It will start in a week or two, the flood on facebook and twitter, then blog posts, the moms who are only half joking as they look forward to the day their kids go back to school. The high of vacation time is wearing off, the kids are getting restless, fractious, and every 23 seconds you hear, "Mom, I'm bored."
You however still have work to do and commitments to keep. You have already gone to beach, taken that trip and now you are staring down several more weeks with all of you, all day, in the same house and it's not looking pretty, and I'm not just talking about the house.
Well, that's pretty much my life. I home school. I go everywhere, and do just about everything with 4 kids in tow. I spend every day at home with my kids. Most of the time I actually enjoy it too.
Here are a few of my secrets.
1. If they are old enough to be in school, they are old enough to be of help to you. I sound like my grandmother, I know. But, she was right.
A lot of bodies in the same house make for a lot of mess and at the end of the day, looking around at the disaster you can feel like just throwing in the towel and eating ice cream instead. What if you could eat your ice cream in a tidy house? Not perfect, mind you, but not a health code violation either.
Give your kids jobs to do. Tie these jobs to certain times of day and transitions so they will become part of your routine and get done. Here are a few examples from our house to give you an idea.
We have morning chores, meal chores, and afternoon chores.
In the morning, before eating breakfast the kids get dressed, make beds and do their morning job. They don't eat breakfast before this is done.
Right now, the Boy (9) cleans and tidies the bathroom: wipes the counters and sinks and toilet bowl, picks up stuff on the floor, and puts things away. The Girl (7) unloads the dishwasher and puts the dishes away. Little (4) makes the bed in the girls room.
After each meal one clears, one wipes the table, and one sweeps the floor. (Ideally)
Afternoon chores happen before going outside to play, since we usually don't go out until after the hottest part of the day. They each have a room to tidy as quickly as possible, one does living room, another den, etc. picking up the floor and putting things away. I make sure to sweep or vacuum after this to take advantage of the picked up floor.
They also have to put away the toys in their own rooms before going outside to play or watching a show. (A rare treat at this house.)
If we do this, the house is not as bad by the end of the day as it would otherwise be and we can go into dinner and bed time without too much mess dogging our heels.
Also, because they are picking up several times a day you needn't despair when you see every single toy in their possession employed in an elaborate fantasy game that has dozens of characters and a plot more elaborate than the last novel you read. Giving the kids chores to do and getting them to help clean up around the house frees you to say yes more often.
2. Establish Routines
Your children have been in a highly structured environment for the past 10 months. They are told where to sit, when to eat, what to learn. They will find the transition to entertaining themselves and having no structure to the days difficult. This is usually the source of the never ending chorus of boredom.
Now, I'm a huge fan of boredom. I think it's an important developmental ingredient for a kid to have enough time to get bored and then figure out how to fill that time creatively. This is when the greatest forts happen at our house, or huge doll castles that span the living room.
However, a whole day stretching in front of them with no idea of what happens when can be overwhelming for kids used to the structure of school. Especially when they think you should be on and entertaining them all day long.
So we have routines. We have set times for doing things with mommy, quiet time in their rooms while mommy works, and time to play and read to each other. It will probably look a lot different from one family to the next but the main key is to have a sort of order to the day.
I even have times when I get the oldest to read to the younger ones while I'm spending one on one time with another. Then they switch, the other playing with the little kids while I spend time with the reader. This comes from school days where I have to give them each their own lessons. This gives every child, each day, at least a few minutes where they have my complete attention rather than have it divided as I mutter uh-huh, while peeling carrots for example.
I insist on quiet time, they have long outgrown naps, some of them, but I still have them spend at least an hour every afternoon in their room reading or playing quietly so I can get some uninterrupted work time.
Notice please I'm not talking about a strict schedule, but a routine, and a general order of events.
3. Stay at home more often.
Once you have this lovely routine in place, don't mess it up y going all over the place all the time. Of course, you could have as part of your routine, a part of the day when you go to the playground, or library, or pool, but for the most part try and stay close to home. I find going out every day stressful, to me and the kids. We like to go out and have adventures, but we like our time in between to relax, get back to normal, and regroup relationally and emotionally. We only go out for long periods of time once or twice a week.
4. Don't neglect sleep, or nutrition. Yes, it's summer. Yes, it's fun and there are so many exciting things to be done, so many cold treats to eat. But no one can have fun if someone is always cranky and overwrought because they are exhausted or pumped up on sugar all. the. time. With summer holidays you run the risk of what is normally the exception becoming a daily occurrence and then you are left dealing with cranky kids who bicker with each other all day, scream and cry at the drop of a hat, and are otherwise miserable to be around. It's amazing the wonders a healthy breakfast and a good solid nights sleep can have on all of your dispositions.
5. Making good memories is often more a matter of time and attention than distance and money. You don't need to travel or take and exciting vacation to store up good memories for your kids. All you need is some presence and a change of routine, which you now have. Set up that tent in the back yard and let them camp out in it. Join them when they build that fort in the living room. Spend a day playing games all day and laughing together. Invite those really great friends over to share dinner and a campfire or game of tag. Travel and expensive destinations can be so stressful that the only thing your child remembers is you being frazzled, or fighting with your spouse. That's not a happy memory. You want the memories of being home together to be good ones, so make them. Now is your chance.
You can enjoy the time you have left with your children this summer, and they with you. Really. Have fun.
Now you tell me. What do you do to keep your sanity with the kids home all day?