Summer is here and if you are like me, a routine master, you are in a panic. School is over and children are shouting, “I am BORED!” You realize that the time you had celebrating the end of a successful school year must come to an end as you begin planning a summer program. Unfortunately, that time has slipped away and you are scrambling to find ideas, theme/unit items, guest speakers and field trip forms. PAUSE. Teacher life does not have to be chaotic and always busy with grandiose activities. Plan activities that you would like to enjoy with your children and SLOW DOWN.
On our first day of the summer program when I was still teaching, I gathered my class of preschoolers on our group time rug. We sat and talked about what they wanted to do to have fun in our summer before they started ‘big kid school’ in the fall. It may not seem like a big thing to do, however, making it a priority to sit down and include children in the planning is the best thing you can do to make your summer awesome! Here are three simple tips to help you and your planners come up with safe, age-appropriate ideas.
- Give real expectations and choices. Kids might come up with about 9,000 ways to blow your supply budget and your stress limit. Setting limits and goals are okay, talk it out! Help children to work through the critical thinking and reasoning process.
- Make a map. Sometimes the best plans for your students can be better examined with charting! Written lists can also help them express their opinions and interests in a concrete way. You can make one list of plans the staff members want to do, one list of things children want to do, and compare the lists that both the staff and the children can do together.
- Research and choose. Pinterest makes visual organization a breeze. Also, going to the library to look at books together to get ideas is wonderful. You can take the more hands-on approach and make a collage of activities on poster paper using magazines and other paper material. Let your children help you look for ideas on the list. Whatever the activity— creating art, outdoor activity, cooking lesson—it is right there for our children who are still learning. It gives them a chance to make connections.
After all of your hard work with your ‘assistants,’ your summer will be something that you and your children have always wanted. No stress involved (or very little). If I have learned anything from teaching, this one thing is true: the fun plans you have intended for the children to do are not always as good as the children’s ideas of fun. Let them take the lead—within reason. Find out what makes things fun for your children and watch the laughter, smiles and precious moments appear. Collect those teachable moments, not the material things, and everyone will have a very happy summer.
Looking for fun and unique summer field trips for your program? Look no further! Talking about the summer in February might sound strange, but I have found that it takes time to plan summer activities that will be enjoyable learning experiences, AND are inexpensive!
Generally speaking, places like roller rinks, bowling alleys and swimming pools are places that cater to child care programs and welcome groups of children. But, have you considered touring a local restaurant, store or airport? Parks and nature preserves are also very popular field trip destinations. What about farms or ranches nearby? I went to one place this last summer with a program and got to see a mountain lion, zebu and kangaroos, held a baby goat and was licked by a giraffe.
That’s not all. Are there historic houses, forts or even a castle near your program? Or, you could look into places that focus on the arts, like dance studios, art galleries, concert halls or theatres. Many have programs custom-built for children of different ages. Of course, there are always the museums and entertainment plazas that offer a wide variety of activities for children.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box! You don’t have to take the children anywhere to explore new and exciting things. Plus, it is a good idea to plan ahead for rainy summer days too. You could have guest speakers come in or send out Flat Stanley. One of my favorite suggestions is a program called Worldwide Culture Swap. There is a subset specifically for families (and classrooms) in the United States where you are linked up with four other groups from different states. Each group puts together a package that represents the culture or customs unique to that state. If you participate, you are strongly encouraged to add a little explanation of why you chose the items you put in the package and a description of what your favorite things to do in your state are. A group in Ohio might put a buckeye or a model airplane in the package. A group in Kentucky might put a horse figurine or CD of influential music. The packages are then shipped to each group you were linked with, and they send you packages as well. It is a fantastic way to learn about life in other parts of our country, through authentic artifacts and stories.
I hope this summer will be full of field trips to places you’ve never been and memories to last a lifetime! If you have a favorite field trip, please share in the comments. It doesn’t have to be one you’ve taken your children on; it could be one that stands out to you from your childhood! I look forward to hearing about all the places that hold a special place in your heart.
Summer is in full swing and so are summer camps and summer care throughout the region! I remember from my time as a camp director how difficult it can be to keep staff motivated. It always seemed that during the first month everyone was full of energy, but sometime in July the heat really started taking a toll and everyone’s motivation took a nose dive. The midsummer blues had hit! The same old songs just weren’t doing the trick anymore, teachers were uninspired and the kids were begging for something different. What’s a director to do? How can we keep everyone motivated with a limited budget?
I found that the simplest ideas were the ones that made the most impact.
- Celebrate! When you have staff meetings, celebrate what your staff is doing right. A little encouragement goes a long way on a hot summer day.
- Select a counselor or teacher of the week using peer nomination and recognize them in front of the whole program. Kids will love it!
- Have a prize drawing that includes summer fun items like water balloons or frisbees for everyone who shows up on time.
- Plan simple get-togethers. Play softball, see a movie or have an ice cream social.
- During the day, make a guest appearance and take over some of the responsibilities so your staff can take a break.
Remember that you are the role model that your staff look up to, which helps them be better role models themselves for the children in your program! Lead by example.