Sticky Transitions: 6 Tips for Managing the School-to-Summer Transition

Overheard in the grocery store:

“As much as I am so sick of homework battles and driving around town, I am NOT looking forward to having them all around ALL DAY…”

I don’t know this Mama, but I am pretty sure she didn’t truly mean this. Maybe just the homework battles or driving part.  Or maybe she really did mean the whole messy transition and subsequent two months of summer.

Remember how exciting the end of school and start of summer was when you were in school?  Most kids are thrilled, even those who love school. Teachers LOVE the anticipation and slower pace. It’s often a life- and career-saver! Parents often cringe at this change.

Why? People tend not to like change.  Change means we need to switch gears, adapt to a new routine (which may take a good chunk of summer to even find),  and find a new equilibrium or something close to an equilibrium.  That may mean more kids under our roofs and at our feet, the juggle of working from home or office, getting kids where they need to be, financing summer activities, facilitating and tolerating the boredom they wrestle with, learning to let go a little as they try new things and test new limits.

It’s not actually the “change” to summer that makes us stressed but the transition that is icky. Transitions are sticky for all of us – whether it is the schedule, relationships, yoga poses or our diet/health routines.  Transitions are where we falter, fight and usually, grow.   It takes time, patience and perseverance to hobble through the transition and make it to the other side. It’s ridiculously easy to give up when you’re wrestling with change.

I’m tempted throw in the transition towel on a regular basis.  Recently, we rescued a sweet,  very anxious, puppy.  We kept to all the training guidelines to ease Toby in the first few days:  a regular schedule, a few safe places to rest and run, a comfortable distance from the three cats.  By taking this transition carefully, he began to warm up and settle in.  By day five, I had let him off the leash inside and he jumped on our bed. I was cool with that, but we had agreed, he wouldn’t sleep there. The evening of day six, Toby was resting on the bed after a vigorous game of fetch as I read in bed. I dozed off, as did he. I awoke later and was plenty comfortable, so I left him.  I wasn’t willing to transition myself out of my cocoon, nor could I summon the energy to maintain to the shelter-to-home transition we had worked so hard to establish. Fortunately, my husband has much greater resolve in this area and by day seven, we were back on our nighttime routine.

 

And then there’s yoga.  When I practice yoga, I find myself fighting transitions ALL THE TIME.  Poses are hard, they are uncomfortable. My aging body hurts or those squirrels in my head are dashing in circles. Honestly, I don’t always want to be practicing, but I know it’s good for me (and those around me).  And that little heckler on my shoulder makes it much more challenging to stick with the tricky transitions than my body does.  She’s told me for years shoulder stand is just not possible because twenty years ago, those chunky toddlers caused some tendonitis in my shoulder. Or that I don’t have core strength. Or the studio is too hot. Or whatever the complaint du jour might be. But one day, I wiggle and wobble and falter before nailing it for five long seconds. Getting there was ugly, but being there was not so bad.  As the neutral observer when  I teach,  I get to learn so much about what humans struggle with when things are changing. Mountain pose is fairly doable for most. Lifting one knee so it’s parallel to the floor, not always, and the wobble begins. The mind-chatter amasses reasons why and continues into reasons why tree or warrior three will DEFINITELY not be happening. Keeping a focus, breathing, showing self-compassion balanced with discipline, helps. Then softening somewhere, accepting the wobble, allows most yogis to get into some version of the pose. Leaning into the wobble and ick often makes the transition palatable, if not doable.  A smile helps, too.

 

Same with the school to summer transitions. Here are six tips for leaning in and softening into the challenge, while keeping a focused determination to make the most of this transition and the coming weeks.

  1. Allow for downtime:  Who’s NOT tired at the end of the year? Sleep late. Eat breakfast for dinner or eat sandwiches in the yard while watching for fireflies.
  2. Talk together about the schedule:  Map big dates, weekly and daily targets (I call these rocks and blocks – more soon on this!). Make it manageable and flexible.
  3. Decide and assign on chores:   Most classrooms have these and kids of all ages are capable of helping out. If you have high expectations for household tidiness, consider being flexible here if your kids are now doing their own laundry, accept that you will find some unfolded or left in the dryer after it buzzes. but they are owning this work and it is getting done
  4. Set small and attainable goals: This means for yourself and the fam.   If summer reading tends to be a bit of a plague, rather than saying “read 12 books this summer,” how about “we’ll go to the library this week” or “this week we’ll set up a cozy spot to read in the house.” These foundational steps get the ball rolling and off to a positive start!
  5. Let go of the negativity bias:  Humans tend fo focus on what does awry. Each day, notice what is going well. Maybe the first week, people are sleeping in a bit and resting more. Yay! Pay attention to what is working and acknowledge that. Heck, CELEBRATE it!
  6. Have compassion: Summer, like all transitions and changes, won’t last.  Change is hard and manifests in many ways – off-kilter behavior, frustration, tears, tension, sleep.  Whatever it is, let it just unfold for a bit, acknowledge it and then set a plan so a new routine can unfold. Summers that your kids are home won’t last either. There will be camps, jobs, college, and adulthood. Make the most of the summer days, starting today.

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Take care,

 

 

 

cred: Brit Strackbein Photography

Ancient Lessons, New Readings, and Seeing the Positives

This year, I am not in a classroom.  I don’t have a new project or job or endeavor that guides me through the comforting practice of intentional goal setting, buoyed by a tight community of learners and thinkers.  Instead, there are shifts in our family ecosystem ranging from college apartments and college applications, to new jobs, and new health issues.  I find myself a bit unsettled by this amorphous change, despite knowing in the thinking part of my brain that change is a necessary and expected part of life.  As humans, we are wired to adapt to change by virtue of our growth mindset and our reserve of resilience.  It can be hard not to grip to what I’ve known and to see the positives in the change.

It’s with this awareness of my awareness of my unease, that I find some peace in the Augusts-as-Januarys of years past.  As I moved my daughter into her first apartment, she scoffed at me, commenting,  “you’re doing a lot for me…and I feel sort of bad…I need it but I don’t need you to do everything…” Ba-zinga.  In that simple phrase, she’s captures the rumblings in my head and all my internal and external fussing about.  I feel this deep internal need to nest and create space – now in her space – just like I have in classrooms for decades.  My seventeen-year old returned home from skate camp exhausted but elated, and fueled with a desire to dig into the college application process, his artwork and apply to his top choice early. He quickly let me know he will seek my help organizing those details when he needs it.  I silently nod as I look at the man-child who has wrestled with organizing details most of his life, but somehow, I know he is spot-on this time. Again, Ba-zinga.

It is the mother in me who feels the need to be “a good parent” as I rescue or fix or take care of both kids now.  Am I clinging to the days when they needed me to do more of that? My friend Jessie Rhines wrote recently about her propensity to grasp as her five-year-old started Kindergarten. The yoga teachings around aparigraha bring me solace as I send my kids into adulthood, too.   My desire to cling stems from the reality that work is nearly done, or at the very least, is undergoing a tectonic shift.  There are moments when I want to don a preacher’s robe and shout from a pulpit, “Can I get an AMEN?”  And then there are the moments when I look at my children standing above me and see them as toddlers splashing in the water table or rolling on the floor with a book or two or twelve.

Is This for You
photo courtesy of Maureen Porto

Continue reading “Ancient Lessons, New Readings, and Seeing the Positives”

6 Hard Truths

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I’d like to think those words don’t strike a vulnerable spot in my gut, but the hard truth is, they do.

And when they do, I tend to take it hard. When I dig out of that hard spot, I realize all I needed was to be a bit softer. A bit more accepting, yet still honest. And that’s an essential lesson to share explicitly and implicitly with kids.

I’m big on honesty, authenticity and I know we’re all far more vulnerable than we’d like to admit to anyone, especially ourselves.  Without honesty, how can there be trust? Without authenticity, how can there be satisfaction or joy?  And without vulnerability, how can we grow? How will kids see these are all opportunities for growth if we don’t model that to them?

But when we’re honest, authentic and vulnerable, it if often an uncomfortable spot. You know what I mean – when you face that Hard Truth squarely in the mirror.   No sugar-coating, no denials, no excuses, no fixing. Looking into the  magnifying mirror can be hard.

When we look authentically about what our role is in the situation, what the role of others is and what the actual reality is (not perception, not what-ifs, not the attachments to history or outcomes), that can be hard, too.

And when we’re vulnerable, we’re at the mercy of the universe and those around us. And often, that’s the hardest  of them all because it seems utterly inexplicable and unfair.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like a fabulous destination, does it?

But the truth is, it’s a necessary destination, especially when working with kids and kids and adults. It’s where we grow and learn.

Here are six hard truths I’ve witnessed recently and been called to be honest, authentic and sometimes quite vulnerable recently. We all have our own hard truths, right?

Disclosure:  “People” can and does below, apply to people of a variety of ages, stages and places. People of all types can face these hard truths, or their own special blend of Hard Truths.

 

1. People lose their temper. Hormones and adrenaline rush, hunger and exhaustion and stress take their toll. Actions are taken that are later regrettable.

Hard truth:  Apologies are necessary. Calmness must prevail. Resolving anger or frustration physically is not acceptable (unless you are a runner or release those messy emotions in some other physical activity.) Use your words. Always use spoken or written words.

2. Logical and natural consequences are often uncomfortable.

Hard truth: When the cortisol subsides, the picture is often not so bleak, and there are life lessons to be learned. Sometimes it’s in those natural consequences that we grow – as in when you forget your lunch box and nobody delivers it to you at 11 a.m., you might take steps to remember to grab it the next morning.

3. People and things change. Often, that change is uncomfortable or denied. Individual change affects others, and when others are affected, the ecosystem is disrupted.

Hard truth: Life is about change. We have to view that change for what it is and adapt. It’s okay to mourn loss or change, but eventually, we’ve all got to “keep on swimming.”  Remember how Lucy moved the football as Linus went to kick? Expect Lucy (or someone else) to move things and be prepared to shift gears so you don’t tumble over.

4. People are imperfect. They mess up. They say things they didn’t mean to say. They forget. They act out of emotions or desire, rather than logic or purpose.

Hard truth: We all do mess up.  Everyone walks their own path, with their own obstacles and triumphs. You never know what other challenges someone else is facing.  Accept mistakes, be honest if it affects you, and try not to take things too personally. Celebrate each other’s accomplishments without taking those personally, either.

5. Technology, machines and equipment fail.  Yes, we’re living the big life with technology everywhere. Your flash drive will break. Your laptop will be hit by a virus. Your phone will get wet. Your child will break that piece of crystal from Great Aunt Mavis. Someone will back into your new car.

Hard Truth: Things “should work,” but they fail. That causes problems, but most of them are fixable. with so many tiny, moving pieces, something will fail at some point or be met with an untimely and unexpected demise. No use in blaming someone, just go ahead and  be a part of the fixing.

6. The world is unpredictable.  Weather happens. Sickness happens. Friendships and jobs change.

Hard truth: Know yourself, have a support system, and ride the surf.  Swami  Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga, said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

We’ve all got our own hard truths.  Rather than lamenting how rotten they might be or putting your head in the sand, stand up to them. Be honest. Be your authentic. Be vulnerable and speak up when you need help and acknowledge what the hard truth feels like. That becomes your jumping off spot for facing those hard truths and moving forward with what comes next. It’s gonna get better after you face those hard truths (see #3).

The Secret? (We Need Downtime)

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It’s been gloomy and soggy in our neck of the woods. Six inches of rain in three days – more rain than we’ve had in two months.  Perfect weather to put the brakes on things. Perfect weekend to pause, putter, do nothing, and relax.  I spent some time this weekend digging into Dan Goleman’s new book, Focus.  His video, The Importance of Downtime, struck me hard enough to toss my to-do list most of the weekend.

This came on the heels of parent conferences in which families shared how their children have adjusted to school and middle school homework. It was enlightening to hear it from another perspective, which confirmed my suspicion that my kids were feeling a bit stressed.  A couple of weeks back, I noticed my students and others, sort of hitting the wall. We were into the steady pace of school, layered upon the weekly routines of music, homework, sports, dance, carpool et cetera. The novelty wore off and reality set in.

Quietly, I had students tell me they got home too late to do homework. Or that they fell asleep before doing it. Or the occasional fib about it being at home (when it was left undone for a range of reasons).  My own high schoolers were crawling into bed remarkably early or if they weren’t, their behavior made me think they needed to hit the hay early.  In a heart-to-heart with a diligent worker-bee fifth grader, I let her in on a Secret.  I told her I trusted her to use it when she needed it.  Later, I decided I need to share it with the whole class and with parents.

The Secret? To stop the mayhem once in a while. To pause. To have a night that you skip practice, table homework and chores and just be for a bit. You know what I mean – one of those jammies at 5:30 p.m. and breakfast dinner nights, followed by reading, snuggling under blankets, board games, talking or a movie with the family.

It’s no secret.  It’s just that many of us (young and old) need permission to pause.  Especially our students who are working so hard to learn new routines and new material, to be compassionate friends and responsible workers, athletes, artists, musicians and, oh yes, children.  They need time to play, time to lounge, time to disconnect, be with the families they love and to be alone with their own imagination.

I notice often in families, my own included, that it’s easy to get caught up in the routine of “gotta-bes” and “need-to-bes” – places to get to, teams to be on,  boxes to check. While that sort of planning and accomplishment can be immensely motivating and rewarding, it can also be draining. So it’s okay to pull the plug once in a while. It’s often necessary.   Adults know they need to disconnect from work and  re-connect with ourselves, but we need to also give our kids permission and the model to do the same. The constant go-go-go of school and activities, punctuated by the pings of technology and fractured attention needs to be broken – or at least balanced – by quieter moments.  Even extroverts who love to be busy, can benefit from slowing down.

Giving our kids and ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.  As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tells his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind in very helpful ways.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action and learning.  Regular mindfulness practice can rewire the brain circuitry that – it times of stress – interrupt the downstairs brain from high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event.

Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman again in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

I hope that this week, you find a few moments of quiet and that you can help your students or children find some quiet. Real quiet. No technology, no distractions.  And if you’re up for it, let us know how you find time to pause.

Next time, I’ll share some reasons I’m passionate about showing our kids to slow down and why it’s essential in education.

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Lisa Dewey Wells

6 Strategies for Teachers to Maintain Summer Sanity

NOTE:

Over the years, certain patterns have developed in the cycle of posts.  August has been the time to reflect on teaching and the thoughtful efforts by teachers to set the stage for a positive school year.  This pattern continues with a series of posts on self -care, understanding your content and child development, and keeping up with the digital tools that enhance our profession. Whether you’re still at the beach or prepping lesson plans or perhaps already in the classroom, read on.

source: iStock Photo

Despite the myth that teachers get the “summer off,” many teachers take advantage of the lull in the year to dig out from the year, find themselves and/or get away from it all.  Once school ends, it can take a few weeks to wind down, then the slower pace kicks in and a heightened level of sanity takes over.  For me, that tends to last a couple of weeks and then I get the Itch. I wake up with lesson ideas or memories of teachable moments that weren’t so teachable in the ways I intended.  Or I’m up late researching new curriculum, reading new books, sorting through old materials, making lists.  The ebb and flow of work and rest throughout the year is something teachers share.  Given a choice, most of us would not give up summer, but then again, most of us do not go on a full hiatus all summer.

That heightened sense of sanity we teachers achieve in the summer stems from the time and ability to take better care of ourselves, our loved ones, our living environments.   We’re permitted to have some fun, invest in our teaching or other passions, and keep our eye on the upcoming school year. Oh, and sleep and exercise a bit more, too.  However, once the school year kicks in, leisurely reading over coffee, long bike rides, extra time with family  and taking care of ourself are usually compromised, at least until Thanksgiving break.

Sustaining that feeling of summer sanity while juggling the demands of teaching and life can be challenging, but not impossible.  Below are  6 strategies you can employ as the school year approaches and rely upon as the year unfolds all in the name of keeping your sanity! Continue reading “6 Strategies for Teachers to Maintain Summer Sanity”