by Katie Julius
The start of summer usually signals the end of school bells, homework, and school drop-off, but for many homeschooling families, summer often provides additional learning opportunities while participating in a variety of traditional summer activities.
A Year-Round Learning Schedule
Whether it’s a full week’s schedule like the rest of the year or a lightened version (fewer days or fewer subjects), it’s not uncommon for homeschool families to school year-round. Not only does this schedule eliminate what is commonly referred to as the “summer slide,” it can allow for schooling breaks more frequently or during other times of the year. Does anyone else find December a particularly challenging time to accomplish traditional academics? While only in our first year of homeschooling, we have chosen a year-round approach, using the summer months for some more fun activities and classes while still continuing our regular math and language arts curriculums as well as “catching up” on some topics we didn’t get to earlier in the year.
Vacation Bible School & Bible Camps
A great way to get the kids out of the house while providing a different learning environment is to attend what are commonly known as “VBS” (Vacation Bible School) programs put on by local churches. Many have renamed these week-long programs, but the premise is still the same – learn stories from the Bible that illustrate God’s love and plan of salvation through fun songs, skits, games, and crafts.
Summer Day Camps & Classes
Around March of this year, my newsfeed on Facebook began to fill with posts about all of the extracurricular activities that were available in our area this summer. Living in the greater Los Angeles area, there are more opportunities than we could ever do, but we’ve managed to fit in a day camp at the aquarium, a soccer skills camp, a two-day horseback riding camp, as well as weekly art and swimming lessons. Yes, many of these can be costly, but there are usually some free or low-cost options to explore topics or interests you may not have time for during the rest of the year. Our family has found that these experiences also make for great clutter-free birthday or Christmas gifts from family members (it’s a win-win!). Plus, while the kids are at these activities or classes, you may get to enjoy a few moments of quiet and calm.
One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to take family vacations during the “off season” when most schools are in session. But sometimes that isn’t possible and as we discovered earlier this year during a trip to the Sequoia National Monument in March, not everything is open or accessible during those off-peak times. So, vacations, or even staycations during the summer offer wonderful learning opportunities. As homeschoolers, we either have or will learn to become masters of making vacations educational, whether it’s visiting museums, historical landmarks, or state or national parks.
One great resource is the Junior Ranger program, available at many of our national parks. When visiting a site that is run by the National Parks Service, be sure to stop by a ranger station and ask for a Junior Ranger booklet (some are even available to download and print in advance). During your visit to the park, your children complete the activities in their booklet, which are often geared toward various age levels so most everyone can participate. Once finished, return to the ranger who will check their work and talk with the kids about what they’ve learned. They’ll then “swear in” your new Junior Rangers, presenting them with a site-specific Junior Ranger badge. If you can’t make it back to the ranger station before it closes, there is usually an address where you can mail your completed booklets and they will return it signed with the Junior Ranger badge. During our travels this year, my 6-year-old daughter earned over 10 Junior Ranger badges and proudly shows them off to others.
Unfortunately, if you’re staying local, California doesn’t have nearly as many National Park Service sites as some other parts of the country, but there are a handful of booklets you can download, complete, and mail in to receive your badges. There is also a web-based program called Webrangers. For more information about the NPS Junior Ranger program, visit the National Park Service website.
Note: Some booklets may contain information that is contrary to the biblical account of creation. However, we have not experienced this yet.
Summer and reading programs go hand-in-hand and there are typically read-for-reward opportunities at local public libraries in addition to places like Barnes and Noble, where kids can earn a free book. You could even create your own reading program with rewards.
This year, I have chosen to use our summer reading as a chance to catch up on our study of the seven continents by “reading around the world.” Each week, we read stories from one particular area of the world, learning about the countries and people who live there. We end our week with a trip to a local restaurant to try the cuisine representative of one of the countries we’ve learned about that week. So far, we’ve tried Kenyan, Irish, and Mongolian food!
Exploring Your City or Town
If you have very active kids (what kids aren’t?), summer is a great time to visit some parks or play areas (near or far) that you’ve been meaning to go to but just haven’t made it to yet. Maybe it’s a really awesome themed park, a park with a splash pad, or a park with a unique play feature. Of course in California, many of us have the luxury of living within driving distance to the beach where building sandcastles, looking for seashells, and jumping through the crashing waves is the definition of summer.
Whatever your plans are this summer, remember that learning is always happening, even if we don’t plan anything! Share in the comments some of your favorite summer learning activities.
Katie Julius serves at CHEA’s Editor and is currently homeschooling (year-round) her only 6-year-old daughter. Being the product of a traditional public school education, she is enamored by the idea of schooling throughout the year and taking advantage of the countless non-traditional learning opportunities available during the summer.