Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Summertime Learning: (Or, "We All Get To Be Unschoolers!")

A homeschooling forum I like to visit often makes me smile. I love seeing the posts from parents new to homeschooling who are raring to go and wondering how they're going "to fit it all in." I love seeing the "relax and calm down and let learning happen" posts from the veterans. And I especially love the occasional posts from the veterans who, in that beautiful human way we all have, sometimes lapse again into the "argh! how am I going to fit it all in?" cry.

As educators and parents, homeschoolers or not, I think we've all been there about a hundred times: there is just so much we want to show and teach and inspire our kids with (and in our information age, so much of it seems right at our fingertips) and yet our time is limited. The length of days and our own quotas of energy are finite. There is only so much learning one can bring into a day, week, month, or school year and still have it be effective. There comes a time when we have to take a break, relax, and play -- and yes, I know learning happens in those times too, because really learning never stops. We're always people in formation.

I know some people school year round with intermittent breaks. But for those who take long summer breaks, like we do in our household, I think it's important to remember some of the great ways more formal bits of learning can still infiltrate the summer hours. This is good news for those of us (pointing to myself) who occasionally freak out because we didn't quite make it through that last history or science unit at the end of the school year because we were just too tired -- and our kids were crazy with spring fever.

First, the obvious ways:

Camps/Family Trips/Gardening

Because all of those are great opportunities for learning new skills, seeing new places, and making new friends.

Summer Reading

There are so many ways to inspire your kids to summer reading: bookstore programs, library programs, family generated programs. And then, of course, there is just the old-fashioned way: put a lot of books in front of them and give them copious amounts of down time to read. Yesterday morning, my daughter woke up and didn't feel like getting up for the day, so I let her stay in bed an extra hour and read. She loved it. So hard to imagine doing that in...say...November...but it fits with July.

Quiz Games

My daughter loves trivia games, the question and answer kind like Brain Quest. I've come to love them too. We've been doing Brain Quest cards a lot this summer, using some of the 5th grade level ones we found at a recent library sale. They're not only fun, they help me see what "gaps" exist in my rising sixth graders' knowledge. Yes, sometimes that means I'm recalling the units and subjects we didn't get to as much as I planned last year (Native Americans, botany....) It's also fun to realize all the things your children know that you had no clue they knew. And it provides some mental math practice.

Creative Prompts

Summer is a great time to inspire your kids to write in a journal or to paint or write. If they need creative prompts, there are a variety you can use, online or homemade. We've been having a lot of fun with a set of "Story Cubes" my sister got for us during her recent birthday visit. It's a set of nine dice with different images on each surface. Roll the dice and let the images prompt you to wordplay and storytelling. You could make your own similar set of prompts. Picture prompts, household item prompts...whatever works.

Learning Links

There are so many good online sites that provide regularly updated or daily links. We use some of these during the school year, but in the midst of busy, routine days (when you're trying to make sure you get in all the grammar you need to) it's easy to forget. Summer is a fun time to refresh or update your bookmarks and to let yourselves spend some time just enjoying those resting places for hearts and minds. For instance, this summer my daughter has been making the re-acquaintance of Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Learning Trails

This might be my favorite part of relaxed, "down-time" learning -- the opportunity to chase down learning trails. Theoretically, we try to build this into our school year too -- if something really sparks a learning passion, I try to find ways to guide my daughter to learn more about it. Practically speaking, this is harder to encourage during the school year unless you're an unschooler who lives by that method of learning. The cool thing is that in summer, we all get to be unschoolers for a while! When you're not needing to make sure that the math test is completed, it's a lot easier to say "sure, why don't you learn everything you want to about the Apollo space missions?"  That's been my daughter's favorite learning trail this summer. She's also enjoyed learning about Helen Keller.

There are lots of other ways to build relaxed learning into the summer: cooking projects, craft projects, museums, sporting events, a poem a day. The possibilities are endless. And yes, a lot of these can be elements of a learning life no matter what time of year. There's just something about the less structured season of summer that lends itself to thinking outside the box.

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