During summer, you and your family will be out on your street, and active in your neighborhood and community. As you spend that time, you may meet people or organizations that need help. And that’s a doorway to family volunteering.
I admit that I often think about volunteering as something I’d like to do but don’t have the time to orchestrate, especially with a preschooler. But the truth is that there’s a whole world of informal, short-term and easy-to-do volunteer jobs right out our back door. For example, you could help a physically challenged neighbor trim her hedge. Get your child involved by having her bag the trimmings.
Volunteering in this way is important because it gets your family focused on the needs in your area, and it teaches your child that helping people is a natural part of life.
Plus, it strengthens family bonds as you spend quality time together choosing an activity and then making it happen.
It also provides gobs of teachable moments, like what the word volunteer means. And the opportunity for parents to be positive role models.
Know too that the large volunteer placement organizations often have a minimum age requirement that excludes preschoolers. So informal volunteering is a great way to get young children involved in giving back.
Service can occur quite naturally as you talk to your neighbors and introduce your family to new people in the community. If you have too may opportunities to choose from, make your selection based on what your family likes to do together. For example, maybe you all like to cook. And you know that a neighbor broke her hip. Talk with your child about why cooking for yourself would be difficult to do with an injury like that. Then cook and deliver a meal to your neighbor.
Take pictures or video as you volunteer. Then post them to your Posterous summer blog for extended family and friends to see. And if you have other ideas about volunteering this summer please leave them in the Comments section below.
Aside from the holiday season, summer can feel like the only time in a year to connect with your extended family and friends. But scheduling time to visit everyone is nearly impossible. Especially if long distance travel is required, and time off from work. Soon, you might schedule away your free-time and forfeit your no-plan summer.
So how do you make meaningful connections with your loved ones AND keep your commitment to an unhurried summer?
Create a family blog. A blog provides a place online where your family and friends go to see photos of your activities, watch your home movies, and read updates about you and your children.
Blogging is easy with a cool new tool called Posterous. All you do is send an email from your regular email account to firstname.lastname@example.org. Attach video, photo albums, links, audio recordings, you name it. You’ll get an email back with a link to your blog. No account set-up. No template management (unless you want to check out their advanced settings). You can do it from your computer or your smart phone.
To involve your loved ones, add their email addresses to your Posterous page. They’ll receive notice when there’s new stuff to see on your blog. Then they can comment for a nice back-and-forth. And Posterous makes it simple for them to download your files for their use. This is handy if you have a mom like mine who likes to print out family photos for her bulletin board. Features like these help unite your family in minutes by giving out-of-towners the opportunity to share in your life as you go.
For a more involved blogging experience, try the group setting on Posterous. It allows you to designate multiple contributors. So your aunt can post. Your brother. Anyone you wish. That way, if you decide to miss a barbecue or anniversary party your family can email in photos and video from the event to share with you.
And if you’re online with Twitter and Facebook, you can tie your Posterous page to those accounts and update them all at the same time. It’s a fast way to stay engaged with your larger network, even as you take more time for yourself.
Of course, there are some extended family events that are important and fun, and blogging is not a substitute. But as you work to plan your summer with care, having a blog will help you feel connected while empowering you to protect your free time. All this and at the end of the summer you can look back at the record of what you did. Kind of like a virtual scrapbook.
To get a feel for Posterous check out this video:
What do you think? Is Posterous something you’ll try? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Earlier this week, I wrote about having a no-plan summer. Perhaps that appeals to your family but it isn’t practical. Like if both parents work. Then you have to find something for your child to do during the week. Still, the larger message applies: You can be deliberate about your summer experience, and you will be happier for it.
How do busy families plan a summer with care? Here are two suggestions:
1. Get the whole family on board
Have a family meeting where you invite your family to commit to a more laid-back summer. Tell them what they’ll gain: More quality time with Mom and Dad, less time in the car running errands, a chance to play with neighborhood friends. Describe it like a dream that’s achievable. But be upfront with the fact that everyone will have to sacrifice some activities to make it happen. Then vote.
If everyone’s on board, ask them to list all of the things they want to do this summer. Make sure that they know to include simple things too, like reading in the hammock, making homemade ice cream or riding bikes. If the final list is super long, explain that that is the very reason why summer can feel hectic. The goal is to have a manageable list. Ask everyone to pick their top activities. If prioritizing a list seems hard for your child (or for you), consider that this exercise will set an important example for her about how to plan a balanced life.
Another way to get the family on board is to pick a day of the week where your family will have no plan. Every Sunday, for example. Give it a playful name, like Family Fun Day.
2. Decide to say no
If step one feels impossible then it’s time to put on your hard hat and decide to say no to one or more fun activities this summer. This is hard. Especially when it feels like you are declining enriching activities, like dance lessons.
In that situation, ask yourself, did my child list this activity as one of her top things to do this summer? If yes, then let something else fall off the schedule to make room for it. Be sure to include the time it takes to drive to and from the lesson when you schedule it in.
If your child did not list dance, then look at why you or your partner is pushing it. If it’s because you genuinely want your child to be enriched, then consider that unstructured time is improving her too. It allows for unexpected learning opportunities, like witnessing the full growth cycle of a bean spout, or working to foster collaboration and consensus with her friends to build a fort.
Still can’t say no? Keep that hard hat on. Remember that there will be many summers to come to be busy. When your child has summer school requirements, or summer training. Now is your chance to take the time to just play with your kids. These summer days are expensive in the sense that you’ll never get them back. Resolve to scratch from the list anything that feels hard to manage or anxious. Remember, you will be happier for it.
What are your ideas for savoring an unhurried summer? Share them in the Comments section below. And check back soon for other summer-related topics throughout May.
Summer’s coming. For me, that used to inspire anxiety. Because balancing work, children’s activities and family trips felt impossible. Plus the pace was exhausting.
Then I read an article by news columnist Danny Westneat about the summer that his family didn’t schedule anything. What a compelling idea! Last summer, my family gave it a try. No camps. No lessons. No major plans. In their place: ample room for spontaneity, relaxation and time to bond.
My daughter had nothing to do but be a kid. She spent days with my husband (a teacher with summers off) at local parks and riding bikes. She played with neighborhood friends. She watched ants travel the cracks in our sidewalk. I was in our garden, often with my daughter right beside me. And we learned together about planting flowers and food.
As a family, we savored slower-paced weekends, with time to witness the daily rhythm of our neighborhood. And we took a few ad-lib camping trips. It was all wonderful.
The positive results were immediately clear. My husband and I found that our focus was more on our daughter. Not on the logistics of the next event. She got the opportunity to practice unexpected skills, like nurturing the planet, relationship building and creative play. We all felt energized and close.
What we learned: We were happier because we were deliberate about planning our summer experience.
Do you have stories of a no-plan summer? Be sure to share them in the Comments section below. And check back for more summer-related posts throughout May.
Two weeks after Earth Day, and there’s still a lot of talk about recycling, gardening and wildlife around my house. But mostly my talk. And my teaching. How are these subjects developing in the minds of my daughter and her friends? I wanted to find out so I asked them a few open-ended questions and videotaped their answers. Have a look.
Things we can do to help the Earth:
Friends talk about our planet:
This is a fun project that yields the sentiments of your child. Like the idea that Earth is where the people we love live. After viewing TV series like Planet Earth, it’s nice to leave the jungles and ocean floors and return to the idea of Earth as our families’ home. That simple but moving notion brings the Earth Day mission full-circle; back to the concept of saving the planet for the generations to come. Plus it reveals how central Earth is to our children’s sense of family.
What does Earth look like through the eyes of your child?
This projects is easy to pull off. You don’t need a fancy recorder. The video function on your digital phone works great. Here are questions to help start your inquiry:
−Where is the Earth?
−What grows there?
−What do you want to do to help the Earth?
Be sure to share your video with us.
Remember too that we have a fabulous new eco-adventure summer program at The Grove School. In it we’ll introduce your child to the five major biomes of the world—deserts, forests, grasslands, tundra and water. Learn more.
Planting with kids of any age encourages their interest in nature and gives invaluable basic skills, like the ability to see cause-and-effect relationships, explore sensory experiences, express creativity and practice inquiry. Not to mention the chance to develop patience, responsibility and self-confidence. Plus gardening is fun. Kids love scooping dirt, planting seeds and watching plants grow.
Container gardens make a great introduction to gardening for children. And now through May is the ideal time to plant a decorative container. They’re space-savers—a window sill, patio, balcony or doorstep will provide sufficient space. And they’re great for food or flowers. Here’s a 3-step plan to get you started.
Step 1: Find a container
Planter boxes, wooden barrels and large flowerpots can be used. Or get creative and reuse items that your child will appreciate, like juice boxes, rubber balls, a baby bathtub or a toy box. See how to create these and other fun containers here. Make sure your container has adequate drainage. Holes should be at least 1/2 inch across.
Step 2: Pot your plant
Start with dirt. Ask your child what dirt is. There are different kinds of it. Show her by taking a walk in your neighborhood and touching the soil at a variety of locations, like a building site, stream bed, or friend’s flower garden. For older children, explain that life on Earth depends on the nutrient cycling that takes place in the soil as microorganisms and larger animals recycle organic materials.
The dirt in your container should drain rapidly but retain enough moisture to keep the roots evenly moist. This site has good soil instructions. And here’s a video that shows how to mix your own organic soil. When it’s time to pot, encourage your child to help. They can mix dirt, scoop it into the pot and poke in the seeds.
As far as what to grow, consider planting things that your child like to eat. Or grow a wide variety of annuals. Here are some plants ideally suited for growing in containers:
Veggies: Tomatoes, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, squash, radishes, parsley
Flowers: Pansies and nasturtiums (their leaves are edible), marigolds, snapdragons, periwinkles
Step 3: Water, watch and wait
Your child will love holding the hose or watering can. If you use a hose, set the nozzle on mist to keep from drowning the plant. In the coming days, help your child vary the watering regime and adjust the amount of sun or shade. Keep in mind that container gardens must be watered more frequently than ground plants. Container plants can not tap into the moisture which ground plants have access too deep within the soil. And, if outside, container gardens have the full force of the sun to dry out their soil.
After a week or two, you and your child will get a feel for how much water your plant needs. Help your child remember to water by printing a watering chart from chartjungle.com. It has space to write down names of plants and check off boxes for the days of the week the plants need watering.
Show off your work. Plant this weekend, take a picture and send it to us using our flickr photostream.
Last week I wrote about Nature Deficit Disorder and its alarming consequences for our children, including mood disorders, attention-span issues and obesity. Not to mention the fact that they miss the benefits of outdoor play, like greater self-esteem, creativity and improved attention span.
But since you enrolled your child in a school like The Grove School and you’re reading this post, chances are you appreciate the value of the great outdoors. Problem is there are obstacles to getting there. Here are remedies for 3 common ones.
Obstacle: Both parents have indoor responsibilities, so no one is available to supervise young kids outside.
- Team up with other parents in the neighborhood or from your child’s class to share supervision.
- Hire a baby sitter specifically for a few hours of outdoor play.
- Try to work outdoors on your laptop while the kids play in a safe area.
- Schedule outdoor time by actually writing “go outside” on the family calendar each week or (ideally) each day.
Here’s something you can schedule today: The National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout.
Obstacle: Indoor enrichment classes leave no time to be outdoors.
Remedies: If the balance seems off, it might be time to reassess. All of the articles I reviewed suggest that an hour outdoors can be as enriching than an hour of instruction indoors. Before you sign your children up for computer summer school, consider camps that focus on unstructured time in the environment, where children are free to use all their senses and play as they wish. Check out The Grove School’s eco-adventure summer program.
Obstacle: I’m not naturally outdoorsy, and I’m not sure where to find nature near my me.
Remedies: Nature Deficit Disorder activist Richard Louv has a wonderful Resource Guide for this. One of his lovely suggestions: “Be a cloudspotter. No special shoes or drive to the soccer field is required for ‘clouding.’ A young person just needs a view of the sky (even if it’s from a bedroom window) and a guidebook.” Check out Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s wonderful book “The Cloudspotter’s Guide.”
Through April, I’ll cover other nature-related topics and activities here in the blog. And I’d love to hear ideas from you. Leave them in the Comments section below.
Some glorious images of our planet from NASA. Check out more pictures at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr page.
All images courtesy of NASA.
I hear the term Nature Deficit Disorder so much lately that I decided to look into it. NDD, as it’s sometimes called, describes the American youth’s lack of relationship with the environment. It’s a problem because it has led to a nationwide increase in childhood mood disorders like anxiety, depression, obesity and attention-span issues.
Richard Louv is leading the wake-up call. In his book, “Last Child in the Woods” (first published in 2005) he points to TV, Internet and other multimedia outlets as major contributors to our youth’s sedentary lifestyle. According to research, the average home in the U.S. has more TVs than children, and kids in our country watch more TV than children any place else in the world.
What I find so interesting about Louv’s message is that it’s not just about turning off the TV. It’s about actually getting outside. That’s important because studies show that time spent in nature gives our children valuable ingredients for healthy, happy living. For example, one resource I found cited that children’s attentional functioning improves after play in green settings. And that the greener an activity area the better the children functioned, with attention deficit symptoms becoming less severe. Another resource suggests that a connection to nature leads to greater self-esteem. Louv says it best, “Parents should see the woods, streams, fields and canyons around their home as a type of therapy to keep kids focused, confident, healthy, and balanced.”
This totally struck such a cord with me because I cherish the memories of my own childhood outdoor adventures. I can’t imagine my daughter not having the same experience.
On Monday, I’ll cover more on this topic, including some creative ideas for getting outside with your kids. In the meantime, be sure to leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.
One of the joys of having a preschooler is hearing the creative ideas they have for real-world issues. To get my daughter talking about Earth Day, I popped in the album “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George” by Jack Johnson and Friends. On it is the “3 R’s” song, which highlights the concepts reduce, reuse and recycle. And it features math too. Grab your child and have a listen.
My daughter loves that song. And I do, too. It’s relevant to our times and it’s fun to sing. There’s also a lot in it to help spark communication about Earth Day. Here are a couple of conversation-starter suggestions:
What do the words reduce, reuse and recycle mean?
- Reduce means to make something simpler or smaller.
- Reuse means to use something more than once.
- Recycle means to put something used through a process that allows it to be used again.
To help define other Earth Day words, check out this online dictionary for kids.
Why do you think we do these activities?
Talking about these actions can help children learn how simple items they use every day can be reduced, reused and recycled. This encourages them to be helpful around the house and yard, as well as to help take care of our planet.
How else do you learn what’s on your child’s mind on Earth Day? Be sure to share it all with us in the Comments section below.
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