Thursday, February 5, 2009

a story of school holidays and supermarkets

I was standing in the supermarket aisle, of all places, enjoying the silence.

It was one of those supermarkets with all the shivery refridgerated aisles up one end, the popular grocery aisles in the middle, and the deserted househood goods aisles right down the end. As I wheeled my trolley to and fro through the store, it grew warmer and darker, until I was standing in the unromantic surroundings of the toilet paper aisle, the only sound my 2 year old son Andy chatting away to me. Ah! The silence! No need to filter out all those layers of noise! I stood there and breathed deeply. Not quite a peaceful mountainside with the stillness broken only by the sound of birdsong, but it felt like it to me.

School holidays have just ended, and with them the constant, battering noise and demands of 4 bored children cooped up in a hot house (we've just had the longest, hottest heat wave in Melbourne since 1908).

I usually love school holidays. I love my children gathered around me, like ducklings safely clustered around a mother duck. I love the comfortable chaos and the noisy games and the quiet hours snatched with children who are so often away at school. But I didn't enjoy the 6 week school holidays which just ended.

By the end of the holidays, I had great sympathy for all those mothers who long for their children's return to school. Too many children whining, "I'm bored, Mummy! What can I do? Think of something for me to do!". Too many loud arguments: "He said ... ! She said ... ! She won't let me play! He won't leave me alone!". Too many never-ending needs for discipline and entertainment and food.

The worst moment was when I went supermarket shopping with the 4 children (yes, another supermarket story!) and had to threaten to go home and punish them after 1 minute because they were being so disruptive and disobedient. A new low point in my parenting experience.

Most of this was due to the fact that Steve was sick and I was worn out from looking after 4 kids on my own (I have new admiration for single mums, especially mums with boys!). But I think I could have done some things differently. Here's how I'd like to change things during our next school holidays:

  • less screen time. I realised near the end of the holidays that the kids were grumpy partly because they were having too much TV and computer time. During term time, I limit their screen time to 30 minutes a day. But during the school holidays, screen time gradually crept up, leaving grumpy bored children in its wake.
  • more planned activities. My children generally get along well, inventing games and playing happily together, so I'm happy to let them fill the hours enjoying each other's company. (Don't misunderstand me, there's plenty of times things don't run so smoothly in our house!) I don't normally need to come up with holiday amusements, so perhaps I've become a little lazy.
  • extend the kids' learning. I've bought books like Hands-On Science, full of experiments for my science-loving son, and Teaching Art With Books Kids Love, full of art activities for my craft-loving daughter, but we rarely have time for them. The school holidays would be a wonderful chance to do these together.
  • maintain daily routines. During holidays, it's easy to let the usual daily routines slip: Bible reading, piano lessons, breakfast together. It's good to take time away from normal routines to rest and relax, but a bit more structure in the day would help prevent the loose-endish holiday blues.
  • keep doing the good stuff. There are lots of things I want to keep doing, like day trips, time with grandparents, and spending individual time with each of my children.
I've just found some excellent suggestions for school holidays on the internet, so it might be time to do some browsing!

Do you have any other suggestions for making school holidays happy, productive and relaxing? I'd love to hear about them!

images are from stock.xchng

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