Structuring the Unstructured

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Spider Boy is many things. Inquisitive. Observant. Independent. Imaginative. Playful. Funny. Sweet. But he is also highly-sensitive and spirited. I’m not much into labels, but I’ve found these to be helpful ones in that they’ve given us a foundation to work with to figure out how best to support him. The best description I’ve found to describe this comes from Raising Your Spirited Child: “Spirited kids are, in fact, simply ‘more’ — by temperament, they are more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and uncomfortable with change than the average child.” I laughed the first time I read that — “more” is exactly the word I would have used to describe Spider Boy — but over the years what has really come into play is that bit about being more “uncomfortable with change than the average child.”

This year being his first year of preschool, this discomfort with change became a noticeably large hurdle for us, whether it was special days at school like holidays or Crazy Hair Day, or weeks off from school for vacations, it didn’t take much change to throw him off. However, this year also made us realize just how much he thrives on routine and structure, and how much better he does when he has information about what to expect. It has been a bit of a struggle for me — I’m more of a play-it-by-ear kind of gal — but I’m learning through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. So what to do with the luxury of a long, unstructured summer? I remember them fondly from my own childhood, but the major regression after just one unstructured week for spring break made me quickly realize we needed something to help structure our 14-week-long summer.

Since spring break, we’ve experimented with the idea of a more regular routine. I realized I had it in my head that a routine was more like a high school schedule — first bell at 7:05 am, first period starts at 7:15 am, second period starts at 7:52 am, etc. That kind of thing is crazymaking for me! But the good news is that Spider Boy doesn’t need anything that explicit — he just needs to know that generally speaking, by 9 am we’re going to be ready to get out of the house and do something fun, and here are the steps we will take to get us there. We won’t be doing exactly the same thing at the same time every day, but generally we will be doing one or more of the same things in the same 1-2 hour period each day. I posted our routine up where he can see it — you can see a sample here — and he loves to ask what time it is and then run over to “the schedule,” as he calls it, to see what we’re going to do next. This has been working fairly well for us, once we worked out a few kinks, but on non-school days we have still had a little too much wiggle room for comfort. Enter my (un)structuring brainstorm.

We’re starting the summer by “celebrating” a letter each day. I am not making any other changes to our routine — we are doing essentially the same kinds of things that we would have done on non-school days previously — just adding the focus of a letter each day. So the books we read begin with that letter, the yoga poses we use in Spirit Time begin with that letter, everywhere we go when we see something that begins with that letter we call it out, etc. Once we’re done with the alphabet, we’ll move on to colors, shapes, and numbers. We’ve just finished our first week, and it was surprisingly successful, however it was also a transitional week that included a sensory camp held at Spider Boy’s school the same days he would have had preschool, so next week will be the true test.

My plan is to write up notes for what we do each week — what worked and what didn’t, along with the books/videos/excursions/etc. that I’ve found for each topic — so that if you find yourself in a similar boat with a spirited and/or highly sensitive child, you can find some inspiration here. I would love to hear what is working for you and your families this summer as well — please share your ideas in the comments!

Week One: A-B-C-D-E
Week Two: F-G-H-I-J
Week Three: K-L-M-N-O
Week Four: P-Q-R-S-T
Week Five: U-V-W-X-Y-Z

Recommended Reading

The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, by Elaine Aron
Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
The Strong, Sensitive Boy, by Ted Zeff

photo: bridging knowledge to health by paul bica
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2 thoughts on “Structuring the Unstructured”

VV

Thank you for the chance to remember long childhood summers. I enjoyed them so much, although I’m not sure what I did–besides annoy my younger brother–before I could get into my own world via chapter books.

A friend also described their son as spirited. I like how she put it that the curiosity that makes him more of a handful now as a toddler is going to make him easier to shepherd through school.

    jennsheridan

    I love that image! I think the right school, the right teachers, will make it a joy for him to learn. But T crossing and I dotting? I hope to never have to see their effects. At the very least, my boys will always have lifelong learning modeled for them in their families. 🙂

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