Raising Tweens

Things to Do with Tweens this Summer

Parents, this post is for you! 

As a teacher, I'm really excited for the end of the school year!  Summer break for the teacher part of me means sleeping in a bit later, no papers to grade, no plans to do (at least not right away!), and no tween attitudes to put up with for a while...in other words, a much needed break. Yay!

But wait...if I'm on summer vacation, that means my kids are too!  I still have tweens to deal with, the very ones I brought into this world!  We teacher-moms get no breaks!  (Although it must be said that teacher-moms of tweens get more of a break than teacher-moms of babies and toddlers...I've been there and I'm here to tell you it does get easier!  Deep breaths ladies!  You can do it!)

These kids of ours at home are still expecting to be fed everyday.  They still want clean(-ish) clothes. And worst of all...they want to be entertained!

Seriously, I can't handle hearing "I'm bored" or watching kids lay around watching TV or play on their devices, but I'm also not going to be the summer time cruise director!  This is MY vacation, too!

So, in advance preparation, I've come up with a list of things to do with your tweens this summer...and I promise most of them will be a treat for YOU too!

1. Send them outside!

Yep, simple as that.  Remember how we used to go outside and climb a tree or ride a bike to a friend's house?  Let them.  They are old enough.  They can handle it.  They need time to test their wings and learn responsibility in small doses.  Summer is the perfect time for that!  If you are like me, your garage is full of random things that the kids have forgotten about.  Pull out the sidewalk chalk, bikes, scooters, water toys, balls, rollerblades, gardening tools, pogo sticks, hula hoops...whatever toys you've been hoarding since their first birthday.  Then kick your kid outside.  Lock the door if necessary!  Take away the devices!  They'll survive and figure out how to entertain themselves.  Extra bonus for you is PEACE and QUIET inside!  Or , sit out on the patio with a cup of coffee and watch from afar if it makes you feel better.  Let them play...you rest.  You deserve it!

2. Go to a park!  

If your backyard or neighborhood doesn't have much room to roam, find a local park with paths and green spaces to explore and roam.  You can hike or go for a bike ride, so you are getting your exercise in at the same time!  Score for you!  Lots of parks in our area have free fishing docks and nature trails that kids love.  Big kids like mountain biking on the trails, too!

3. Local field trips! 

I'm going to let you in on a secret...even if they won't admit it, tweens still like zoos, science centers, and all the other places you used to take them!  We live in the Detroit area, and The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is a big attraction.  My 12- and 10-year-olds still like going there and riding on the train, carousel, and old fashioned Model T cars.  Sometimes, we even go into the buildings!  They also still love the Hands On Science Museum and Detroit Zoo.  Even if they aren't super excited when we get in the car to go, they are smiling and having fun 5 minutes after we arrive!

4. Let them get a job! 

Yep, a real paying JOB.  Tweens can WORK!  My 12-year-old is a soccer referee for the pre-K and Kindergarten league.  Both my kids are pet sitters!  Older kids can babysit.  They are making their own spending money and learning valuable life skills.  And there's that bonus to you...free time and less handing out money!

5. Join a swim club!

This one costs a bit more, but it is TOTALLY worth it to join a local swim club if you have one nearby!  A few years ago, we tossed down a few hundred bucks..and I got the first relaxing summer of my mom-life!  Swim clubs have so much to do...more than just swimming!  My son isn't much of a swimmer, but he loves the basketball court, wide open grassy area for soccer or football, and of course, the snack bar.  My daughter is basically a mermaid, so she could willingly spend all day, every day in the pool.  For the few minutes of adult swim time...yes they kick the kids out so adults can do laps!...she's happy at the snack bar or on the playground.  For $25 she joins the swim team and basically gets free swim lessons and has meets, which are lots of fun!  Here's the score for moms...if your kids are strong swimmers and since there's plenty of lifeguards, a mama can sit back and read a book, talk with friends, even take a nap!  At night, they often host parties for adults and kids, like baseball game watches, or float-in movies, or game nights.  Our pool club has grills for members to use, or you can order pizza, or bring a picnic aside from the snack bar.  And if you have a kid with a summer birthday, you are really going to love it...our pool charges only $3 per guest for a party!  Seriously, can you beat a birthday party for $3 person?!?  Even when you add in a few Hot and Ready Pizzas to the total, it is a total bargain!

6. Look into classes at community colleges!

I don't know about where you live, but around here, there are a bunch of small community colleges.  The great thing about these colleges (aside from being a great stepping stone for new HS grads!) is that most of them offer summer courses for elementary, middle school, and high school students!  These courses are FUN, like video game programming, cooking, journalism basics, photography, etc.  If your kids (like mine) are too busy all school-year with homework and sports to try out a new interest, this is a great time to try something new!  

7. Let them eat cake!  (But teach them to bake it first!)

One thing I love doing with my kids in the summer, is to teach them life skills.  They have chores year-round, but in the summer, I make time to up that game.  In the past, I've taught them how to use the washer and dryer...not just to fold and put clothes away.  They've run garage sales and lemonade stands to earn money and learn about running a business.  I've let them start and maintain a garden and they've learned to try new foods.  One of our favorite life skills to practice over the summer is COOKING!  Yes, things get messy...but then they learn about cleaning the kitchen, too!  My kids especially love baking, probably because I don't do it very often!  When we bake, I let them find the recipe, I take them to the grocery store for ingredients, and I let them do all the mixing and prep work.  I really only oversee and help with the hot oven.  They love baking, and I love seeing my kids work together on a project.  They negotiate who will do what tasks, they plan, they set timers, they clean up, and best of all, they get to eat a yummy treat of their own making!  I promise them that I will relinquish all control of the kitchen any time they want to bake (or make dinner, which they sometimes do), as long as they clean it up to my standards afterward.  That is pretty win-win for us all!

8. Join a Summer Rec League!

Summer is the perfect time to let your kids try out new sports.  If your kids are as busy as mine all year between year-round activities and homework, you are probably as frustrated as I am.  I miss the days of sports having a season...everything is a year-long commitment these days!  My son plays travel soccer and my daughter dances and they are both in Scouts.  That's really all I can squeeze in to a week.  They've tried to add in basketball and swimming, but it became too much for them, and to be honest for me!  So, now I use summer as a time for the kids to test out other interests.  Our city has some great short-season teams, with no pressure, just FUN!  Each summer, my kids take a one week tennis camp.  They also have tried out softball, baseball, basketball, and gymnastics.  Summer rec sports are a great way to give kids a taste of what else is out there!

9. Work together on a house project!

This one is a bit selfish, but having kids at home all summer equals free labor!  Since they are living rent-free, I think it's only fair that they help out on projects to keep the house looking nice!  My kids have helped maintain a small veggie garden, spread yards of mulch, they even used some tools and helped us finish our basement!  They are also great at helping with garage sales and other "purging" projects!  

10. Volunteer together!

I'm also a big believer in giving back.  Summer time is a great time to teach kids to be community minded. Whether it's packing lunches to give to the hungry, picking up litter on the way to the park, or donating books to a Little Free Library (by the way one of the BEST things since sliced bread!), there are lots of ways to involve kids in volunteerism.  One thing we do every summer, is go through all our clothes and toys and donate them to Salvation Army or Goodwill or St. Vincent dePaul.  I take my kids with me when we drop them off and we offer to help sort or do some shopping while we are there.  Many churches offer volunteering options, as do scouting troops.  It doesn't even have to be that formal...just send your kids to a neighbor's house and let them do some weeding or dog walking for free!

Whatever you do this summer, I hope you enjoy it with your family!  I always look at summer as a fresh start and a time to do all the things I've been meaning to do all year...especially spending quality time with my kids and taking in some "me" time!

My Family:)

Those who know me well, know that I love teaching, but my family comes first.  I really struggled trying to give 100% to my students and 100% to my family.  I was burning the candle at both ends and making myself miserable trying to keep everyone else happy!  I'm sure all working moms feel this way!  It is just impossible to be everywhere we want to be and do everything we want to do! So, as a way to maintain (or regain?) my sanity, I cut back my working hours.  I know I am lucky that I could afford to do that...that is not an option for many.  But, thanks to Teachers Pay Teachers and a bit of belt-tightening, I've found some balance in my life.  It also helps that with me being part-time, my husband can devote more time to building his career, which has a lot more earning potential than teaching does these days!

But honestly, the main reason I decided to cut back my teaching hours to part-time, is that I wanted to spend more time with my kids.  I want to be PRESENT when I'm with them; not stressed out and thinking about other things. I want to be able to put them on the bus and be there when they get home.  I want them to see me volunteering in their schools, not only to be there for them, but to show them that volunteerism is something we should value in our society.  I want them to be able to participate in after-school activities, and someone has to drive them there!  I tried to do all that AND work full-time, but when I had to go to Target to buy new socks and underwear between dance and soccer practices because I didn't have time to do laundry in the last week, I knew I had a problem!

Raising tweens is no piece of cake...but I have to say I've hit the jackpot with two kind, hard-working, well-mannered tweens!  We are a busy family, to be sure, but I truly love spending time with my kids and husband.  My kids are good people, and that is what I'm most proud of.  I'm hoping that by being around for them more these days, I can keep them on the right track.


TOP 10 Tips for helping BIG KIDS Manage Themselves at HOME

1. Teach them to use their phone/iPod clock. Alarms, timers, and reminders can all be used to help kids manage themselves.  Teach kids to set an alarm to wake themselves in the morning, or to alert them it's time to go to practice.  They can use a timer to manage the amount of time spent on video games, or practicing instruments, or memorizing vocabulary or math facts. The reminder app is super helpful, too! If your child has a weekly homework assignment, set a weekly reminder to go off each week to remind them to do it.  Do they have a recurring activity?  You can set reminders to go on bi-weekly, or just certain days.  This may be my FAVORITE tool on iPhones!

2. Set up a "homework zone" in your house.  This is a tip I share with all parents at Open House.  I have my kids do their homework in one designated spot-the dining room.  In the dining room, I have one drawer filled with school supplies, such as loose-leaf paper, pencils, glue, a calculator, highlighters, etc.  When the kids sit down to do homework, there is no excuse about not having a pencil, or time wasted looking all over the house for the needed tool.  They know my expectation is for them to sit in the dining room where there are very few distractions, and get their stuff done.  I'm nearby for help as needed, but there isn't a TV or toys to distract them, and anything they need is in one place.  Choose any location that works in your home, but keeping it stocked and free from distractions will help your kids work efficiently!

3. Set up a "Phone-a-Friend" system.  This is a great tool for kids who may have forgotten an assignment at school, or have questions about work that I can't answer.  (I've found this to be especially helpful as my kids get older and their homework gets harder for me!  Middle school math is not my forte, I admit.  I'm useless when my son has Algebra homework.) My kids call or face-time their (trustworthy) friends for homework help, and have been known to use the printer to copy blank worksheets for friends (or receive copies) when they forget something at school.  Screen shots of forgotten textbook pages have also been passed between friends!  Please note, this tip is NOT meant for copying work from someone else! You will have to lay down that law with your kids before teaching them how to do this!

4. Unpack the backpack.  This is such an easy and important task, yet one that often gets skipped! Homework and notes can easily get lost in the depths of a messy backpack.  I've seen students' backpacks filled to bursting with loose papers crumpled up from months ago!  The easiest way to avoid this from happening, is to set a routine of emptying backpacks at least once a week.  (This also helps find missing Tupperware, molding leftovers, etc!)

5. Use a sharable family calendar. We have four very busy family members.  I am only one mom.  I cannot and will not take responsibility for all the lessons, practices, doctor appointments, school projects, business trips, meetings, playdates, and so on for the entire family. Instead, we have family calendars.  I have one that I personally monitor on the wall in our kitchen that is color-coded by family member.  It is in a very obvious place where everyone passes multiple times per day.  Once an event is on the calendar, it is each person's responsibility to check the calendar and know their own schedules.  We also use the app Cozi (there's a free version that is all we need, I've never seen the need for the paid version, personally).  This app, in my opinion, is better than just using the calendar app on your phone.  I love it because once you set up an account, every family member has access to the information, on their phone or regular computer. Husbands and kids can update it from school, work, or anywhere and it is also color-coded!  Even better, it has a list function, so we keep our grocery list on the app!  My kids have been trained to add their own items to the list, instead of just telling me when they are out of something!  Better yet, I never forget my shopping list at home, and my husband has it on his phone which makes it easy to have him stop to pick something up on his way home from work! It works well as a "to-do" list, too!

6. Teach your children E-mail courtesy and how to talk to adults.  This is a biggie, and not something that comes naturally to anyone!  Kids need to be empowered to talk to adults.  They need to learn the etiquette of how to talk to adults.  Kids need to be taught how to craft a "professional" E-mail. As a teacher, I am constantly amazed at the E-mails I get from students.  They write to me as if I am their friend using incomplete sentences, text abbreviations, and all capital letters.  I've even received messages that are flat out rude, demands for extra credit or help with things that they are just too lazy to do for themselves, like find a page where a reading selection starts.  Parents, PLEASE teach your children to be respectful to adults in person and online.  E-mailing a teacher is a great way to ask for help, but it shouldn't be the first thing they do!  When crafting a message to a teacher, or any adult, remind your child that they should be polite, use proper spelling and grammar, and that their teachers have lives outside of school and may not respond immediately. Kids need practice with this skill.  They also need practice talking face-to-face with adults.  Let them know it is their job to talk with teachers and other adults about issues that involve them.  Parents cannot and should not always do the talking.  Let your kids order for themselves at restaurants, remind them to look people in the eye when talking, encourage them to make a phone call instead of just texting.  Start this young, so that their confidence and experience can grow over time!

7. Include your child on school- or team-related E-mails.  Does your child's school or team use messaging apps like Remind.com or TeamSnap?  Does your child's teacher send newsletters via E-mail or use Instagram or Twitter to keep parents updated?  If so, have your child participate in these communications, too!  It's easy to add their address or phone number to the distribution list.  This will help you avoid being the middle-man who has to relay messages.  For example, I used to get so annoyed reminding my son when and where his soccer games were and what uniform to wear.  Now, he gets the messages from TeamSnap, and these details are his responsibility!  It has saved me so much nagging! 

8. Advocate for your child in advance, but then let them take control.  This is another way to set your child up for success and independence.  Show up for all Open Houses and parent-teacher conferences.  Let the teachers or coaches see your face and let them know that you are there to support your child.  Ask questions that you might have, and set up a good line of communication and respectful relationship.  Then back...away...slowly...  Once you all understand expectations and have a respectful relationship set up, let your child take the lead in future communications as much as possible.  They need to learn how to advocate for themselves.  Encourage them to talk to their teachers and coaches, send E-mails occasionally, and be confident in their ability to solve their own problems!

9. Keep up with MiStar/Zangle/Edline/Google Classroom...whatever your child's school uses! Parents should definitely check in on their kids' grades online when possible...but make your child keep up, too!  YOU are not the one doing the work, YOU should not be the one responsible for noticing missing assignments.  Encourage your kids to check their grades weekly, so that there are no surprises and no desperate pleas for extra credit at the end of the term.  The vast majority of teachers will accept late work, but not after grades are posted! These online grade books are a fantastic way for kids to monitor their work habits and grades.  

10. Offer help, but set boundaries.   Make yourself available to help your children.  Sit with them to do homework, make the call to the teacher or coach if necessary. Just don't do it all the time.  Many parents over-help, so make sure you set boundaries about how much help you'll give on homework, or what types of issues warrant a parent intervention at school.  Let your child know that you are stepping back, but not out of their responsibilities.  You will need to step in and monitor their work, but you aren't going to do it for them.  Be there for support, encouragement, and understanding...not enabling.

Have questions about how I manage things? Have other ideas to help kids become more responsible independent? I'd love to hear from you! Comment below or e-mail me at teachwithmrsb@gmail.com! 

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