Monday, May 28, 2007

The Summer Fun Box

Here's an idea that our family recently created. It's called our Summer Fun Box, and it's a very fun and economical idea for keeping busy throughout the summer.

First, we took a plain box and cut a hole in the middle large enough for a child's hand to be inserted into it. Then we decorated the box with plain white paper and colored summer type images onto it. Summer-themed gift wrap would work just as well, but my five-year-old is really into art and had a great time drawing and coloring it with me.

Next, our family sat down and brainstormed ideas for activities we could do this summer. Most involve the outdoors, but we threw in some indoor activities as well. Here's a sampling of what we came up with:

Play in the sprinkler
Visit the library
Go on a nature hike, and the chooser gets to be in charge of the camera
Movie night -- chooser picks the film, and Mom and Dad provide the popcorn
Ride a bus downtown
Have a picnic lunch in the backyard
Make a collage with items we find outside
Paint some rocks
Chooser picks dinner
Let's go swimming today
Go on a bike ride
Take a walk through the skyways downtown

These were just a few of MANY ideas we brainstormed, and all are economically friendly and fun for kids. The key to making this activity work is to let the kids come up with the ideas. I offered some suggestions, but for the most part, the kids were really great about coming up with excellent ideas.

For good measure, we tossed in some "Big Ticket" items that were truly special activities:

A Day Trip to the Zoo
A Day Trip to the Children's Museum

We happen to have memberships to both places, so these activities wouldn't cost us too much.

Here's how it works:

Each night after supper, one child draws an activity from the box. Whatever is drawn will be the activity we will do the next day. That way, arrangements can be made and supplies can be gathered by me the night before so we don't waste precious activity time.

Also, you may want to lay some ground rules. In our family, Big Ticket items may have to be put back in the box and redrawn if we already have an appointment scheduled for the next day. Also, have a plan "B" for rainy weather (although most activities can be completed indoors with a little imagination).

A word of warning: This activity requires A LOT of flexibility on your part. If you're a Type A personality like myself, you may have trouble diverting from routine.

Enjoy! Oh...and I'd love to know any good activities your family comes up with!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The World Didn't Come To A Screeching Halt

But I thought it would.

Although Kurt and I decided we would home school our children more than one year ago, I consciously decided not to tell people. But as the school year inched closer and closer to its end, our plan became more and more difficult to hide as questions surfaced. Friends would ask if we'd decided to enroll in the neighborhood school or were on waiting lists for one of those elusive "choice" schools. Clerks at the grocery store would smile at my daughter as they rang up our food and ask her if she was all ready for kindergarten. Relatives, who had heard faint rumors through the familial grapevine, would gently ask exactly what our plans were for next year.

At first, I dodged the questions. I'd reply that we were scheduled for a particular elementary school (not a lie) and had heard great things about it, or that we hadn't yet decided what particular choice school would fit our family's needs. Sometimes I'd just smile and shake my head no as they asked if I was ready to let her go off to kindergarten next year (again, not exactly a lie).

Looking back, I'm not really sure why I was so hesitant. I guess it's because I thought that the minute I spread our good news, things would change. I worried that my friends, many of whom were former teachers, would judge me harshly. I worried that complete strangers would form an opinion of me as being "one of those crazy homeschooling-granola-loving-school-hating" types. But mostly, I worried that others would feel like I was acting superior in some way; that my decision to home school meant that their decision to educate their children in a traditional school setting was somehow inferior.

So for those reasons, I decided to keep our little secret under wraps. Annika, however, did not get the memo.

It started out innocently enough. Family members would tell me how Annika told them she wasn't planning to go to school next year and would learn at home. An early childhood educator asked me about homeschooling after Annika had listed all of the reasons she's looking forward to being educated at home. And other parents started to ask me about home schooling after their children would return home from a play date and report all that Annika had told them. I knew the cat was really out of the bag when Annika's response to the clerk at the grocery store was that she was going to "her own home school."

I'm ashamed to say it now, but whenever the home school issue would arise I answered honestly and then cringed, waiting for the world to stop spinning. I'd stare back tentatively, a smile pasted on my face waiting for words of rebuke or the look of disbelief in their eyes. But that has never happened. In fact, I'd venture to say that most of the responses have been positive, supportive even. Instead of disbelief, my admission has been met with curiosity and admiration. I've received no harsh words, only Wows! followed by lots of questions. Instead of uncomfortable silences, I've been given materials, referrals to great websites, and offers to extend play dates into the next year.

My friends are still my friends. Teachers still think my kids are awesome. And not that I care...but even perfect strangers treat me as they would anyone else.

No, the world didn't come to the screeching halt I had so fearfully envisioned. Instead it has swept me up and kept right on spinning.

The only thing that did change was me and the way I now view the future.