Tag Archives: Summer

Cycles, or What Goes Up Must Come Down

chess warriors on the board fightingI got up early this morning, my alarm dragging me out of a dream that I was doing laundry. Dreams like that just shouldn’t be allowed! I spent a happy hour or so answering emails in ‘work’ mode, writing out invoices and putting them into envelopes, writing to people and saying “Pleeeease get back to me on this, see previous email, must go to print next week, did you want that as a full-page sir?” I got most of the concentrating and serious stuff DONE before the rest of the family had cracked an eyelid.

Now the boys are up, playing chess. They have replaced all but the King and Queen with little plastic soldiers: Grey ‘Modern’ ones with guns, and green ‘Medieval’ ones with axes and bows and arrows. They keep forgetting which is which: “No, the snipers on one knee are Knights, not Rooks!”

“You are so cheating.”

“You are so losing.”

I’ve been thinking how BUSY we are sometimes, as parents and as families. And then at other times, life is so slow, so routine! It’s been so busy the last few weeks I thought “Oh no, we haven’t done any of our lazy summery stuff!” Building puzzles, painting, playing board games, lying around saying “Weee’rrre boooored” till suddenly you have a great idea? Nope, nope. It’s been action stations here.

And our weekend will be the hyped-up icing on the cake. We’re going to have summer FUN FUN FUN before coming back home to a slightly emptier house, slightly rainier weather, and a slightly more boring life… till next time.

It’s good to remember, when the chores and assignments are stacking up, that soon life will cycle down again and we’ll be all caught up and wishing something exciting would happen!

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by the Author, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Summer Freedom and Risks

inside view of Devetashka CaveThe Summer Holidays will begin here next weekend! I’ve got a house full of excited boys, who all have plans of their own and want to get out and DO stuff. Some of them have reached the age where they can head off to the beach or the park, or ride to the store for snacks, or go visiting friends nearby… and I am pretty terrified, I can tell you! My eldest son already rides to school and back, but the thought of them wandering without aim, perhaps from the park to a friend’s house to… who knows where? Yikes.

I’ve always raised the boys slightly ‘Free-Range’. We lived in a pretty safe area, with a huge backyard. I reminded them to keep an eye out for one another. And I always encouraged them to chat with strangers when we were out together, so that they could learn to tell the difference between ‘A Stranger’ and ‘Someone Who Acts Strangely’. When they were little, we discussed how some people are just bad and wrong, and it’s great to yell for help if you feel worried or scared. We looked at pictures of harmful animals, and said “Ooooh, I wouldn’t touch a scorpion, they sting!” I taught everyone to swim very young, in case they fell into a pond (which they did) and told them NEVER to swim without a grownup (which they didn’t, because my Rules are Few but Absolute). I let them run too fast and fall out of small trees, for an introduction into minor injuries. They learned to be careful as a result!

So, I’ve never been overly concerned about Summer Holiday Freedom… until now. We have left our safe, dead-end road, peaceful village in rural Trinidad, and now we live in an English seaside town. Everything is new and different here, and telling the strangers from the strange can be a challenge, even for me.

Kids often get into trouble when a family moves home. The stress and activity of moving can make parents less vigilant, new threats may not be noticed. We have settled in with little incident, but I feel that the holiday will test us. The boys are used to lots of freedom, especially on long holidays, and making them stay at home will be hard on everyone! I’m trying to think ahead, and find ways of helping everyone stay safe… short of wrapping them in bubble wrap and parking them in front of the TV. I’ve come up with a few panicky possibilities, and ideas to improve safety…

There’s a risk of bike accident: Wearing helmets at all times, and remembering that not all drivers are sober and alert may increase bike safety. I will keep lecturing road safety till the boys are sick of it.

There’s a risk of Bad People: In May, a couple of paedophiles were busted a few miles from here: I completely freaked out, of course. I am sure that the police didn’t get the whole gang and that remaining members will be more cunning and vile than they were before. I am planning a proper ‘Talk’, and arming myself with facts. My youngest son is eight, and will want to go where his brothers go. I am seriously considering not letting him, which will cause dire sorrow and desolation (Already he has begged me to let him go to the store alone, five blocks away, and I’ve said no. If he were not so small and skinny for his age, maybe…) Fortunately, he has little buddies nearby. I foresee many organized playdates in his summer.

There’s a risk with internet and videogames at friends’ houses: They may not be as safe and age-appropriate as I would like. Well, we have discussed this, and the boys know what I think. With the older boys I can only keep the conversation going. With my youngest, I can still choose his friends, and have a snoop at what the kids are up to while I have a cup of tea with their mums!

There’s a risk that boys will pig out on chocolate and ice lollies at the store before suppertime: My giving them a very healthy breakfast, providing healthy snacks and remembering that they will not die if they don’t eat a healthy supper will save me some stress here!

There’s a risk with drugs, weirdos and dangerous behaviour: Thanks to their free-range years and our talkative and open family, I feel reasonably confident that the boys will make good decisions. I think that the gradual freedom that they got, from playing outside to talking with strangers to riding to school alone, will help them to feel in control… much more than a child who has always been supervised, never taken a risk, never had to make a decision. And I will be sure to tell them that if something goes wrong, we can work it out together.

I’m planning on making the boys’ mornings busy! If we have a few hours at home with chores, a big breakfast, art and crafts, and some reading and summer unschooling (you gotta unlearn everything you learned at school, I always tell them, otherwise how will there be room for the new stuff in September?) and they are expected back home in time for supper… well then, that only gives them a couple of hours in which to get lost, be kidnapped, fall out of trees, eat junk food and be badly influenced. Sometimes, the boys’ friends like to come here, where they can bang on the drums and jump on the trampoline to their hearts’ content. I will stock up on yummy snacks, to lure them here!

I’ve got a great babysitter on standby, so that my husband and I can escape for some child-free romance time! I’m also planning on keeping up a reasonable bedtime and our bedtime stories, even for the older boys. A bedtime story is a safe, grounding thing, and we often talk about our days at story time. I’ll look for books with positive role models and happy endings, and keep asking them about their days till they have to tell me!

The alternative, it seems, is to keep the kids at home, and supervise their every moment. Of course, statistically, kids are more likely to be abused by a member of their family than by a stranger. And after a few weeks of non-stop 24-hour contact with three sons and a nephew, all between the ages of eight and twelve, I would fear for all our safeties! With a little thought and planning, I hope that our summer holiday will be happy, fun and free from major incidents.

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by Plamen Stoev, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Safety In The Sun Means Much More Fun!

sun shining bright on a railroad crossingLast weekend, a five month-old baby in the seaside town where I live was rushed to hospital in an ambulance with burns over 40% of his body. He was dehydrated, and according to doctors, may be at a higher risk of kidney failure. He will be in pain for some time. Like me, you will probably think that it was a barbecue accident, but no: the baby was on the beach with his family, and he was napping in the sun. He was sunburned. You can just imagine the gasps of horror in the neighbourhood!

Most of us know that we should cover up when we’re in the sun. But are we really careful enough with our kids, whose sensitive skin is much more at risk? Most toddlers HATE having sunblock applied, and squirm and wriggle so that it is nearly impossible to get it on them properly. The whole operation can be so tedious that it’s easy to do a halfway job, and then regret it later. Sometimes, like last weekend, it’s pretty sunny but the breeze blows cool and we just don’t feel hot enough to remember to reapply sunblock.

Or we might think that after months of being covered up like slugs for the winter, we NEED some colour and a little pink in our family’s cheeks. Sunshine and Fresh Air, we think. Experts recommend applying sunblock 30 minutes before sun exposure, because it takes at least ten minutes to soak in and become effective. Before you leave home is the best time! It’s easy to get out into the great outdoors, and spend a few minutes unpacking and a few minutes getting comfy, and then start to look for the sunblock… by which time the kids have been in the sun, unprotected, for fifteen minutes. And THEN you have to catch them! And yes, a child – even an adult – can burn in fifteen minutes on a hot day.

One bad sunburn in childhood or adolescence can more than double the risk of skin cancer in later life. And in the short term, unprotected exposure to the sun can cause pain, blistering, dehydration and heat stroke. Sunburn can take all the fun out of your day out.

So we must be vigilant in our crusade against those harmful rays.

It is good to get into the habit of applying sunblock at a certain time of day: When my family is on a beachy holiday, sunblock-time is built into our morning routine: Breakfast, Sunblock. The kids take it for granted, and line up with minor moaning about the sun not even being UP yet. (Why oh why do they have to get up so early, so hungrily, and so loudly, on holiday mornings?)

Another routine that really works, especially for younger kids, is an early lunch and an after-lunch indoor or shade activity. This is great for so many reasons: Kids are generally hungry earlier when playing on the beach (and getting up too early), and they are generally exhausted by midday. Serving lunch in the shade or indoors at eleven prevents overtired-and-hungry meltdowns (you know the ones), and then you can keep the kids in playing after lunch, during the hottest hours of the day (eleven to three). They may even nap! You can use this opportunity to fill them with fluids, like water or juice. Then, reapply sunblock before heading back into the sunshine, rejuvenated!

You may have noticed that I’m using a tactic here which little kids love anyway: Routine. Develop sun habits that are healthy, and later on you may notice that your older kids keep them, reading in the shade after lunch or watching a DVD.

If you’re just heading to the beach for the day, you could try another sunblock tactic: Sunscreen-and-a-Treat! Ice lollies while sunblock is re-applied? A favourite drink? Chips and dip? A good tactic for older kids, because you’re not yelling “Come and let me reapply your sunblock!” you’re yelling “Ice lollies!” … see, you can’t lose. Get everyone to drink some juice or water, too. They are bound to feel thirsty, and it is important to stay hydrated.

Ideally, sunblock should be reapplied every two hours when you’re in the sun, so if everyone’s on the beach for the whole day, regular sunblock-and-hydration breaks are a must.

I know that hats are good for blocking the sun, but don’t think that you can skimp on the sunblock if your child is wearing a hat. The sun’s rays reflect off of sand and water, and sneak in under the brim of any hat… and a hat can (and probably will) be removed. So can a T-Shirt. My kids think I’m weird, but I tend to apply sunblock and then a T-Shirt, and that means that if they take their T-Shirt off, I don’t have to panic.

Some types of sunblock can get into kids’ eyes and they sting. Ow! I can see why anyone would squirm and complain about this. For faces, it’s best to use a clear stick designed especially for the face. It doesn’t rub off easily, and never runs into eyes. I like to use a factor 50 if I can get it (although there are claims that factor 50 isn’t THAT much more effective than factor 30 block). For the rest of the body, any sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher is fine. If kids are swimming or sweating, waterproof block is essential.

Use liberally! Skimping will make sunblock less effective. Experts estimate that most parents use half the recommended amount of sunscreen. Creams are much better than sprays for this reason, the gunkier the better. If you prefer to use a spray-on sunscreen, at least use a good thick cream for the first application, and rub it in well.

Remember to apply sunscreen to all of those easily-forgotten bits: The ears, which can stick out and catch the sun terribly! The feet, calves, knees. The arms, all the way down to the fingers. The parting in their hair. The back of the neck. The tummy. And remember that sunblock is non-negotiable. I have seen parents get into lengthy whining matches with their kids, and agree to put the sunblock on ‘In a while’. Are they mad? If your child would rather not wear a seatbelt, would you give them their way?

And do remember to set a good example. Apply sunblock to yourself! Get a truly gorgeous hat! Expound upon the virtues of sunblock, its anti-ageing effects, its ability to keep you comfortable after a day out. An extreme tan is no longer cool, anyway. Especially not on your children.

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by .: sandman, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Getting Your Child Off The X Box And Into The Game

helmetToday I walked into Sidleterra, a place of wonder and imagination where children don’t just watch an adventure, they live it. Upon arrival we entered the “Gate of Destiny” and were greeted with a loud “Huzzah!”. Gwen (age 12) stated, It’s like we stepped back in history! “It’s weird, but a totally awesome kind of weird.”  Actually, Sidleterra is the Wizards and Warriors sleep-away summer camp, where children get to be the heroes of their own stories. The site is a re-creation of a medieval village, tucked away in Charlton, MA.

It’s hard to find summer or after school activities that children enjoy which don’t involve TV or video games. The Guard Up Family Fencing and Swordsmanship school of Burlington, MA, runs afterschool programs, classes, overnight and day camps, including Wizards and Warriors. In this stimulating environment, children get plenty of physical activity, opportunities for social development, and fun, intellectual challenges. Their imaginations come alive as they choose to be warriors, wizards, healers, and so on, developing the history and personas of their characters. Every part of the camp is designed to meet the individual needs of the campers. Those who are combat fans can bound headlong into battle with foam swords swinging. One camper stated, “I prefer to use the mind as a weapon, not the body.” He and his like-minded friends can take an alternative approach as a healer or scout. There is room for all. The motto, “Honor, Courage and Compassion” teaches the kids to understand that courage is not only about bravely going into battle, but also knowing when to honor their own feelings.

In this setting, kids hone their executive functioning skills without even knowing it.   In Alchemy, for example, they use deductive reasoning to combine potion ingredients. Organization and attentional skills are constantly relied on as they seek clues, solve puzzles, and develop strategies to defeat monsters and villains.   As one parent put it, “It promotes organization, initiation, and communication; all the things we want him to be able to do at school. It teaches critical thinking. Thinking out of the box is promoted and encouraged.”

Participating in mock battles, kids get a cardio workout and enhance their balance and coordination. “It’s a place to be creative and physical and not have to be competitive”, remarked the parent of one day-camper. At night they return exhausted, but happy after a full day. This is a huge bonus, as research has shown that excessive TV or computer time can impair sleep, while physical activity has been shown to enhance it.

Campers also work on social skills as they plan, negotiate, build alliances and enlist aid from others. Morgan Kuberry, the director of the day camp, states that many of the children’s goals have nothing to do with martial arts, but are actually more focused on improving social skills.   Playing a character gives the kids the freedom to try out new things in a supportive environment.

Most importantly, what do the kids think? Every hero I talked to had similar things to say. When asked what they liked best, most said, “Everything!”

Adam, age 13 exclaims, “It’s so awesome! I love being imaginative. We even get to make armor!”

John, age 11, who has gone to several other camps, says he loves Wizards and Warriors camp much more. “It’s fantasy. It lets you use your imagination. Instead of having to sit around all day, you’re getting up and running around. It’s awesome!”

Evan, age 9 states, “I love it! It helps me get my energy out. I like being with people that have the same interests as me. I fit in here.”

Two young maiden sisters agreed: “It’s great!” Although, neither of them had been at sleep away camp they both quickly fell in love with Wizards and Warriors.

Besides being fun and exciting, there is a deeper layer of benefits that lie beneath the surface. The physical and mental advantages of dramatic play are clearly indicated by over forty years of research findings.

There are many great forms of enjoyable physical activity. One impressive point about Guard Up is that the staff is trained in “Positive Coaching.” The focus on winning is secondary to learning life lessons through activity.    At the end of one skirmish, I watched a counselor process with the kids what they did well and what they could work on further. The kids recognized the importance of teamwork and said they would have been more successful if they stayed together and communicated.

As an Occupational Therapist, I am very aware of the power of meaningful activity in physical and mental development. As a mom, it’s a pleasure to watch these kids so completely engaged in body and mind. Without a doubt, we are fortunate that programs like this are available for our children!


by Eve Kennedy-Spaien


Opposite Day

yellow ball on blue background, blue ball on yellow backgroundI wrote recently of my desire to kick back and relax for the rest of the summer. I wanted to make sure that my boys see friends and family, that we all get a chance to relax some and have a good time.

This? Not an easy task.

We have made progress….the kids have spent time with several friends and family members. Children have spent time overnight and I’ve seen lots of smiles on happy faces. The stress levels didn’t go down as much as I had predicted though.

Yesterday changed a lot of that. Individuals who were tired went to take a nap (me). Instead of keeping track of computer or TV time, boys were allowed to play as much as they wanted. It felt a little strange, but soooooo very good to just let go and not have rules for a while.

We could have ended up with lots of fights and more stress all around. Instead the day finished with lots of hugs and smiles. Some boys even had had enough on the computer and [gasp] voluntarily walked away from it. I know! Completely unexpected wasn’t it?

It’ll be a while before we break from the rules again so completely, but I’m looking forward to the day we do. The smiles were great. Even mine, after scoring a 3-hour nap in the middle of the day. ;)

by AmyL

Photo graciously provided by Lorenia, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved