by Karen D. Koch
One summer when I was growing up, I set a goal of reading 100 books before school began again in the fall. I’m kind of strange like that. But I did it, and I still have the list I made. My choices included a lot of Nancy Drew mysteries and other things that matched my then-age, but I’m sure my reading ability grew as a result.
Another summer I decided I wanted to learn how to type, so I found my mom’s old typing manual and taught myself to type on my dad’s 1936 Underwood typewriter. The machine was so old the keys got stuck together on the carriage when I typed too quickly. My first day of typing class (mandatory) in high school, I was already typing 50 words per minute.
One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that we can decide what, when, and where our kids will be learning. In our house, we don’t do “official” year-round schooling, but we still want the kids to be growing, learning, and experiencing life in the summer. Teaching myself to type or reading 100 books didn’t feel like “school” to me, but now I realize how beneficial those goals were, and I try to encourage my kids to learn new things in the summer as well.
Here are a few ideas for you and your family to enjoy this summer. Just doing life with your kids is a learning experience in itself.
Make a Bucket List
Have each child (parents too) make a list of things they would like to do this summer. Compare the lists and circle a few that are possible or that show up on more than one list. You can help the young ones with their lists. If everyone wants a visit to the beach, make that a priority, and let them help with the planning. If everyone wants to visit a certain museum, check for coupons or discount days and put it on the calendar. My youngest (6) voted for s’mores in the backyard on the 4th of July, so we did that, then spent some time telling him what Independence Day is actually about.
Don’t stop reading just because school’s “out.” Take trips to the library, for both young and old. Participate in your library’s summer reading program or any others you find, such as Barnes & Noble, where kids grades 1-6 read eight books then get a free book.
We save some fun read-alouds for the summer or finish up things from the school year. Last summer we read almost the entire Little Britches book series aloud with the kids. We’ve also read the Jungle series by Ron Snell, YWAM biographies, and more. My youngest is enjoying the entire works of Beatrix Potter this summer, and we watched Miss Potter, a movie version of her early life.
Don’t forget Bible reading in the summer. Our nation is biblically illiterate, and we can and need to do better. As an aside, parents may want to read Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero. Focus on the Family and other Christian organizations have helpful websites and publications to help you in this goal.
One summer I decided that my kids were deprived because they hadn’t experienced many of the classic musicals of the 1940s and beyond. Our library provided these and more: Singin’ in the Rain, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and White Christmas. We threw in a few old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movies as well, just for fun. It’s really amazing how much the kids can learn, particularly in the area of history and cultural knowledge, and of course, the lyrics to Road to Morocco and If I Were a Rich Man.
We save swimming lessons and sports camps for the summer. These types of events can suck away your time and budget, however, so choose judiciously. Perhaps the family can get out for walks or bike rides, or train for a race together. Its time for my youngest to ditch the training wheels, so we are making that a priority as well. My husband enjoys taking the kids to the driving range too.
HSLDA holds an annual photography contest for homeschoolers with a summer deadline. Encourage your kids to use their creativity. Possibly check out books or websites to help with this useful skill. Help them learn to download or organize the photos. Check into entry requirements for photos in the youth category at your local county fair. One of my sons once won a Best of Show ribbon for a photo he entered in the Napa Town and Country Fair.
Whether on paper or digitally, summer is a great time to catch up on the family or school photos. I’m about two children behind on this project, but plan to spend some time on it this summer. This is a project even little ones can do with scissors and their own “Day in the Life of Me” books they can create. I have one of these for each of my four children. We took photos of their life one day, printed them out and let the kids glue them into a little paper book we created where they could add captions, etc. like “Me with Pooh bear,” “Me and my bike,” etc. I can’t begin to tell you how glad we did this when the kids were young. I treasure each of these.
Travel can be an amazing learning experience, and summer is well-suited for this. I’m the nerdy mom who wants to stop and read every historical marker (insert children’s groans here), but you don’t have to be that way to learn with your kids. Now with Wikipedia and Google, we can look up anything that interests us on our travels.
We recently drove to Lake Tahoe and talked about the hardships of the early pioneers crossing the Sierra Nevada and the railroad that eventually followed. We Googled to find out how deep and how big the lake was, and talked about Kit Carson, as one of my children was born in nearby Carson City, NV.
In June, I took two of the kids to a park on the Columbia River in Oregon and we read all the signs about Lewis and Clark and talked about their epic trip. Even if the kids don’t always connect the dots in these teachable moments, that information may later come to the surface when they need it.
Map reading and navigating are important and useful skills. I remember how proud I was as a kid to sit up front with mom and dad in the station wagon and help navigate in my early map-reading days. I spent a lot of time perusing maps, not realizing I was learning.
Fishing and Camping
Alas, we are the wanna-be camping family. We’ve never gotten our act together to actually experience this (other than outdoor science camp where we stayed in cabins), but we do try to visit a few national parks or wilderness areas. Sign up for local kids’ fishing days or take a picnic lunch out on a hike.
If you’re like our family, there are dozens of points of interest within an easy day-trip drive from your house that you’ve never visited but probably should. Pick up travel brochures at your local visitor’s bureau and see what you’ve missed. If you have out-of-town visitors, this is a great opportunity to go with them and be tourists in your hometown.
Work can be fun! Include the kids in home maintenance and yard work projects. Not only are they learning valuable skills, but they are learning how to complete a project from beginning to end, have a good attitude, shop for supplies, clean up, and more. Once one of my sons helped Grandpa dig post holes and build a new fence. My daughter enjoys painting, so she has helped me paint many times. Gardens are a great and useful learning experience.
Older kids can help at VBS or other church activities. Seek out possibilities as a family and make them age-appropriate. The possibilities here are endless.
Don’t forget that simple is sometimes best. BBQs, blowing bubbles, sidewalk chalk, having friends over, and watching the stars are all activities that will give you long-term, happy family memories.
Attend the CHEA Convention
Come alone, with your spouse (spouses always attend free with one paid registration), and bring the kids!
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2014 California Parent Educator.
Karen D. Koch is a homeschooling mom of four, including her two homeschool high school graduates (June 2014, June 2016). Her 2014 reading goal was to complete the entire Newbery Medal winner list— 90 books had won that honor at the time. She finished with a month to spare. She serves as CHEA’s Communications Assistant.