Well, it’s the second week of July and I can’t believe we’re half way through the summer! It’s difficult to achieve the correct balance between fun and learning during the school year since there is so little time, so I am always searching for ways to incorporate both during the summer months. Rare is the child who actually wants to learn during the summer – they feel that it’s their time “off” from school and the mere suggestion of doing anything, including getting up early for camp results in huffs and puffs and why’s and ‘why can’t we’s. And that’s when I remind them that they have off from school, but mom still has to work! Fortunately, I have some flexibility with my work schedule, so I try to sign them up for mostly afternoon camps and use the morning as time to do other activities. My daughter is artistically talented and my son is academically talented so it’s more than a challenge to find something that they both enjoy at the same time. But I love a challenge, and I pride myself in finding and creating mini-adventures that we can take during the summer, aside from the normal museums, summer festivals, parks and playgrounds. We have some fun times and I always try to end the summer with a vacation at the beach which gives them solace and serves as a huge incentive to complain less and listen more. For the past few years, I’ve found it works best if at the beginning of summer, I lay the ground rules for our summer days and I thought I’d share them with you:
- Reading Comes First – My kids know the #1 house rule is that no electronics are turned on until they’ve completed at least 30 minutes of reading. It’s not a popular rule, but it keeps their brain exercised and gives me at least 30 minutes of peace and quiet in the morning! The way I make this fun is to take them on a trip to the book store at the beginning of the summer, give them a budget and let them pick out anything they’d like. Two books have to be on their school reading list and the other two can be anything from a journal to a comic book or anything inbetween. We also visit the free library several times throughout the summer. My son loves to read so it’s not an issue with him so much; my daughter would rather have her teeth pulled. She didn’t want to feel like she was still in school, so with her I decided to take another angle. I showed her that she could log her reading time on the Media Upper Providence Free Library website and get prizes and she has been excited ever since.
- Exercise – The other rule is that they (we) have to get in at least an hour of exercise, and since we have a large trampoline in our yard it’s usually the first choice. They also have the option of riding their bikes, going to the nearby playground, gardening or playing in our yard. On rainy days I throw a big towel near the back door, put their rain boots and coats on them and let them make mud pies and search for rain puddles. The also have the option of playing Wii Sports or Just Dance, or we head to the Local YMCA to swim. If they resist I remind them that I will be happy to find them other options like washing laundry, vacuuming their room or emptying the dishwasher, which usually gets them out the door quickly!
- LImited Computer/TV Time – My fifth grade teacher used to remind us that the same shows that come on in the school year are shown as repeats during the summer…and she was right! During the school week the television is on maybe for an hour a night, so they tend to overdose during the summer. It is summer, so I will allow more staring at the tube longer than usual, but after the first hour, it’s time to take a break and do something else. The computer can sometimes be a welcome escape, but also an information overload, especially for intense personalities, so I encourage it to be used mostly for playing math games, Free Rice which helps them learn vocabulary as well as help to end world hunger and reading books on Storia or Kindle. They get to spend an hour or so at the beginning of the summer researching the internet for the best kids websites for the subjects that interest them. Hoagie’s Gifted website is a great starting point for such discovery.
- Summer Wish Jar – Last year I started a summer wish jar. I gave the kids about five pieces of paper each and gave them time to think of things that they’d like to do during the summer that we normally don’t have time to do. The wishes can range from spending the day in their PJs to a nature walk in the park, to a day at the beach. I let them know that it cannot be anything extremely expensive and we will most likely not have time for everything but it gives me a good idea of what they’d like to do before September arrives. I am always touched when I see a paper that says “movie with mom” or something similar, and those nights popping popcorn and staying home make some of the most indelible summer memories!
- Summer Journal – Every few weeks, to help them keep up with their writing skills, I encourage them to write about their summer (good or bad) thus far. I give them the choice of whether they want me to read it, or keep it private (although I usually read it anyway), and it’s a pressure-free way to keep them writing during the summer.
- Forget the Rules Days – Yes, I try to buy organic, gluten free, infuse reading, exercise and teachable moments into their summers but every once in a while, I have an impromptu, forget the rules day. They kids never know when it’s coming, but I may take a day off from work and we stay in our pjs, watch way too much television and order take out all day. Or we all put on our rainboots and I drive around the town like a flash mob looking for the largest puddles. The other night, after I came home from work and fixed a healthy, gluten-free dinner, I announced that we were going to take a quick run to the Wawa before the thunderstorm passed through and everyone could pick their favorite dessert. When we got home, I suggested we all climb up on the trampoline to eat our goodies and watch the cloud formations. My kids looked at me in disbelief but were so excited to see me climb up, lay back and gaze at the clouds. They forget that I too was a child. And the best part of being a parent is that if you let them be children, they will always help you remember and guide you back to that special place of childhood wonder.
Everyone carries memories of their childhood with them throughout their life, and although I can’t shield them from the stresses and disappointments in life, my wish is that their good memories outweigh the bad. The challenge is finding the balance between being a responsible adult/parent while allowing them to be perfectly children. And while you are doing that, you are teaching them more than reading, writing and arithmetic, you are also teaching one of life’s most valuable lessons..balance.
How do you plan to make summer learning fun for your children?