Are You Spring Breaking At Home?
Though last year, we had an enforced staycation for spring break, this year, we may choose to stay home again considering the pandemic is not over quite yet. Ours begins this week and we feel weary and in real need of a break, like many parents and educators, who have been working non-stop during exceptional times. Though time off offers the hope of renewal, we lose the comfort of a schedule for our children. I admittedly was daunted by the thought of a whole week home with a twelve-year-old who, if plans and expectations were not established, would indulge in screen time most of that time or else whine about boredom. Yes, we’ll be playing card games and board games and doing puzzles together. But I also wanted to promote independent play. So what’s a caring parent to do? I reached out to a wise friend to see how she was handling the expanse of time and she was ready with some reliable ideas.
If you too find yourself daunted by a safe staycation, let the following ideas guide and inspire you!
Establish Expectations for your Morning Routine
By what time will you get up and how? When will you eat breakfast and who will provide it? By what time do pajamas come off and day clothes go on? Though you want your child to have some freedom, the morning routine can cause considerable stress if all family members are not clear about expectations and also, take some responsibility for their own roles. Get together as a family. Discuss each of your respective roles and responsibilities. Agree on a plan together. Check out this video short on ways to create a smooth morning routine.
Work Together to Manage Screen Time
Learn together about the brain development impacts on children and teens so that it’s not just you, the “meanie” parent saying screen time should be limited but an understood science-based principle about healthy development. Check out Common Sense Media for a helpful overview.
Create a System for Screen Time Tracking
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for children three years and up including teenagers. If children must work on screens for school work, that time can be assigned or limited differently since that may be the only way they can get their school work accomplished. But for video gaming, YouTubing, Netflixing and any other entertainment, the recommendation is two hours a day.
My friend’s method is simple and elegant. Her girls each have four 1/2 hour popsicle sticks (color on one end is red to designate used-up time and on the other, green for unused time). Each half hour they use, they flip over the stick in a cup to designate time used.
My son keeps a chart on a white board. He knows he’s allotted fourteen hours per week (or two hours per day) and can go over on any given day but knows he must keep that fourteen hour balance and sacrifice screen time at the end of the week if he uses it up.
My friend allows exceptions for family movie nights. Those do not count toward her girls’ hours. For us, we’ve created an exception for piano learning on YouTube. Our son used to have lessons outside our home but now, he learns online so that we offer an extra hour a day for his online learning. How will you agree to track screen time in your household?
For a family meeting agenda and a template of a family media agreement, check out this article that will also help you learn together about why limiting screen time is important.
Create a List of your Child’s Favorite Non-Screen Activities.
Have you noticed that when a child gets off a screen, they feel lost and unsure what to do? Their hormone levels have been so stimulated and rewarded by the screen time that it can be disorienting without that level of stimulation. That’s why it’s important to develop a go-to list of non-screen activities that are favorites of your child’s. When she shuts down, she can visit her list and consider a range of options instead of looking to you to figure out what’s next. Now that the family is home together, why not also create a family list of favorite things to do individually and together?
Get Outside at Least Once a Day (Regardless of the Weather)
We all need some fresh air and simple exercise. The outdoors offers both. So set the expectation with your family that it doesn’t matter what time of day they choose, all should get outside and refresh their bodies and minds with a walk around the block, a bike ride, or a gander around the backyard.
Ensure That Each Family Member is Responsible for a Chore (per day or per week)
Learn more about teaching how to do chores through interactive modeling, creating a team work environment, and agreeing upon age-appropriate tasks for children.
Allow for Plenty of Freedom and Offer Creative Prompts
Yes, freedom is a wonderful thing if your child will take advantage of the time. But we are so conditioned to rely on screens for our entertainment, that your child could be challenged by the large amount of free time. For our spring break time, I created daily prompts that I posted for our family. Set a tone by posting the challenge and turning on music that will inspire calm or creativity energy (and turn off news which can create a stressful energy). Lay out inspiring and novel art supplies to help with the challenge. You could choose a different theme for your week like the arts, nature, or even a favorite story book.
Consider the fact that a focus on the arts may offer a chance for your child to express fears, worries, or other emotions they are experiencing during this unique time. Here are some ideas from our week of the arts that offers daily choices…
Day One: Creative Writing
- Decide on a friend or relative that lives in another town. Write a pen pal letter and mail.
- Write a song to express your current emotions.
- Write a poem on a favorite memory from a birthday.
* Offer a couple of alternatives for writing tools including loose leaf paper and pens, typewriter, or markers and plain paper.
Day Two: Drawing
- Still Life: Place an already constructed Lego set or other interestingly shaped toy in the center of a table to draw.
- Self Portrait: Use long paper to do a full body outline of your child. Then allow him/her to fill in their own self-portrait details. Build on it by writing different unique attributes of your child’s identity around his portrait.
- Landscape: Using a rectangular-shaped paper, challenge your child to illustrate the setting for his/her favorite character’s story. Go “plein air” if the weather is nice and take your supplies outside to draw from your yard.
Day Three: Drama
- Write a play about three kids who discover a portal to another world in their basement.
- Create a video acting out a number of big emotions.
- Develop a skit telling a story of a favorite animal and her friends without any words.
- Create a puppet show that explains to aliens from outer space the global pandemic.
Day Four: Sculpture
- Get out clay or play dough and generate a list of favorite objects. Pick one to sculpt.
- Take a walk around your block and find interestingly shaped natural objects. Bring them back and use a hot glue gun (with a parent’s help) to glue together a found object sculpture.
- Use multi-colored construction paper and create a three-dimensional bouquet of spring flowers.
Day Five: Dance
- Turn on your favorite music and host a family dance party.
- Learn new moves and techniques on YouTube together. Our friends recommend Just Dance.
- Play GoNoodle Movement videos and follow along each time you plan to transition to a new activity – from breakfast to playtime, after lunch, and late afternoon.
Though we do not have a daily agenda or full day routine during spring break, we still have plenty of ideas to keep our imaginations fueled and bodies, minds, and spirits fully engaged. When you are spending time together as a family, check out these – anytime, anywhere collaborative games that will promote family connection!
Wishing you joy, creativity, and connection for your time off together!
*Many thanks to wise friend Kimberly Allison for her tips this week that inspired this post!
Originally published in April, 2020.
Special Thanks to All Who Participated in International SEL Day!
Jennifer Miller of CPCK co-founded SEL4OH in her home state with Pamela McVeagh-Lally this past year. We are grateful to long-time social and emotional learning champion U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan for recognizing SEL Day in the Congressional Record!
With organizations and participants around the world, there were 12 million views on #SEL Day posts and social media! What an incredible way to raise awareness about the importance of social and emotional learning for our children and ourselves! It was hosted by The Urban Assembly and SEL4USA and we feel so much gratitude for their leadership! Also, big thanks to the many Confident Parent’s collaborators who offered their wisdom on this site and through social media that day including Roger Weissberg, Nikkya Hargrove, Erik Keefe, Mike Wilson, Pamela McVeagh-Lally, Shannon Wanless, Fernando Restoy, Annmarie McMahill, Rebecca Bauer and Agenda Bonner.