Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Keeping Kids Busy During the Summer - HOTM Post

If you missed my June post on Heart of the Matter, I'm re-posting it here. I just read it again, and there really are some good ideas in here (if I say so myself!).

Summer is here! What does that mean in your home and/or homeschool? For my children, it means that very little will change. Oh, the afterschool activities that begin to consume us by May are slowly beginning to taper off, and the Houston heat is descending on us like an unwanted sauna treatment, but apart from a short break, our studies will continue apace. In fact, I consider summer one of the best times for homeschooling! At least where we live, it is really too hot to play outside for the majority of the day, and the cessation of afterschool activities means that more time is freed for creative play. I have noticed that when we take more than a week off from school at any given time, every single one of my children begins to miss school. The math books come out, the spelling tiles emerge, and the reenactments of the Trojan War become even fiercer. When I announce that our break is over, I don’t know who is more excited – the kids or me! I definitely understand, though, that there are some huge benefits to taking the summer off – avoiding mom burnout might be one of the biggest! When you are living with gifted kids, though, sometimes too much free time is not something to be embraced!

Okay, confession time: I wasn’t actually entirely sure what I wanted to say in this post. I knew that I wanted to talk about the challenges of keeping gifted kids (read: gifted boys) busy, particularly keeping their minds and hands focused on positive and constructive activities, rather than the less desirable alternative.

Boys in general simply exude energy. When you combine the nature of boy with the nature of a gifted child, you may find yourself sitting on a keg of gunpowder! During the year, we have school, followed by rest time, followed by afterschool activities. (This site is wonderful if you are trying to assess whether you might have a gifted child based solely on academic considerations; my concern is more with the behavioral challenges associated with parenting and schooling gifted children. For more on the behavioral characteristics of gifted children, please see this article, which I’ve referenced before.)

When “N”, my nearly seven year-old son is home, he is happy enough for the time to spend with his Legos, his puzzles, his books, and his dog. There is relatively little time for madness and mayhem, although he certainly manages his fair share in a short period of time. Enter summer, though, and everything changes! We still have school, to be sure, but as I have indicated before, “N” requires short lessons replete with content, or I will lose his attention entirely. Hence, school does not occupy even half the day. With no afterschool activities, finding no-cost ways to engage his mind has been high on my list of priorities! So, whether you plan to school this summer or not, following is my list of “N” boredom busters (they’ll work for my other three kids, too! “N” is my challenge: think of him as Mikey in the Life cereal commercial!).

Puzzles – of all kinds: jigsaw, crossword, logic, Sudoku, Rubik’s Cube. Anything that engages the brain and holds the attention for a span of time. There are many puzzles online at Puzzler Paradise, but don’t discount the magic of a good old fashioned puzzle book and a pencil!

Battle Simulations – my sons love army men. They can’t have too many army men. I have come across battles in which twentieth century soldiers are firing upon dinosaurs, zoo animals, and insects (we have entirely too many plastic animals at my house!). “N” makes catapults from Legos and rubber bands, and all kinds of objects go flying. This summer, I am going to surprise him with Junior General. If you have not seen this site, and if you have a boy who loves to play soldiers, you are in for a real treat!

Crafts – knitting, Origami, crochet, latch hook, etc. Don’t discount these activities just because you have a boy. I’ll admit that I was dubious at first when “N” asked me to teach him how to knit, but I have been amazed at what a calming activity it has been for him. In fact, those are his very words, “It is very calming, Mommy.” I’m sold. This is the child who literally can’t sit still. When he knits, though, he gets in the same zen mode that I do when I knit. He also learns patience and the joy of creating something that will last.

Organizing - it sounds crazy, but if your gifted son is anything like mine (and many gifted kids share this characteristic), he’s a champion organizer. He likes order. Put that skill to use! Give him an organizing task! Let him clean out his drawers, the pantry, the art supply cabinet, or anything that needs an organizing touch! If you happen to be blest with an organizing gene yourself, and don’t require this service, then head for your nearest food or clothing pantry. Teach your child the joy of volunteering while simultaneously offering up his meticulous talents to those in need!

Free time - this one is kind of dicey. Free time can go either way in my house. It can be the source of amazing creativity and inspiration, or it can lead to a whiny, “I’m bored!” Now, that phrase is a dangerous one for my kids to utter. It may result in a not very fun housecleaning task. However, study after study has shown that free play time is key to the development of intelligent and creative children, so certainly allowing for plenty of it is essential!

Whether you plan to school or not this summer, keeping kids occupied during their free summer hours can prove to be a challenge. With a little forethought, though, you can meet this challenge, and prepare for the best summer ever!

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