Even with a failure, we’ll call it a win– Summer Camp at Home

The Garden earlier this Spring.

The Garden earlier this Spring.

Gardening is pure magic. I’ve always thought so. You take this tiny little seed and stick it in the dirt, and in a few days a life erupts all green and wobbly. I imagine the hard work it had to do, fighting it’s way through the soil until it reaches the sun. That doesn’t mean I’m any good at it. I’ve killed almost every single houseplant I’ve ever owned. OK, OK every single one. That hasn’t stopped me from having a garden. Ever since the little was 2, we’ve had some kind of vegetable garden. It started with tomatoes and cucumbers, and has grown every year. This year we have three varieties of tomato, cucumbers, green peppers, snap peas, Kentucky green beans, black beans, broccoli and corn. There’s also a corner for the herbs: lavender, thyme, cilantro, basil, and sage. Oh yeah, there’s also an awesome fairy garden under the trellis. Last year’s crops went to pot after life got a little too crazy for me to have time to tend to them, but we have a saying around here. This family never quits.

Gardening is magic, especially when the fairies move in.

Gardening is magic, especially when the fairies move in.

What the heck does that have to do with our camp? Well, for one, today’s group exercise token was spent weeding the garden, but it’s also a pretty good analogy for not giving up when you have setbacks.

The little came down with a bit of a cold on Tuesday night, after we’d already shifted that day’s tokens to Wednesday so we could spend some time with cousins. That meant the little wasn’t in much of a mood for lessons, and I didn’t push. My body was clearly fighting something too, and the rainy weather was wreaking havoc on my headache situation. While we did catch up, for the most part, we still didn’t get it ALL done. Cleaning day never happened, and while I did get to move my blog writing token, my 1 hour reading, and my writing token are still up on the calendar. Oh yeah, and the whole Summer of Sonnets thing was a total bust. Finding a time to do it was tricky, and the first 17 sonnets have a similar theme, which got boring fast–for all of us.

Sometimes things just go wrong. That doesn't mean you flush the baby down with the toilet water.

Sometimes things just go wrong. That doesn’t mean you flush the baby down with the toilet water.

That’s OK.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection is not the goal.

The goal is to give the kids some guidelines on how to spend time together. The goal is for me to help my kids’ brains stay active so they don’t lose everything they learned during the school year, and are prepared for the Fall. The goal is to help them develop good habits, and a positive attitude towards learning. Oh goodness, the goal is to teach them to love to learn.

Do you want to know how I know it’s working?

They finished all their lessons. The little did extra pages in her math workbook because she wanted to. The teenager wrote an incredible essay, and spent several hours working on it. Both kids are STILL excited about camp.

Earlier this week, after describing our camp to someone, she asked me, “That’s camp?”

I know kids are supposed to spend hours outside coming up with plans to get Boo Radley to come outside; raising a runt pig; or creating their own Terabithia, but my kids are allergic to almost everything that grows, and are much more contented with awesome indoor activities. Seriously, the teenager specifically requested NOT going to the beach because he hates sand so much. All that means is I have to get creative about our out of doors excursions…oh, and stock up on allergy meds.

Our Summer of Sonnets replacement book.

Our Summer of Sonnets replacement book.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if we hit every goal on the board. We had fun. I had some really great talks with the teenager, and most of all, the little and he are getting to spend their first summer together. So we’re tossing out the sonnets. No problem. Instead we’ll start on a book we can read out loud together starting with: Gone Away Lake.

What are you reading this summer?


Summer Camp Revealed

Summer camp chartsIt may have taken all week to get to it, but last Thursday we finally sat down, and made a plan for our summer camp. We did this in two phases. The planning phase, and the design phase.

Planning Phase: This is where we decided what we were going to work on this summer, and how we were going to earn activities. My intention with this phase was to help the kids set goals, and choose how to approach achieving these goals. Putting the control in their hands gives them the ability to invest in the process, which I’m hoping will motivate them.



Discussion circle

  1. Before we entered our circle, we took about fifteen minutes for each of us to make a list of things they wanted to do this summer.
  2. I started off the session by reading them the climax of my novel (which I’d just finished that day).
  3. I revealed to them that I’d shared the climax of my novel because my biggest goal for the summer was to write my novel, and that no one could meet their own goals if we didn’t work together.
  4. Then we shared our lists while I wrote them all down. I organized their goals into four lists:
    1. Learning Goals
    2. Individual Reward Goals
    3. Big Group Trips
    4. Small Group Trips
  5. Next we took a look at their 4th marking period report cards, and decided where each of them need more work. For both of them it was reading/writing, and math.
  6. We also chose to work on Spanish together, exercise twice a week, and have a day set aside for cleaning.

With all of our lists made, we decided that we were going to approach the camp by way of a two week calendar with tokens we can use to schedule our time.

Two week scheduling

Two week scheduling

Each individual token is color coded for each of us, and represents a lesson or task. The teenager chose purple, the little picked pink, and I took yellow. We chose green to represent the group.

Then we created a system of earning or unlocking trips and activities where each of us would have the ability to decide to use individual tokens to either earn an individual activity, or put it towards unlocking a group one.

Ten individual tokens unlocks a blue small trip token.

Each foot print is made of felt so velcro backed tokens can stick easily.

Each foot print is made of felt so velcro backed tokens can stick easily.

Three individual tokens unlocks a red individual activity.

The teenager came up with the gumball machine design to represent earning individual rewards.

The teenager came up with the gumball machine design to represent earning individual rewards.

Once a blue token has been unlocked and scheduled, it can be moved to the orange chart, where two blue ones will unlock a big orange trip.

A blue token fits in each square creating a nifty math equation we can all understand.

A blue token fits in each square creating a nifty math equation we can all understand.

Design Phase

On Friday we stayed in and created our charts, starting with the main planning calendar. I had the teenager measuring out the spacing with a ruler and a pencil, while the little separated the construction paper, and felt into colors, and was responsible for gluing. I hadn’t ever anticipated that this particular activity would have so much learning involved, but designing, and creating rewards charts involves lots of measurements and counting. It was also a little irritating to all of us that it took so long, but getting kids to work hard just to get started is another great way to get them invested in the process.

The biggest thing we discovered is that our charts needed to be lined with felt (or have major felted components), and all the tokens needed a velcro backing. This was to make it easy to move the tokens from chart to chart without getting too complicated.

Day 1- Scheduling & a Spanish lesson

On the first day of camp, we put up all the charts, and were ready to get the ball rolling.

First we ran through how our process would work, and how each of the token could be used to plan our lessons, and moved towards unlocking group and individual activities. Then we jumped right it. We started by scheduling this week’s exercise and cleaning days. Then we scheduled our Math, Reading/Writing, and Spanish lessons. Each week we’ll have an overarching theme which will determine the specific content I intend to weave into our lessons. This week’s theme is “All About Me & You”.

My own tokens I left pretty open since there are always some domestic duties that need to get handled. For example, I need to schedule days for blogging, novel writing, and those crazy little tasks like finally sending school photos to family members, or paying bills, or scheduling medical and dental visits.

I do have a plan on how to execute and plan the lessons, but since I haven’t gotten that far this week, I flew by the seat of my pants with our first Spanish lesson. Using a dry erase board, and some blank word strips, we walked through a very basic conversation. We read, repeated, and role played a conversation that included how to say the following:

Spanish phrases on strips make up a word bank en Espanol.

Spanish phrases on strips make up a word bank en Espanol.

  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Good Morning
  • Good Afternoon
  • Good Evening
  • Nice to meet you.
  • What is your name?
  • My name is________.
  • How old are you?
  • I am ________ years old.

Then I assigned each of them the task of creating their own skits with the vocabulary we’d used. It was a lot to ask of the little, so we worked this out using the word strips as a word bank from where she could choose the phrases to make up her skit. We did this orally instead of as a writing assignment.

The teenager and I read his skit together, taking up a part each.

When we were done, each child was allowed to move their individual token to the reward chart of their choice. The teen picked the individual chart, and the little chose to strive towards a small group activity.

Just after a preliminary lesson I can see that I’ll need to spend some significant curriculum planning time, and age appropriate modifications are completely necessary. Plus I need a way to reinforce the material throughout the day. No one said summer camp was going to be easy on me.

Stay tuned for updates on the summer of sonnets later today.


The Summer of Sonnets (S.O.S.) Begins

bitcheslovesonnetsWe began our Summer of Sonnets on Saturday with great fanfare. We cooked dinner together, and I printed out individual copies of Sonnet 1. We sat down at our usual spots while I read from my large leather bound Complete Works. To an audience of three I read:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

“So…what the heck does that mean?” I asked.

To my amazement they dug right in. They tried to extrapolate meaning from individual phrases, “I think ‘beauty’s rose might never die’ might mean not wanting that person’s beauty to go away.” My 13 year old sounded like he should be holding a PBR and wearing black framed glasses. Color me impressed.

I lead them quatrain by quatrain through the poem until we came up with this translation. “OMG you are so hot I wanna have like ten thousand of your babies.” Don’t judge, we’re doing Shakespeare at dinner, this fact alone is enough for me.

I asked the five-year old, “So would this work for you? Like a love poem?”

“Nope.” She said. “If somebody wants to marry me and they say this to me, I would not marry them.”


“Because I’m not going to marry someone just because they say things.” Translation- it’s going to take more than words to win me over.  +Parenting

“What will it take?” I asked.

“I only want to marry someone if I love them and that person loves me.” She said. “It’s like you and daddy. You liked him, and he liked you, and you agreed to get married. This is how I want to get married.” Translation–I want to get married because we’re both in love with each other. ++Parenting

Sonnet 2 was a little less planned. It was late, and we’d all had a lazy day. I’d made a hasty dinner of linguine with pesto far a jar, and some Costco chicken meatballs. We were trying to decide if we were going to even read before bed, when the little suddenly remembered, “We forgot the sonnet!” ::swoon::

I read this one from the book directly, and at first we had the same issue as the day before. No one knew what the heck we’d read:

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

The little tried it first. “I think when it said ‘beauty lies’ it means that beautiful things aren’t true.” Yeah. She’s five. Wuuuut.

Line by line we went through it again, until we finally came up with this translation: “Dude, the only way to keep yourself from caring that you’re old and ugly is to have a kid to pass on your good looks.”

We all agreed that this was probably the worst way to woo any of us, but sounded more like a pair of dudes talking to each other.

Summer Camp Day 1 was supposed to begin today, but we learned that bringing in more stuff is impossible when there is nowhere to put it. The truth is that I think I did pretty well this year as a new mother of two, but I was nothing close to prepared for the whirlwind of end of the year concerts, club meetings, and culminating ceremonies that left me with lots of no time to clean. Today was the day to remove the papers we’d shoved in every open crevice, sort them and dispose of them. It was the time to remove all the clutter crammed in the bookshelves, and reveal the ::gasp:: books beneath them. We are exactly halfway through the cleaning today, so tomorrow will likely be more of the same. –Planning Ahead

Stay tuned for more of the Summer of Sonnets (S.O.S.), and the planning phases of our Summer Camp at Home.

DIY Summer Camp- pre-planning phase

Can you feel it? Summer is coming.

keep-calm-summer-is-coming-36For most of you it’s already begun, but in my neck of the woods summer doesn’t start until next week, when the school bells ring for the last time, the tassels get turned from one side to the other (no one is ever really sure if it’s right to left or left to right), alma maters are sung, and caps are tossed into a perfect 1980’s freeze frame.

It’s my first summer as a mother of two. While most families increase by adding a newborn, my family increased by a teenager at the end of last summer after my son’s mother passed away tragically at the end of last summer. It’s been a great year despite it all. My daughter is learning to read, and is mimicking my favorite past time by picking up a chapter book that is way over her reading level and declared she will read this before the summer is over. My son went from barely passing the 7th grade to pwning the 8th grade on merit roll the first marking period, and honor roll for the rest of them. I couldn’t be prouder of my brood, but that doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of the prospect of an entire summer in each other’s faces.

I know I could have sent them to summer camps, and preserved my daytime quiet, but this is the first time we’ve all gotten to spend this much unscheduled time together, and I’ve decided that I want to enjoy it. So instead of sending them out to camp, I’m bringing camp to us, and I plan to share it all with you.

Here’s the plan:

  1. Democratic Education: When I was in college I’d intended to become a high school teacher, so I took a few of my university’s education courses. Montclair State University teaches a method called democratic education, which means including the students in all aspects of their own curriculum, and that’s how we’re going to plan our summer. Together.
  2. Goal setting: We’ll take a look at their test scores and report cards to assess where the kids need help. For my rising first grader that will likely mean practicing writing, reading, and making sure she doesn’t write her numbers backwards. For my about to be a high schooler we’ll focus on building math skills, study habits, and reading comprehension skills. During our first week of camp we’ll discuss the areas they’d like to grow in, what things they want to learn about, and what we realistically think we can accomplish together. So far here’s what we’ve already come up with:
    1. Have a garage sale to clean out the basement, and donate anything unsold.
    2. Learn Spanish.
    3. Exercise. We each want to be able to do 25 real push-ups by the end of the summer.
    4. A summer of sonnets. This was my personal goal that I expected to do on my own, but when I mentioned it to my family they thought it was a great idea. Each day we’re going to read and discuss each of Shakespeare’s sonnets. This will either continue into the Fall, or we’ll take on two or three some days. I’ll be blogging the summer of sonnets here, so be sure to tune in every day for the results.
  3. Incentives: In the real world we are paid for the work we do, so while some parents might look at incentives as bribery, I fully believe in rewarding my kids for their diligence, and giving them a motivation to continue.
    1. The activity jar: On color coded popsicle sticks we’ll write down ideas for activities we can do to reward ourselves for a job well done. We’ll have ideas for rainy days, way too hot days, day trips, and pure fun good weather days. Some examples are:
      1. Great Adventure: we have a season pass to the Six flags theme park and water park, so this is a pretty budget-friendly idea.
      2. Beach time
      3. Pool time
      4. Movies
      5. Board game tournament
    2. The big trips: Once we’ve decided the areas we want to grow in and learn about, we can look for ways to take weekend jaunts to places where we can engage with those topics. A weekend trip is a great way to reward ourselves with a change of scenery, and is a great way to bond as a family.
  4. Visuals: I haven’t made this yet, but I want to create a large calendar with movable tokens, where we can decide how to plan one week at at a time. I want to be able to have some daily activities that are constant, as well as a selection of activities they can choose to complete on their own. We’ll decide what we want to accomplish per week, and then on Sundays we can choose tokens that correspond to various subject areas, and add them to the day we want to do them. Each person chooses for themselves, but is responsible to the others for completion. If we each achieve our goals, we can choose a reward activity.
  5. Feedback circles: At the end of each week we’ll discuss how we think the previous week went. Were our goals to high? How can we modify our curriculum to make it better? Are there any activities we’d like to add to the jar? This gives us a chance to learn as we go, and not be constricted by a set of rules for the entire summer.

How do you spend your summer? Do you send your kids to camp, or do you choose to embrace the lazy days of summer sun or somewhere in between?