Monday, June 6, 2011

The Family Meeting: Laying Down the Summer Rules.

We call family meetings now and then. Sometimes we need to broker a new peace accord because some hostilities have erupted. Sometimes we need to talk politics -- some world event needs collective stock-taking or remembrance -- or there's a family matter. Sometimes it's about money. Usually, mind, body, or soul -- we all need to talk.

The shift to summer always requires a family meeting. Dave and I talked, wrote a list, and called it. Why? Basically, we want to reduce (or eliminate) nagging. Dave and I don't want to nag the kids, and we don't want the kids nagging us. We want self-starters consumed by big projects for long stretches of time.

We don't want to waste the summer to gaming and TV and screens.
We want our kids to take off on some BIG bad-ass projects.
We want them to work.
We want them to take responsibility for stuff.
We want them to have goals for themselves.
We want them to read, exercise, eat right...
We need help cooking and cleaning and tending ...

And we've learned it's easier for kids to meet expectations if we actually verbalize them.

This year we broke it down in to ways. A list of stuff that each of them needs to think about and then specific goals that apply to each of them, individually -- things we want them to work on. One of them needs to work on balance -- art, friends, work. One of them needs to work on follow-through, completion. Another needs to work on emotional articulation and self restraint. ("Self restraint?" he asked. I said, "Yeah, that means when you have the deep desire to annoy someone, you hold back." "Ah, got it.") And the 4 year old? What else? Some self-expression.

One rule for summer is always true: No screen-time (TV, gaming, youtube-watching...) until the school day would be over. Nothing until 3pm.

The loophole: research. We have money for each of the kids to support projects -- building wooden arms that connect to their chests and hook to the video camera to create a spinning shot, styro-foam props, Goodwill costumes for movies they'll make, clay, paint, wire ... The kids look up DIY sites. They can search for books to make their book lists. I've got one kid who's into film -- but he's got to be proactive about it. He's got to come up with a list of 25 films that he wants to see, that we'll discuss, and he'll tick 'em off. (Movie watching has to wait until after 3, though...)

Basically we want the kids to wake up and feel the stretch of the day before them, and their imaginations have to fill it.

They'll each be in charge of planning and helping to make a meal with their Dad each week. They have to help clean -- there's a chart for dishes -- and pitch in with some big projects (garage...) They'll all help babysit the 4 year old -- and sometimes they'll get paid for it (situations vary).

My oldest starts working 9-5 in a pottery studio in a week so her days will be slammed. The middle boys will take a Stand Up Comedy Camp at some point. They're also in a FSU film together which will take 3 shooting days. We'll be up north for some of the summer. There, I've sent the oldest up with private lessons with an oil painter. The oldest boy with an acting coach. The third might do a soccer camp that's highly thought of. And the youngest will take dance lessons with my 16 year old's best childhood buddy. One of the kids wants to learn to do a back-flip. So I'll find somebody somewhere. So there will be a week of one-on-one. We'll hit the beach a little and NYC some, maybe Philly.

Summers when we take big trips, they have to study in preparation. I list all the monuments and weird attractions and they divvy 'em up and pick who will be the expert. We also watch movies set in that place and try to cram some history in. The places that they pick and know about are always their favorite spots.

Summer is our time. The kids are supposed to feel like they've been set LOOSE. We want summer to be

1. Filled with all kinds of aspirations -- wild ones

2. Restless. During the summer, kids should feel the stirring of what a life-of-your-own-making might feel like. Yes, responsibility -- they'll have that -- but I want to see what natural curiosity pops up and then how each of the kids follows it ...

3. BORING. Boredom creates necessity -- do something ANYthing to get out of this funk -- and necessity, as we all know, is the mother of invention.

Like what you've read, support the writer behind it and go order a copy of HARRIET WOLF'S 7TH BOOK OF WONDERS, for the love of all things holy.

(PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Flom -- check out his blog at ECOLOGY OF EDUCATION.)