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Jun 5

Can Summer Give Our Kids a Dose of Joy? We're Hopeful.

by Meghan Fitzgerald

Ever since I started life as an “adult,” I’ve loved to wake up early. The perfectly noisy quiet, alone time and a sense of fresh possibility give morning a special magic. Until these past few weeks. With the exception of the weeks immediately following the birth of each of my three kids, I don’t remember having such a hard time getting up and wanting to just pull the covers over and hide. 

The multiple crises we face — from pandemic illness to rampant racial injustice —are impacting our mental health, and they impact our kids too. As I looked around for wisdom and support, I saw glimmers of hope in summer. Could a summer full of dirty knees, sunny skies and dandelion wishes be a key lever for shaking off some of the heaviness of the past few months? Could summer give us a dose of joy to offset at least some of the weight that families are feeling? I am pretty hopeful it could.

We’ve gathered some nuggets of wisdom that we hope can support us as parents in our efforts to support our kids and their emotional journey today and through this summer.  

What we’re up against

The uncertainty and strain of life under COVID, the pain for Black communities and the urgent certainty that we each need to take action to fix a broken justice system are pulling and pushing hard on our heads and our hearts. There is so much work to be done, and yet it feels hard to move through the fog of worry and the fatigue from things feeling out of our control. 

This week, an article published by EdSurge points out that there are three consecutive waves of crisis in a pandemic: physical health, economic and then mental health. We are only starting to see the effects of the combined weight of these many forces on our mental well being. 

We can’t fully shield kids from what is going on—and neither should we, when it comes to teaching kids about racism or explaining why social distancing is how we’re helping. It’s important to remember that these are heavy challenges, and that we all need some new insight to help lighten our load. 

Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances

For a new beginning.
—Maya Angelou

We are supporting them more than we may realize
All our hugs, cuddles and attention count—and provide a powerful counterbalance to all of the stress. Even if it feels like there have been more outbursts, sibling struggles, or big feelings flaring, chances are, we are managing the climate in our homes better than we think. To lean into this, keep looking for ways to fit in extra affection. Or, use June’s extra hours of sunlight to take kids on a morning walk or an evening stroll in their PJs. Such a sweet start or end to the day can help buoy us as well.

Social and emotional wellness is everything right now

“There is nothing soft about social and emotional skills.” —Jack Shonkoff, Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

A former math teacher, I’ve honestly loved trying to get my kids even more excited about math, when I can actually find time to spend on it with them. I have felt a twinge of pain whenever the daily dose of reading gets lost in the shuffle. And yet, the longer we are in this, the more I realize that developing the softer skills is, far and away, the bigger priority: helping our kids grow aware of their emotions, learn to problem solve, learn to create new opportunities for themselves and learn to follow and focus on their interests. These are skills that quarantine is ideal for teaching, and kids need them during this extraordinary time and throughout their lives.  

Play is a lifeline

“Play is the ‘psychic and behavioral equivalent of oxygen’” —Bob Hughes, Play expert and psychologist

How best to teach the softer skills and help kids bolster emotional wellness? Let them play. Kids are wired to learn so many things through play, not the least of which are social and emotional skills. Young children’s access to play is linked to their own sense of well being, according to research recently reported in the Boston Globe. Not only can play help kids learn key social skills, play is also an inherently joyful way for kids to spend time. When really at play, kids engage their minds, bodies and spirits—and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. 

“Play and unscheduled downtime are central to our well-being throughout our lives.”—Deborah Singer, Roberta Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek

Kids naturally fall into play activities. Plus, when we offer kids engaging, age-appropriate play activities, even wee ones can sustain stretches of independent play time—something that gives us a much needed break, too!

Nature restores

“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.” —Shanti

Long before this pandemic, we’ve known about the restorative benefits of nature on our physical and mental well being. It’s never felt more clear, though, especially to family and friends for whom access to the outdoors has been so limited. The good news is, all you need is 2 hours of outdoor time per week to start to feel the benefits. 

This summer, the more you can capture fresh air and make outdoors your headquarters, the better. For many of us, childhood summers came with tremendous freedom—and even though we’ll need to support our kiddos at keeping social distance in public green spaces, we can still look for any opportunities to give them the freedom to explore, use all of their senses, make messes, climb trees and scrape knees. The joys of being a kid in summertime are simple and hiding right under our noses. Even if you lack green space or have to be inside, there are ways to bring the outdoors in—and you can still give your kids these benefits, too!

Let summer give you a fresh start

It’s hard to even know what day it is, and many of us feel adrift without the last day of school, postponed festivities or other special days that ground us and connect us to our community. Luckily, nature’s calendar is never empty, even if ours are blank. On Saturday, June 20, summer season officially begins, and celebrating the first day of summer can offer your family a chance to reset and lean into the hope of a fresh start. 

Special Event—Summer Kick-Off: Join with thousands of other families in celebrating our first ever Summer Kick-Off! Sign up for Camp Tinkergarten or join our #OutdoorsAll4 Facebook Group, and we’ll share fun family activities to make the first day of Summer 2020 the start of a season to remember. 

Sample Family Project: Take a jar and fill it with slips of paper on which each member of the family records a wish or wishes for summer. Give yourselves reasons to look forward and anticipate the experiences, big or small, you’d love to fill your summer with. Hold onto these wishes so you can reflect back together when we near the fall.

Camp Tinkergarten: For many families, it’s still hard to imagine summer without the camps, travel or special rituals we had planned. In short, it’s hard to imagine how to make summer feel like summer. To try to help our families and all families, our team has spun up Camp Tinkergarten—a free program that starts June 20th and offers families eight weeks of wildly fun play activities and two super special events to mark the start and end of summer. 

No matter how you spend your summer, we wish you days full of play, fresh air and grass between your toes!

Photo: Leo Rivas for Unsplash

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Meghan Fitzgerald

Founder

After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, Meghan has her dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including hers, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, Meghan worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. She earned a BA with majors in English and Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. When she is with her kids, Meghan is that unapologetic mom who plays along with them in mud, dances in the pouring rain, and builds a darn good snow igloo with her bare hands.

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