Many homeschool families don’t follow a typical school year schedule, but instead learn throughout the year. They schedule breaks around holidays, vacations, and whatever works best for the family. Others do follow a more traditional schedule and take a summer break, but might continue certain subjects as a way to either get ahead or address a remedial subject. Whether your family homeschools or not, there are lots of fun ways to keep skills sharp over the summer. There’s a real phenomenon called summer learning loss; due to the extended break, math and reading skills slip so far back that the beginning of the school year is spent relearning lost skills rather than progressing forward. On the flip side, summer is a time for fun, friends and family, outdoor time, and relaxing. No need to sit the kids down with a stack of workbooks and force them to miss out on those lazy days. Instead, there are ways to integrate learning into life, and make it fun for the whole family.
Incredible learning takes place outside. Pick berries and notice all the kinds of produce grown locally. Take a hike or go to the beach, and observe birds and wildlife, collect leaves or shells to to look up at home, watch how a caterpillar or crab explores the ground, take note of the various kinds of rocks, watch the different kinds of clouds roll by, collect some ocean or stream water to look at under a microscope. One thing that my family has begun doing is nature journaling, Take a notebook, pencil, good eraser, maybe some colored pencils. Go to a loved spot- your backyard, Grandma’s yard, a favorite hike or park, the beach, poolside, wherever, and spend some quiet time there. Encourage your child to consider- what do you see, hear, feel? What does being in this spot make you think about? Are you inspired to draw a picture of something, describe it, write a poem, or just jot down some thoughts or feelings? To make this fun, bring along your own notebook and join your child in this activity, so that it’s more about nature appreciation and less about work.
Watch a Movie
Those rainy afternoons, lazy evenings after a day of playing in the sun, or sick days are good for something– cuddle up on the couch with a movie! Instead of parking the kids in front of another mindless kids’ movie, sit down and join them for something of quality. An old film, a classic musical, a documentary, it doesn’t matter what. We find it fun to watch movies based on favorite books, and discuss the differences. Watch a movie and then look for literary elements like foreshadowing. Analyze what the character is going through– how did he overcome hardship, go on an emotional journey, develop bravery or courage? My kids love acting out scenes after they’ve fallen in love with a movie, which often leads to imaginative play, drawing, and skits.
Possibilities are limitless here. Give the kids of bag of craft supplies and let them go wild, or make a fort out of blankets and pillows, or build a village out of milk cartons and cardboard boxes. Make a model car, sew a pillow, concoct your own clay or bubbles, build a robot! It can be fun to tap into ideas online such as Pinterest or how-to YouTube videos, but it can be just as worthwhile to let little ones use their own imagination.
Read, read, read
Reading is one crucial skill that should be nurtured year-r0und, and a parent’s attitude and encouragement can make all of the difference. Some kids read willingly, whereas others need a little push. Sign up for your library’s summer reading program, through which kids can earn prizes and get excited about setting goals. Go to the library at least once a week. Let your child pick out books, peruse the “new books” section, and even slip in a few that you think would be interesting. A variety is great here– some fiction books, mixed in with a book on one of the topics sparked during your outside time, combined with an interesting non-fiction book about a place you might travel to, or your heritage, or animals. Have family reading time on a rainy day, get in bed a little early after a day outside and let the kids relax and read, or read aloud on a car trip to visit family or friends.
Follow Their Interests
Was there something that really piqued your child’s interest during the year? Maybe learning about pyramids, the snake that served as the classroom pet, the Revolutionary War, or a really cool Picasso painting studied in art. Use this time as a laid-back way to find out more. Library books, a documentary found online, or day trip to a museum or zoo are all ways to nurture learning in an organic way that will be fun and not forced. There are so many local community resources, such as museums, festivals, and parks that can be enjoyed as you broaden your child’s mind.
Let Your Child Be an Apprentice
Take advantage of your child’s time at home to teach them some useful skills. Bring them into the kitchen to help bake muffins (fractions! math!), take part in a home improvement project, wash the car, work in the garden, follow Grandma/Grandpa/Uncle/Older cousin around and learn how to do something worthwhile. We make it a point to never do any kind of a project at home without having one of the kids help, whether it’s changing batteries in the smoke detector or the windshield wipers.
Most importantly, summer is a time to decompress, bond with family and friends, and relax. Try not to schedule too many engagements, even fun, social get-togethers and day trips, and instead allow for blocks of laid-back, unscheduled time. Free time and even boredom lead to opportunities for creativity, self-discovery, and recharging. An afternoon at the pool or lake, digging in the sand, splashing in the water, and giggling with friends is every bit as worthwhile as any worksheet or chore your child could ever do. A stack of board games or playing cards can create precious memories, as can the opportunity to make your own jam, read to a baby cousin, or create a fairy castle out of old boxes, scraps of fabric, and paint.
Activities don’t have to be exhausting, costly, or time-consuming. Simple, wholesome, sweet summer experiences make the best memories, and will give your kids something to share when asked to talk or write about “My Summer Vacation.” Share your favorite downtime activities with our readers in the comments below. Welcome, summer!