by Joanna Breault, contributing writer
It’s May! If you’re like me, your mind is already swirling with swimsuit decisions, vacation dates, and daydreams about casting off the bonds of a school schedule. It’s time to stash the workbooks and pull out the sunscreen!
But hold on a minute—let’s not lose the precious ground we’ve gained. We have worked hard to make our homes a place where learning happens. Let’s not undo the good we’ve done. Here are five simple ways to make summertime rich in learning and rest.
First of all, learn to spot and nurture intellectual appetite. If you’re the kind who follows a structured curriculum without taking many detours, this may be an adjustment—but it’ll be fun and fruitful once you start, I promise.
It begins like this:
“I wonder how long it would take to fly an airplane to the sun…”
“Hey Mom, look at this tadpole I found!”
“Can I build a fort?”
“Do you think we’ll see a shark at the beach?”
These kinds of kid-comments are easy to foul off or answer quickly when there are math problems waiting. But during the summer months, rabbit trails turn into the important journeys.
Instead of giving a one-word answer, try starting with “what a great question!” Your enthusiasm conveys that curiosity is a worthy pursuit. Then, offer to google the quandary together. Hit the library or your own bookshelves. Find a video on YouTube. Casually throw out follow-up questions or ideas.
Make sure you don’t take over or make it feel like school. Come alongside to affirm your child’s interest, and enjoy the journey as a co-adventurer.
This hunting down of information, making connections, diving into related topics—this is the stuff of true intellectual engagement. If summertime is marked by the thrill of independent discovery, that means young minds are continuing to grow and develop.
Secondly, let them be bored.
Yes, you read that right. Don’t underestimate the value of giving children big swaths of time in which to be bored—and then find things to learn and do. It has been said that boredom is intellectual appetite; don’t satiate that appetite with a constant stream of activities, lessons, and media.
Many parents are buying into the idea that rigorous education should continue throughout the summer and that every moment should be structured. But no differentiation during summer months gives diminishing returns—kind of like only doing sit-ups, day after day. Doing something new—but equally cognitively valuable—is like cross-training.
No, letting kids be bored is not for the faint of heart—but we mothers are of strong stock, aren’t we? Tell them “I’m bored” will result in a chore assignment. Period. It’s crazy how fast they become un-bored.
Next, make sure reading is a big piece of the summertime pie. Use summer to build a foundation of “reading as a pleasurable activity,” if it isn’t already.
Allow more latitude in their reading diet than you would during the school year. Let them binge on Hardy Boys or The Magic Tree House series without worrying about whether Charlotte Mason would consider it twaddle. If your kid prefers magazine or newspaper articles, procure age-appropriate journals and make them available. If there are certain books you’d like to see them explore, be sneaky and leave them on the coffee or breakfast table. You never know what will be thumbed through over a bowl of cereal or on a rainy day.
Math is an area where it’s good to maintain some basic ground. But this can be done easily through games—card games, strategy games, and anything where players have to keep track of scores (Rummy, Spades, Scrabble, etc). Review fractions and measurement by cooking or baking together. Quiz the kids on their times tables or addition facts during road trips. There are also oodles of websites with free math games (check out funbrain.com and aplusmath.com to start). You don’t need to be militaristic about math review; just keep it on the radar and make sure you hit it from time to time.
Finally, just say no to electronic babysitting. Believe me, I know it’s tempting. They all sit so quietly and get along so well when riveted by something on a screen. But overindulging in media is a downward spiral. It retards cognitive development, reduces interest in mentally stimulating tasks, and stands in as a paltry substitute for truly enriching activities.
If you’ve gotten into a habit of keeping the kids occupied with computer games or movies, there will be howls of protest when you pull the plug. But they’ll adjust, and the dividends are worth it. Provide some art supplies or send them outside. Invite some friends over or plan a family activity. Yes, we all need downtime, but keep the screen time in check, using books and games as the go-to quiet time occupation.
Instead of banishing learning along with formal schooling, make intellectual growth a family companion this summer. It may be your best yet.