Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spring Fever Cure # 6: Sunshine

When I told Ben that I was writing about how to cure spring fever, he smiled and said, "Sunshine. Sunshine is the key. Just get some sun."

I can remember doing that. As the weather warmed up, we would take one or two of our subjects outside on nice afternoons. Were the boys more distracted by being out of doors? Yes. But they were still more productive than they might have been when drained of enthusiasm, tired, burned out, and longing for fresh air. It helped us overall to get some sun, because our spirits were lightened by it. We were reminded of the beautiful world outside and the beautiful life we had been given. It restored our perspective and sense of proportion. Yes, we were tired, but this month would soon be over and then we could stroll into a large and spacious summer.

For those of you who do this routinely in the spring, it may seem odd that I would bother to write about it. You would be surprised to learn how many mothers are leery of using this technique. The concern, which is understandable, is that the kids will become less attentive, more distracted, less disciplined, even wild, when let out of doors. I remember thinking this way myself. I can also remember the times when it didn't seem to work all that well. Sometimes, it doesn't. I like to think that those are the days when nothing can really help -- we just need to start over in the morning.

As a general rule, I have found that sunshine is a good tonic for tired schools. For us, it became much more effective when we applied it with particular guidelines. For those of you who want to know what those were, below is a list of a dozen guidelines that helped us make sunshine time an effective teaching time and a joy for our family.

A Dozen Guidelines for Sunshine Time :

1. Announce "sunshine time" in the morning as a reward for getting the morning work done. This way, you get a double benefit. Anticipation of something pleasant will sweeten the first half of the day.

2. Sunshine time works best after lunch, or a picnic lunch can be included.

3. Keep it simple. Don't plan to achieve a great deal. Expectations that are too high will make everyone miserable, especially you. Just try to complete a few straightforward tasks. The main purpose of this activity is to lift everyone's spirits.

Keep the setting simple, too. If you have concerns about this actually working on a school day, try doing it in your own yard the first time. Next, you can branch out to a nearby park or natural area. Later, you can experiment with other settings. This idea can even be extended to a field trip in a location that is some distance away. You can drive over lunch hour and arrive in time for the afternoon activities you have planned.

4. Pick subjects that are easy to do outdoors or that give the added benefit of providing a safe place to make a mess. Read a book aloud. Do some artwork. Perform a science experiment. Have a bicycle safety lesson. Work on a craft project for history. Discuss something you have read.

5. Limit "sunshine" to one or two subjects at first, to get your bearings. You can expand later, if you are confident that this is working well, and your family has developed a routine for this kind of activity.

6. Make it clear that, in order to enjoy this privilege, the kids must do their assignments and pay attention. Explain that if they don't, you really can't afford to do this often, because you really must finish the school year. Even better, set up this agreement with them just before going outside -- so that they understand the rewards and negative consequences for their behavior.
7. Take along a little refreshment -- at least something to drink. Sunshine makes people thirsty.

8. Dress in layers, and take one more layer than you think you need. The sun can be very warm, and the wind very cold, in the spring. It's harder for people to concentrate when they are uncomfortable.

9. Take a small first aid kit. (We often needed it.)

10. Allow a little time, 15 minutes at least, for them to run off some steam. That should be one of the perks. And yes, they can bring a ball or a frisbee. Call it "recess" if that makes it feel more official.

11. Enjoy your family! (Your attitude sets the tone for everyone else.)

12. When you get home, or later in the day, think about how it worked. What was just right? What needed tweeking? Do your kids need some extra boundaries or guidelines? What will you bring next time? Keep a list in a drawer (or on a notepad) for quick reference next time. Your sunshine time can get better and more productive with practice and reflection.

Ultimately, the goal of sunshine time is to inject some energy into the tired school and to bring warmth into the day. So watch for the overall mood to lift. Is it helping to make the atmosphere bright and cheery in your home? If it isn't, try some other types of outings until you find one that works. Once a week is a good way to start, because it doesn't bring too much change too fast. Over time, our family shifted into a doing this two days a week. But I know families that do it every afternoon with great results.

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