Sunday, July 02, 2006

Summer Time Seattle List for Parents

Deborah Woolley, the parent educator for Asher's class, sent out this excellent list of summer activity advice:

Book Resources
Out and About in Seattle with Kids, written by Ann Bergman. Ann Bergman was the founder of Seattle’s Child (now metamorphosed into ParentMap), a newsmagazine for parents; she’s raised 4 kids of her own; this is a terrific, reliable guide. A Parent’s Guide to Seattle, written by Tom Hobson, a former co-op parent and now a co-op teacher in the NSCC system.

The Mudpies Activity Book:Recipes for Invention, However, toddlers don’t need elaborate projects – glue plus just about anything plus some type of paper equals art!

Once a week (I used to do this on Sunday evenings), browse through your resources and find a couple of ideas that appeal to you (that’s crucial!) for that week and that might interest your child (one never knows, but it’s worth a try!). Then call a friend or two with compatible kids, or a childless friend or relative who’s willing to accompany you, and try to find a day that week that will work for you both. Outings are SO MUCH EASIER – and safer! – with another adult along.

When “out and about,” go with the flow.
On your expeditions, whether urban or into nature, don’t be fixated on what you thought was the goal/destination/point of interest. It may be that the most interesting at the zoo is climbing up and down one of those rocks by the savannah. It may be that the most interesting thing on your trip to the waterfront is riding in the trolley itself. Walking through the woods, your child may want to stop and pick up sticks and not care about getting anywhere. GREAT! If it’s absorbing for your child, you’ve accomplished what you wanted. Their brains are being stimulated, they’re learning about the world, you’re finding a valuable way to spend time. So pick places YOU like so you’re not troubled if your child wants to take forever to move along; take it at your child’s pace; follow their lead; watch them and learn about them as they interact with the world of nature or the city.

Limit TV/Videos/Computer time and use it STRATEGICALLY.
Instead of letting it happen just any time, think about what time of day it would be most useful given your child’s daily rhythms and the pace of your own day. You can record TV shows, of course, and YOU get to pick the time of day when it’s allowed. My suggestion would be to establish a regular time – after nap, before dinner, etc. – that works for you both.

Seek out water. Not just wading pools and hoses and sinks and the beach, but also streams. There are several parks in Seattle with streams (Ravenna, Carkeek, Golden Gardens) that provide lots of opportunities for poking around.

Organize your week around different kinds of stimulation/activities/interests.
You might want to come up with a general structure for your weeks, building in whatever elements appeal to you and suit your child’s or children’s developmental needs. When I was the parent of young children, I structured my summer weeks more or less as follows: one adventure to the beach or one of the more extensive parks in Seattle (for the trails in the woods, not for the play equipment) so my kids could explore natural environments); one urban adventure (riding the trolley, going to the fountain at the Seattle Center, going down to Fisherman’s terminal, etc.); one day where we just stayed home all day and sat in our wading pool or built a fort in the yard or “worked” on some kid project together; and the other two days depended on the age of the child – maybe a playdate or maybe a babysitter so I could run errands. These provided the general structure for the week (mornings, or in some cases whole day). Then I’d weave in time at playgrounds within walking distance, or at wading pools, etc. This might be too much structure for some parents, but when I was an at-home parent I liked having a structure to the week. Do this for yourself it appeals, not for your child – your child will be just fine whether you do it this way or are more spontaneous.

Find a mother’s helper.
Whether or not you hire babysitters (and it can be easier to find one in the summer, since school is out), find a child in your neighborhood (i.e. within walking distance) to come over and play with your child while you’re home doing something else – maybe every day you’re home, for an hour in the late afternoon, maybe for an hour and a half a few times a week – whatever time of day you feel most harried or out of patience parenting. You could use this as a way to get a break (sit down and read for an hour!!) or to return phone calls (well nigh impossible to do with a child this age), A mother’s helper could be as young as seven or eight, depending on the child – try out someone who’s interested in preschool-aged children (and younger) , watch how they play with your child. And kids are trainable – i.,e., you can give them guidance as to how to talk with your child, how to follow their lead in play, how to reinforce positive behavior, etc.

Gather your equipment so you’re ready and you don’t have to gather it every time. Get some durable bag and put in it towels, plastic shovels and rakes and buckets, non-perishable snacks for your child AND YOURSELF, bottles of water, a change of clothes for your child, a hat for both of you, a giant tube of sunscreen, and anything else you can think of that is basic. Expeditions are easier if you don’t have to organize them each time.

Get a picnic basket and have a picnic once a week.
It’s surprising how pleasant it can be to eat dinner outside – and if you pick a location where your children can play (a safe beach, a wading pool, a playground with some grass nearby for sitting) after they spend their five minutes eating dinner, you can have a relaxed dinner. Pair up with some friends and you might even be able to sit and enjoy some adult conversation over dinner while one of the adults supervises the kids (taking turns at supervising, of course). It was very liberating for me when I realized that a picnic doesn’t have to be anything you actually have to prepare in advance – I could gather a loaf of bread, some cheese, fruit, maybe a brownie or a cookie, maybe a bottle of wine, and juice for the kids, put it all in the basket and VOILA! My kids were perfectly happy with this, though I also discovered they LOVED ravioli or tortellini with parmesan cheese and would eat that anytime as a picnic dinner. (This became the basis of a pasta salad for the adults, my standard picnic item: cook up the tortellini or ravioli, toss it with olive oil, take out some for the kids, then add any of the following: zucchini, red bell pepper, toasted walnuts, parboiled carrot slices or broccoli flowerets, red onion, lots of fresh-grated Romano.)

Set up a kids’ “art” shelf in the kitchen
Stock the shelf with glue, different types of paper, stickers, stuff to glue like cotton balls, scraps of interesting fabric, stamps if they’re ready for that, etc. – and encourage your child to “do art” while you’re something else. This might be a good time to acquire a child-sized table for projects (also snacks) – a good investment. I kept art supplies is shoeboxes with the tops off, so my kids could see what was inside. Encourage them to use these materials in whatever way they want. A lot of stuff you’d normally throw away can be used for “art.”

Get time with your spouse/partner.
Consider a babysitting trade with another family whom your child knows from co-op or other setting, so this can be a playdate for your child as well as time out for you.

Get time to yourself every day.
For your own survival as a parent of young children, you need time a way from parenting every day – whether it’s for work or play, exercise or just sitting and staring at the sky. If you have a partner, let your partner take over; if not, set up a regular trade with some parent whom you trust. This is a necessity for you, for your child, for your family – not just mental health, but physical health – so take it seriously!

By Deborah Woolley, MSW

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