Weekends are harder than weekdays because the kids are home. They require constant entertainment and attention, ‘something to do’ or else they’ll threaten you with a “Mom, I’m bored” attack.
Thank God these weekends are small. Two days, and then normalcy resumes, surrender to routine and acceptable boredom-for which Mom is not to be blamed, only mean teachers with a malicious intent to exhaust them with homework.
Summer break? Ah, that’s a totally different ball game. No homework. No routine. Not anything. This can very well crumble our nerves if we don’t plan ahead, and fast for our summer salvation.
Keep children engaged in the summer months with a healthy balance of fun and learning-not only so they don’t get bored, and consequently on our nerves, but, more importantly, so they gain the most value from this great stretch of time.
Think of it as a wonderful opportunity for being together with your kids, doing stuff you normally never get time for during the extended school year. There’s a lot of learning that school simply cannot and does not take care of. There’s a lot of friendly interaction and activity that gets no space during a competitive school year.
When parents ask me as a teacher, what they should review with their children over the summer break before they get back to school, I always tell them to review childhood fun. A few kids will require brushing up for math or language arts during the summer break, since school’s routine is binding no more and they can focus on whatever remedial needs they have without a daily progressing curriculum. For them, summer break is a good time to catch up on whatever they missed during the year, so that they can be on mark for the next academic year. The problem, however, is the parents who exhaust their kids with a “summer of over ambition" from one tutoring program to another, who then handover burnt out kids to the school in September in the new academic year.
Hence, my advice. Let them be kids, explore the world around them, with them, and let them camp at the library! There may be several summer camps offered around the area, where kids have an organized day of fun and learning, but my only contention with that is that yet again we leave our kids in someone else’s hands when we could have had them all to ourselves to learn and find out more about them. If either parent is non-working or has the luxury of being at home with the kids, then we really should try to make the most of this time with them, and not without them.
Let Them Out…
Summer’s for exploration. But whatever we decide to do, we need to make sure that we give our children the leeway to relax and slow down. Summer is a great time to step up outdoor fun, especially if you live in a place that survives a long winter. Frequent walks with the kids are really a great time to exercise and also bond. The little ones could be in strollers if you wish. Several stops are allowed. Unlimited time can be spent looking at maple leaves changing color, following butterflies, or even taking a rest to look at the clouds move.
There are other outdoor activities: Walks to the playground. Picnicking in the park, or even on your own front lawn or in your backyard. These are great fun for the kids. It’s almost like turning the house inside out when all of God’s other creatures too come out from their homes. Barbecuing or not, other meals are simple enough to enjoy outside in the open air.
Summer’s also a wonderful time for all the exercise these kids need, whether it’s cycling around the neighborhood, or playing soccer outside.
If you don’t have a swimming facility nearby or a beach, children need not be deprived of water play. A small hose, sprinkler, or an inflatable pool can provide hours of fun for children. I remember my own little one cramming a small plastic baby tub of water into our two and half feet wide balcony with old plastic bottles and the like playing for hours on end. If the sun blazed too hot, I just temporarily covered the area with a makeshift shade that worked perfectly well.
Water play can continue as they wash your car, clean up the porch, and such. Engage the kids in small home projects like painting a fence or planting a garden. This gives them a wonderful sense of having contributed in real terms to a joint effort.
Planting a garden takes time and teaches children patience too. When we grew sunflowers and cucumbers, it was wonderful because these things grow fast, and they grow big too. The kids helped tend the plants and vegetables and thoroughly enjoyed picking them afterwards.
My fondest memories of my mom’s vegetable patch are going by myself to get the finest bunch of fresh mint leaves for her. I’d go inspect the ladyfinger and the eggplant.
Even if we don’t have a massive outdoor space, a lot of herbs and plants can be grown indoors or even out on a small balcony. For the children, it’s just fascinating to merely experiment with the lifecycle of these plants. When my son was younger we always had a celery stick sprouting on the kitchen counter somewhere, or carrot tops balanced on pebbles to grow leaves, or popcorn seeds and apple seeds saved lovingly for our gardening experiments.
.. . And Let Them In
Speaking of experiments, a wonderful thing to indulge in is hands-on science during the summer break. Kids love simple science projects that they can do by themselves or with some help from an adult.
While exploration of outside is a step toward that, it’s also a good idea to look into hands-on science ideas on the Internet. Even for my own classroom when I want to give the kids a break from the textbook, I pull out a series of science experiments that we can do in class. Whether it’s making your own tabletop volcano, or goop, or plastic cup phones, or anemometers (for measuring wind speed), or seeing colored water rise up the celery stalk, kids have a blast with hands on exploration. There are lots of science experiment books and ideas available.
Since you’re ready to get your hands in some fun, crafts at home gives kids a whole lot of fun and learning. Again, there are numerous websites with fabulous craft ideas for you and the children. If you stick with paper crafts, you need only a small budget-some construction paper, glue sticks, scissors and the like and you’re on your way to a world of origami, Chinese lanterns, paper baskets, masks, and hundreds of other things.
Get a bit adventurous and let the children explore different art mediums, like painting on fabric, paper, glass, or wood. When my kids had had enough of crayons, markers, and colored pencils, introduced them to oil and water paint, spraying it with toothbrushes to create a new effect, or using a thread dipped in paint for more fun, or combing over paint, and crayon rubbings over leaves-all methods to explore different textures.
You could try paper weaving with the kids, or tie-and-dye paint, which my children absolutely loved. Another fun project was cutting up vegetables and dipping them in paint to use as blocks and exploring the pattern and symmetry that Allah has placed in His creation.
Kids love to work with clay. You can get equally creative with easy air-dry, mess-free molds. Or you might want to experiment with the slightly messier ones that sometimes require popping them into the oven for baking.
The dollar store sometimes has easy craft projects at really low prices, like awesome woodcrafts that are long lasting and can be used in the home. A step above play dough for us was making play dough ourselves at the stove. The kids can help mix the flour and coloring, knead it, and scent it at the kitchen counter.
Then, there are the practical joys. Involve the children in helping you at the kitchen table, from peeling fruits, to making cupcakes, to milkshakes. There are lots of kid-friendly recipes that keep them involved and consequently out of trouble.
Throw Down the Techs, Pick Up the Books
It helps greatly to allot a daily reading time for die children. Most libraries have kids summer reading programs. This encourages them to step up on their reading. Reading for pleasure and information has a long-lasting effect on a child’s life. Take it a step further, if you like. Ask them to think about the main idea of the story, or do a book presentation, or think about their favorite characters and do sketches of them. Or, they could pull out characters from these books, and then transplant them into stories they write themselves. My students loved being authors and illustrators of their own books, and were proud of the collection we had of their work at the end of the year.
Encourage children not only in story reading, but also to appreciate poetry. Of all your reading ideas, the best involve yourself as a parent in this adventure. This does not stop at driving them to the library and back, but reading the same books as them, and racing with them to see who finishes first.
I got hooked on the Famous Five series because my dad used to read them at the same time as me. He’d get the book after I went to sleep, and in the morning driving me to school tell me what page he was on, what parts he liked, and finally threaten me that he would disclose the ending before I got to it. My reading speed was immense when I was in second grade, because I was forever racing with him, and the comprehension part sunk in because we were forever talking about the same books. We were crazy about these books, and he was my best reading buddy. Even today, we exchange books, and we moved on from Enid Blyton, to Agatha Christie, to Daphne du Maurier together.
The Human Element
This summer try to get the kids involved with people around themextended family, neighbors, friends and the community at large. This is both enjoyable and beneficial. Participate in some masjid events. Take time out to meet up with relations you don’t see that often. Planning trips with neighbors to the local park or some other area is a nice play date to set for the kids. Use the summer break to stay in touch with your children’s school friends also. This becomes a wonderful step toward building community life and making long-lasting friendships for the children and their families.
Entertaining kids at the park or on amusement rides is fine, but make the effort to give them a more “real” feel for the world around them. Community building projects, like clean-up drives and the like are great ways to introduce your child to communal participation. Contributing, not just financially but physically to food drives, soup kitchens, a shelter to sort out donated clothes will raise their social consciousness and commitment to helping others.
One field trip the kids always enjoy is visiting the local recycling center, or an animal shelter or hospital. Exposing the little ones to diverse careers and people around us is not only educational but also fun. One of my child’s favorite hangouts was the cleaners. He loved watching the big machines spin the clothes and the laundry coming down the escalator to reach the customers.
Life in the Living Mosque
Local children’s theaters are great fun for kids. In our community, we have plays put on in the park during the summer months, and that is a great opportunity for the children to be outside in the evening and also enjoy the stage. A visit to the science center, art galleries, or various museums is both an education and adventure for the kids. I also encourage visits to non-standard outings, like to a botanical garden, an arboretum, or apiary (a place where bees are raised for honey).
Organize your ‘ibadah with the children too. Random acts of worship and sadaqah may be meaningful temporarily, but they are not enduring in their effect. If we are more deliberate about it, incorporating it in our daily routines, it will be far more beneficial. Expanding sadaqah from pennies and dimes, to a smile, getting a glass of water for someone, taking out the trash, helping around the home, and so forth are all traits of kindness to be learned.
If parents are striving toward jannah and making a visibly conscious effort for it, so will the children. By frequenting the masjid, making salah in jama ‘ah in the house with the little ones where they are responsible for the adhan, leading the salah, spreading the prayer mats and keeping track of salah timings, you are inculcating in your children the habits of successful believers. Take it a step further by allotting times for dhikr and reading the Qur’an. Bring the Word of Allah to life by practicing kindness in our everyday dealings, and by narrating the stories from the Qur’an to the children. An appreciation of the lives of the prophets and the Companions infuses children with integral lessons about spirituality.
All this may seem like a lot of work for the summer, but that’s just what it should NOT feel like. While we keep the children occupied in an experience of summer fun at home, make sure that the routine is not strictly regimented, that we are flexible and ready to relax. The greatest joys lie in simply being together.
Article provided by Al Jumuah Magazine, a monthly Muslim lifestyle publication, which addresses the religious concerns of Muslim families across the world.
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