'll update later in the summer about how well this is working. It's been up and down so far, but I like having a plan so that I can keep coming back to, "Today is outside day. Go outside and play" or whatever, rather than being arbitrary about what they should be doing.

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