At least that’s what songs about summer would have us believe. There really are ways to make the “living easy” when you do summer child care and your group includes school age children. If you read last month’s blog, you probably already have some activities planned that the children are looking forward to. Here are some suggestions that are easy for you and help keep school age children active and happy.
Planning daily and weekly menus
Give children responsibility for daily menu planning. Talk with them about CACFP requirements and, if necessary, help them understand what each category includes. Let them know that you always have veto power, but be willing to explore some of their “creative” menus and food choices. Encourage them to choose at least one new fruit or vegetable each week and see if they can increase that during the summer.
Encourage the children to look at grocery store ads to see “what’s on sale” each week and tell them that they need to include at least one sale item per week in their menus. Some weeks that might be challenging for them to choose but help them learn to substitute if something on their list isn’t available or doesn’t appeal when they actually see it.
Share cook books and food magazines with them and challenge them to try new recipes and food combinations. There are many cook books designed especially to help young children experiment with cooking – check out the Food and Nutrition Services website (www.fns.usda.gov) and explore the resources there. Be sure to explore Choose MyPlate and Team Nutrition while you’re there and make it a point to look at the information about Farm to School, especially the Farm to Preschool materials.
Preparing or helping to prepare meals and snacks
Obviously, you’ll be closely supervising your budding chefs, but even children younger than school age can be involved in helping to prepare meals and snacks. You may need to do some prep work, but allow the children to experiment with planning, preparing, serving and cleaning up for meals and snacks. When children are given tools appropriate for their ages and abilities they are able to develop skills that are sometimes challenging to practice.
Reinforcing learning and maintaining skills
Make sure that your summer schedule includes quiet time for reading and educational games to help children maintain their school-year progress. Having school-age children read to the younger children is a great way for them to improve their reading abilities and younger children love to “help” the older children by listening to them read out loud. Share with the children that this is a chance to help each other and make sure that you have books and other resources for a variety of reading levels and abilities. There ae many educational games that reinforce math and science skills and you can probably find instructions to “make your own games” if you don’t have any on hand.
You may be spending most of your summer in your own program but that doesn’t mean anyone needs to be “bored.” Think about having a bike rodeo, a summer track meet, a neighborhood parade, or a puppet show and help the children prepare all summer. You might invite the whole neighborhood or decide it will be best with just the families in your program, but give the children a focus for an extended summer activity. Think about how you might make this an annual event that you can use as a marketing tool to potential clients.
Routine is your friend
Whether you have planned to take field trips often or only do one or two during the summer, you’ll still need to be prepared for time “at home” while younger children rest or while you wait for children to arrive and depart. Set aside a specific block of time – at least 45 minutes – each day for ALL the children to have quiet time. This gives the older, more energetic children time to relax and reflect and it helps everyone enjoy the activities of the day. Make some parts of the house “quiet zones” for those children who need more than the minimum regroup time. Talk often with the children about how important it is to rest both our bodies and our minds and that each of them has a different rhythm so they don’t all need the same amount of time. This is a great way to help children develop respect for differing personality needs.
Take lots of pictures throughout the summer. This is one of those times that the children in your program will talk about for years. You might give each of them an album of your summer or make a book for their parents. School age children, especially, will want to share what they’ve done and pictures, along with their written stories, are a great way to do that.