How do you feel at the end of the school year? I find that whether it has been a wonderful or challenging school year, I feel accomplished, proud, sentimental, and exhausted!
Our work with young children and families is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. Because we have so much passion and care deeply about the success of every child and every family in our programs, we give our all during the school year.
During the summer, some of us have time off and some of us teach camps or pursue other work. No matter what you are doing, the turning of the season brings a change of pace to our lives and a unique opportunity for a fresh perspective and renewed outlook. As we step away from the school year, the sun is brighter, the breezes are balmy, and the flowers are in bloom. From a midwesterners’ perspective, it feels as if summertime is nature calling to us to slow down and appreciate its gifts.
While we all know that slowing down and taking care of ourselves is important, it can be so hard to do! Our work as educators never seems to be done. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, here are some strategies I’ve gained over the years to help myself restore the work / life balance, practice self-care, and make the most of summertime:
- Retreat. One of the most important traditions in my year is our school’s annual teacher retreat. The retreat is a unique meeting with the purpose to be more restorative than productive. It is a day when our whole teaching team gets together, at a different location than our school, to “withdraw” and reflect on the year. We are very fortunate that we get to do this together as it is a bonding and building experience.
Even if you don’t have the resources for a group retreat, finding time to do a personal retreat can be incredibly restorative. Pick a day, set aside a few hours, and go to a place that you find relaxing and inspiring.
Use your retreat time to focus on the big picture, and be creative about how you express your ideas. Write down the reasons why you work with young children and families. Tell and record your story - how did you become an educator? What is your professional mission? Paint or sketch a picture representing your childhood nature play memories, and reflect on how that impacts your work. Spend some time thinking about your successes and document them. Meditate on a job well done. Take a walk and think about areas of your practice you want to improve or challenges you want to overcome. Don’t worry about making a plan or finding solutions. The retreat will engage you in the process of reflection, inspire your thinking over the summer, and revitalize your energy for your work.
Image credit: michael_swan (CC BY-ND 2.0)
- Minimize. When I started working at my current school, the former director advised me to “do the minimums” during the summer. At first, this was almost unimaginable because all I could do was think about what I needed to plan and do for the next year! But after experiencing that first school year as director, I understood the importance of what she said! I apply a minimalist mindset to my use of technology and scheduling during the summer. Setting reasonable times to check email helps me minimize the feeling that I need to be available 24/7. Planning and scheduling downtime means I can minimize my commitments because when I am asked to do something I can say “I’m sorry, I can’t, I have plans,” even if my plan is to do absolutely nothing! Doing the minimums means simplifying and prioritizing the tasks that need to be done, to protect your time and be able to take care of yourself.
- Organize. Often there are so many immediate needs during the school year that I don’t have the time to step back and organize my thoughts or make sure all of my systems are functioning efficiently. Setting aside moments here and there to organize when school is not in session saves me a great deal of time during the school year, and significantly reduces stress. In those moments when I am swamped with “must do” tasks, I find peace of mind in knowing that, during the summer, I will attend to some of my organizing “to do’s”.
- Connect. When I spend time “Irl” (read: “in real life” as opposed to online) with people that I care about, I feel better. Technology can be a great connector, especially during the busy school year, but it doesn’t have the same benefits as in-person connection. When you have downtime, getting together face-to-face with a friend or having some “time-in” with our own children and partners can be very restorative and energizing. Nothing feels quite the same as a hug from a good friend, or eye contact during a great conversation, or a shared experience with a loved one.
- Play. Stewart Brown, head of the National Institute for Play, states that “play is something done for its own sake”. For most of us, play is central to our work with young children. Yet, we often forget the power that play can have in our own lives. Finding time to play - to engage in purposeless, all consuming, fun - is a great way to take care of ourselves over the summer and reaffirm why we create spaces and places for children to play throughout the year.
Image credit: Andrej Filippov (CC BY 2.0)
Last year, I started writing down the most playful summer thing I did each day on my calendar. This practice helped me prioritize play and left me feeling satisfied with my summer relaxation and fun! Rather than beginning the new school year thinking “where did summer go?”, I felt revitalized and thankful for a wonderful summer.
What are your favorite ways to play in the summertime?
What do you do to restore the work / life balance and take care of yourself during the summer? Let us know on our Facebook page.
About the Author
Beth Wilson, M.S.Ed, is Director of Hobson School - a cooperative where relationships matter, play is learning, and nature nurtures - located in Naperville, Illinois. Connect with her at [email protected]