For most of us that blank sheet of Summer time leads to a mixture of relief that our children are ours exclusively for the next few weeks, excitement at all the memory-making to be done, and not a little anxiety as to how we are going to fill each day, survive the meltdowns and find respite or affordable childcare if we need it.
I certainly don't have all the answers, but here are a few tips to give you ideas and ease your sanity.
- Have a clear out of outgrown toys and gave them to charity. You could even do a swap with friends. We've enjoyed sifting through the wardrobe to find what doesn't fit any longer, and taking it to charity.
- I bought a few inexpensive bits and pieces such as craft materials, activity and story books and a couple of bargain bucket DVDs whilst out shopping over the last few weeks, so they have something new to dip into and catch their attention on rainy days.
- It's a good idea to stock up on snacks to take on days out or enjoy in the garden. Fruit bars, malt loaf, homemade cake and flapjack, healthy crisps and dried fruit. A few hard boiled eggs in the fridge make good quick energy boosts and packs of fruity joghurt tubes freeze easily to make healthy ice pops. You can make your own lollies with juice too, or even frozen yoghurt. Baking ingredients are handy to have in as well, for rainy afternoons in the kitchen.
- Put a box or basket by the front door with hats, sunglasses, suncream and a hairbrush and hair bands/clips or whatever your family needs each time you go out. That way you aren't looking for these essentials each time you leave.
- Brainstorm and plan together. The girls and I sat together one morning and made lists of the things we'd all like to do over the summer. Rainy Day/Sunny Day/ Friends to catch up with. This takes the thinking out of each day. Use pictures cut from leaflets and let your child point to what they'd like to do. Choice-making is so important for every child.
- Sign up to the National Trust 50 Things to do Before you're 11 3/4. It's a simply fabulous online scrapbook of outdoor activities that you tick off and fill in when you have done them and most are free or very inexpensive to do. There is so much choice and many of the activities will be wonderfully nostalgic for you, such a grass blade trumpeting!
- Your Local Council and/or support group might run activities for diabled youngsters and their siblings. See what you can sign up for. NetBuddy have a calendar of events from accessible sports to autism-friendly cinema screenings by region on their website. They also have tips and ideas for common everyday situations for those with a learning disability.
- Try to make time with each child individually each week. This can be hard to arrange but perhaps a partner can do different activities with other children, or maybe you could arrange babysitting swaps with a friend. It pays dividends, especially for siblings of children with disabilities who often feel left out.
- Keep the learning skills ticking over. Whilst it's important to have time away from school work and allow your children free time to play as they choose, I find 6 weeks is a very long time for Natty to recall what she had been learning in the previous term. I try to build reading, writing and number work into the week in a fun way somehow so that she maintains what she has worked so hard to learn.
- Make a scrapbook or journal of the things you do. You can simply stick in photos or leaflets and postcards as a visual reminder and a way for you child to show school staff what they have done over the summer when they return to school in September. A talking book, Tomy make one, is a great way of recording a sentence to accompany a picture on each page.
- Make time for yourself, even if it's a soak in the tub with some new bubble bath or a walk around the block when the children are alseep if you have someone at home. I relish my silent sanity-boosting half hour in the garden tending my veggies at the tail end of each day.
- Remember to have fun, try something new, allow your child choices, unstructured time, time with chosen friends and a few calculated risks (Read Sharon Paley's article) here and there. I felt physically sick when Natty came bouncing down the bumpy slide at a fair yesterday, but I'm so glad I let her do it.