By Elana Fertig
As they say, it’s not over till it’s over. But my first question is: Did you summer? (Yes, I am using it as a verb.)
A wise rabbi in the neighborhood once mentioned to me that he does not understand why people go away for the summer. “We live in the country,” he exclaimed. “The parks, boardwalk, beaches, grass, trees … we have everything here. Everyone should take advantage of what’s around us.” Mah rabu ma’asecha Hashem.
I am not picking on people who go away for the summer; if you do, it’s amazing and I hope you enjoyed everything while you were away.
But if you have not yet taken advantage of some of Long Island’s summer treasures, I hope you will …
- Walk on the boardwalk
- Listen to the ocean
- Smell fresh fruit and vegetables at the farmers market
- Ride a bike
You should do these things with or without your children. Remember, the best way to take care of your children is to take care of yourself, too.
Here are some things to do in these last weeks of summer to help you prepare for school and enjoy Hashem’s amazing creations.
- Look up the national parks on Long Island (there are so many) or pick a local park. Then download a “scavenger hunt” for the park. This can be fun for multiple families; you can have teams. Just make sure there is time to share your findings. Nowadays, scavenger hunts are even easier, because you can take photos of everything you find (so no one has to pick that poison ivy).
- Have an ABC scavenger hunt in a mall. Have each team find each letter of the alphabet in a different sign and then take photos of each one. Print the pictures and create an original ABC poster.
- Visit local farmers markets. There are many across Long Island. Buy some fresh produce, as your children notice the vibrant colors. Also ask the farmer questions such as: “Where is your farm?” “What do you grow there?” “What is your favorite food to grow?” “Were you always a farmer?” “What did you do before?” (I met a farmer this summer in West Islip who told me that he used to work on Wall Street, and now he is living his dream.)
- Practice mindfulness for yourself and your child. Today the world is talking about the benefits of mindfulness. We as Jewish people have been practicing mindfulness for years in the form of kavanah. Mindfulness also encourages you to take a look around you and help others (with good middos and doing mitzvos).
Basically, mindfulness is sitting still for five to 10 minutes. Set a timer. Breathe in and out slowly; feel your belly breathing. Then focus on the sounds around you. Eyes closed. After the time is up, ask your children what they heard. If they don’t remember, try again. This helps us all calm down and focus.
The important part of mindfulness is to be present! Go out with your children and leave your phone in your bag. I love to take photos, but I love even more to watch my children’s responses, to watch how they interact with each other. I know it’s such a cliché, but they really do grow up fast.
Preparing Your Child for School
The end of summer vacation is also the time to prepare your child for the new school year. Here are some ideas.
- Buy something new, like clothing, a knapsack, a lunchbox — something that they know is special for school and which they will associate with an exciting day when they get to use this present.
- If your child is moving to a new school or class, take advantage of orientation day to introduce him or her to the morah and classroom. It is also a good idea to get together with a friend from the class so your child can look for him or her on the first day.
- If you, as the parent, are nervous, try hard not to let your children feel your anxiety. Your child is not worried about all the things that you are worried about because he has not thought of them. Your child is excited to come to the school that belongs to him or her. Your child is excited to see new toys and other children and to meet his or her loving morah. Classrooms are set up to make children feel most comfortable. Everything is their height, their names are everywhere … this is their home away from home.
- It is important that your child only hear positive things from you about his school and his morah or classroom. You set the tone; if he hears something negative, he will worry.
- Children need reassurance. Tell your child, “You are going to school on Thursday.” Show him or her that day on the calendar and maybe make a big smiley on the box on the calendar. Remind your child he will see the toys, the morah, the children, and the playground.
- Discuss lunch options with your child before school. Let him help you make a calendar or chart (it will help you organize also).
- Grocery-store activity: Have your child find things that are a particular color. Have your child count six apples for you. Let him try to open the plastic bags to put the fruit in. This is a great fine-motor and hand-eye coordination activity.
- Swimming is a great activity for children. There are so many skills that children are working on while actually swimming. It helps build strength to all their muscles. The motion of the arms, lifting up and crossing over, builds brain activity and helps children learn to read.
- Painting on an easel gives children a “crossing the midline” activity. If you have a real easel, great. If not, you can attach a piece of paper to a wall, or go outside and let the children paint your house or porch with water. They can watch the water dry and start over, and they are still working on these skills.
- Run! Jump! Skip! Gallop! And then practice more mindfulness.
Be positive, be productive, and be present.
Wishing us all a shanah tovah and a super successful school year.
Elana Fertig is the director of the Hollander Early Childhood Center at Yeshiva of the South Shore.