Get Inspired for Summer Learning Fun!

May is winding down, leaving just a few weeks until glorious summer vacation! This gives parents a couple weeks before school dismisses to plan learning activities to keep our kids’ minds active and skills sharp over the summer. Are you ready?

Please don’t feel overwhelmed! Just a brief activity, every day if you possibly can, will go far to keep the Boredom Monster at bay.
Our family will be staying home this year with our farm critters. And the cost of gas makes all but the shortest of day trips cost-prohibitive. How will we make the most of those lazy summer days? You are welcome to take a peek at our plans...
Every year we have an informal family “summer school.” Not only does it benefit the kids, it fills my deep teacher-longing, since I’m not in a classroom much these days. In fact—true confession—I thrive on this. It’s sick, I know, I know...
But PLEASE don’t worry if you don’t have such an inclination! If you can steal just one tiny idea from these overly-ambitious plans, you will go far in helping keep your kids’ summer interesting.
For any families considering homeschooling, summers are a great way to dip your toes in the water and see if it’s a fit.
Typically, our girls start dropping eager hints about what they’d like to study along about January. Some years they agree on one topic; other years each has launched off on her own.
Some of the topics we’ve studied in the past include:
·        Animal studies--dogs, bugs, emus and penguins

·        Weather

·        Detectives

·        Units inspired by books, like the year we learned about pirates and read an all-time favorite, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. Another summer we did a history study based on the Samantha books series from American Girl.

·        Researching the area or state where we’ll be vacationing

·        The possibilities are as endless as your creativity.
Mount Saint Helens,
May 18, 1980
USGS photo
This year, the girls were a little slow to come up with topics, so my husband suggested we study volcanoes and visit Mt. Saint Helens. What a great idea!

What will we be learning?

·        SCIENCE:  That’s a given! We can learn about plate tectonics and seismology and volcanoes and environmental recovery. I’m on the lookout for some good experiments on pressure and release, if you know of any. 

·        TECHNOLOGY:  In addition to learning how seismographs and other instruments work, the kids can develop their computer research skills. I’d love to see them sharpen their PowerPoint skills...maybe they could simulate an interactive display that you might find at the volcano’s visitor center...hmmm.

·        HISTORY:  Not only is the recent history of Mt. Saint Helens interesting (I was driving home from college the day it blew), but some of the famous blasts of the past (Vesuvius, Pompeii, Pinatubo...) are pretty mind-boggling and history-changing. What about the economic impact of the recent volcano, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, in Iceland? 

·        READING:  This is an area where free choice reigns. What matters most to me is that my kids are reading daily.
We’ll sign up for the public library teen reading program. My older daughter has already signed up with our state Talking Book and Braille Library program; their prize for reading 1000 minutes is a blank cartridge for the new digital book players! Wahoo!
Of course, there is plenty of topical information the kids will be reading for projects, so they’ll get practice reading non-fiction. But most of all, I want them reading literature they love.
·        WRITING:  Some years this is directed; some years it is personal choice. There are a few project-related writing activities I have in mind (a brochure for Mt. Saint Helens, a script to go with that interactive PowerPoint for the visitor center), but mostly I want to give time for free writing and journaling.
When they were younger, we made stacks of books that the girls re-read throughout the year. What a fun way to keep the memory of summer alive during dreary winter days!
·        MATH:  I love summers for having time to close up those gaps in math understanding! Without naming any specific math curriculum our elementary school used, we’ll just say my kids still have gaping holes in their math concepts and skill mastery.

      It’s a great time for mom to pull out old-fashioned math instruction. Call me a fuddy-dud, but these tried and true techniques taught me math...which is more than I can say for the “experimental” system my girls grew up with. Enough said.
Some years, math fits well under the umbrella of our topic. Other years, not so much. I don’t worry terribly about it.
There are so many practical applications of math around home: multiplying fractions as we double a recipe, calculating seed coverage in the garden, estimating costs as we plan our trip to Mt. Saint Helens...
·        THE ARTS:  Ooooh, I’ve been waiting until my girls were old enough to tackle frame animation...a volcanic explosion would be a very exciting culminating project!  

For instant projects for younger kids, there are great collections of art and craft books at the library. I’m especially fond of the Williamson Kids Can! Book series (here’s one and another one).
My youngest is heading into a phase of life where test-taking strategies take on new importance, so that will be a subplot in our little volcano story. Much of that can dovetail with math.
This may all sound ambitious, but don’t be fooled. We only try to hit a couple subjects every day. Most days only see about 60 – 90 minutes spent on “summer school” (and some days we skip all together).  Once in awhile, the girls will get so caught up in a project that they spend most of the day on it!
A new wrinkle for me is that this is the first summer I’ll be blogging. While I know it will be hard to post regularly, I’d love to share some of the ways we adapt activities and materials to make them accessible. Maybe that will inspire similar summer learning projects for you and your darlings to enjoy.
Above all, I want families to enjoy learning this summer! It can be spontaneous and delightful. It can be delightfully planned. Whatever fits your summer style, I hope you will find lots of ways to keep your kids’ minds stimulated.
What do you do with your kids over the summer to keep their minds active? Please do share in the comments below! I can always use a good idea or three...and our other friends can too!


Anonymous said...

This is completely encouraging - a little but not a whole session of 'school', self-directed by the children with embellishment by the teacher-parents! Well done, Rose-Marie!


Rose-Marie said...

Barbara, you hit on some important points here much better than I did:

--the "little but not a whole session" aspect of summer learning, so that it remains fun rather than exhausting to kids or parent. The whole intent is to keep learning fun (and alive during summer);

--allowing the kids to self-direct with input from parents. Of course, in the early years, parents will need to model, but later it is a joy to watch the kids take off with ideas of their own. They can contribute not only topics, but some pretty delightful project ideas.

Thanks so much for YOUR encouragment!