Tuesday, 20 December 2016

My version of a school holiday survival guide (republished for Easter holidays)

Now I warn you, read anything here with a healthy dose of scepticism. I'm really not in any position to provide parenting  advice. However I am qualified to provide parenting empathy. In my opinion parenting is a bit like a really unethical science experiment and our poor  children are our test subjects. The old saying they don't come with a manual is utterly spot on! 

This was never quite so true as during the school holidays. It's not easy parenting during the school holidays....and I only have one to look after. Although sometimes I think it can be just as damanding as 2,3 or 4;  in that mummy resumes the role of sibling, play buddy, ninja turtle punching bag, nurf gun target, helpless herbivore being attacked by a T-Rex then cuddly teddy bear...you name it, but that's a whole different topic, for another day. 

So last school holidays I learnt a lot about parenting, particularly how to do it badly. I have one now 7 year old boy, that most would agree is as a whole a pretty good kid, he's a real 'nature' kid, loves playing outside, loves bugs and animals and is pretty easy going. However I really wasn't prepared for the boredom that would set in over the last holidays, the nagging to play on electronic games, nor the non stop raiding of the fridge and pantry, or the falling behind academically after all the progress he'd made in the first year of school.

This year I'm ready!!!!! Well at least I hope I am. I certainly am better prepared than last year. This year I decided to adopt a few teaching strategies. I've taught and managed adult education and corporate business training for years, how different could it be to managing a 7 year old? Right!?

Funnily enough I think it's more about human nature. Kids and adults just want to know what's expected, they don't want to get it wrong and be blamed or feel like a failure when they didn't know the rules in the first place. That's why in education you give your students a course outline, learning outcomes, lesson plans, progress reports. So this year I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. 

Firstly let's tackle the basic expectations. School holidays is about fun, but not at the expense of driving  mummy and daddy mad, falling behind on your reading, writing and maths and getting no exercise. Yes we can have veggie days. However we also need a bit of healthy routine, a few boundaries and expectations set. 

My son has quite a scientific approach to life, if you can explain to him the benefits of a vegetable, show him a little chart on why to eat something, he'll eat it (yes I'm lucky) so I decided to break up the days activities into some logical reasons why he should be doing them. The main themes in the School Holiday weekday routine are:

1. Look after your pets 
2. Look after your body 
3. Look after your brain
4. Look after your stuff

I don't have to get too technical with a 7 year old, however you might need a bit more evidence to back it up if your child is 15. So my daily school holiday routine for my son looks a bit like this:

Of course when I showed it to my son he announced "That's a bit Harsh!". However anyone who has worked with kids or raised kids will agree often they will fall a little short of what they have been asked to do or will lose interest so you need to set achievable but reasonably high expectations. It's not the end of the world if they don't do it everyday but it certainly gives you a backup plan if the words "I'm bored" comes out of their mouths. So far I've found the school holiday routine has worked surprisingly well, without too much complaining. The routine generally mimics the existing routine I had already set with my son,  however if you're coming from a benchmark of your child watching 8 hours of TV and games it might be a bit more of a challenge. For now I'll try to enforce this routine on Monday-Friday with usual weekend routines of more free time and a day off homework. 

My LOOK AFTER YOUR BRAIN sections was met with "What, maths work!!!??? Argh!", so it was a good opportunity for me to show my son just how many fun learning activity books he has and that he can choose which pages he does. I've already setup a study desk and an old draftsmanship drawer for his writing, maths and fun activity books, papers and stationery. He's quite chuffed having his own stuff in pride of place in the dining area, where I can communicate with him from the kitchen or lounge. I've used some cute old recycled pieces of furniture for a workspace for him.

In order to get my son organised I had to get myself organised first, so I've sorted and labelled all the drawers so he can easily find his maths activity books, writing books and fun activity books.

My next challenge was to set some iPad and game expectations. My son's reasonably new to iPad games and I've managed to ward off the X Box, Play Station games thus far. Although I expect I'm in for the battle in the not too distant future. At this stage he hasn't asked for them so I'm keeping him distracted from them with the ipad.

I've done my fair share of homework and research on the benefits and potentially negative effects of games and I've come up with my own version of acceptable time allocations. I have noticed rather grumpy behaviour when my son has been allowed to play games on the iPad for an extended period and I've had many parents advise me of similar  observations, that's enough for me to stick to a daily limit of 1/2 an hour for now. Additional time can be given if supervised using Mathletics, Learning Ladder or other educational Apps or games.  As an educator that ran a University department for many years and established RMIT University's  first Smart Classroom utilising the very latest in interactive technology I'm pretty quick to adopt new technology if it has a positive learning outcome. However when it is in relation to your own small children it's amazing how much more cautious you are about the potential impacts on social behaviour.  So while I'm still evaluating the benefits and possible negative impacts I've set these ground rules for my son.

So far I haven't had to work too hard at enforcing the iPad rules, what I've found is that once he starts playing outside or building something or reading something, before you know it hours have passed and he hasn't even wanted the iPad, his daily routine serves as a terrific distraction, but as I've said I've been trialing these rules for a while, by the time the school holidays came around, he had a fair idea of the rules.

The next thing to tackle for me was what we call the 'Invisable Muncher'. That creature that raids the cupboards, leaves a trail of crumbs and constantly screams "I'm hungry mum!" A year or so back I heard a mum mention to pack their lunch everyday on the holidays, so they go to it, rather than you. So I've created my own version. I've set up boxes of snacks mainly organic, chemical free and colour and additive free. In the 3 boxes I have:
1. Organic fruit
2. Natural Sweet snacks
3. Natural Savoury snacks
Plus cheese snacks in the fridge. 

My son can pick 2 from each box at the start of the day and effectively pack his own snack box. 

I have found a great selection of natural and organic snacks at Organic shops, health food stores, plus there are now organic snacks in shops like IGA, Aldi and Woolworths. 

To try keep my son out of the pantry I've set up his own little stash of snacks in baskets under the kitchen butchers block. He can choose 2 sweet, 2 savoury snacks, plus 2 pieces of fruit and pack them in his lunchbox and help himself during the day. He can also help himself to 2 cheese snacks a day. The great benefit i find is that if we decide to go out he's packed and ready to go and I don't have to buy food when we're out. It's a bit like packing the baby or toddler food only I don't have to lift a finger! 

This snack box only really lasts until about 2.30pm but I find if I allocated anymore they'll be gone by lunchtime. This way he knows to ration them and then we can review at 3:00, so he does not fill himself up before dinner but has something to tide him over.

Every kid is different, every family is different, but so far this is working for me and so far it seems I'm in for a far less stressful 6 weeks of school holidays. 

My Survival Guide could just save my sanity over the next 6 weeks. To coin one of my often used teaching quotes. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail". My Survival Guide hopefully might help you develop a plan of attack. To survive the holidays! 

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