by Katie Julius

When I was in (public) school, I remember the build up of anticipation as the school year was drawing to a close and summer was about to begin. Freedom!

Sure, we participated in activities during the summer; some were even educational. Summer reading programs, Vacation Bible School, church summer camp, summer soccer league, yearbook camp (yes, I was a yearbook nerd in high school … and college), mission trips, etc. We were always busy, but I knew that summer would give me a break from more traditional learning and structured schedule of the school year. To be honest, many of my best memories from my childhood happened during the summer.

But, now, as I look around at my peers with children (both homeschoolers and not), I find that so many of our kids are missing out on the carefree days of summer that I enjoyed as a child. There seems to be the mentality in our culture that we have to use holidays and vacations as “learning opportunities” lest our children “fall behind.”

I do acknowledge that there is such a thing as a “summer slide.” When you aren’t using learned skills for eight to ten weeks (or more), you can begin to lose those skills. I am not saying kids shouldn’t continue to learn over the summer. I am saying that we should give them the opportunity to learn in different ways. What I am suggesting is that sending kids to “academic” classes over the summer can be too much for many of them. I would argue that there are activities, even classes or camps, that are more elective or “fun” in nature where kids can learn organically as well as develop the “soft skills” that many employers look for today (customer service, responsibility, integrity, interpersonal relationships, etc.)

We all need a break sometimes, right? As parents (and Christians) we are fully aware of the need to rest. So, in what ways can we encourage our children to continue learning over the summer while still providing them that rest and break they (and we) need?

Yes, this definitely leans more on the academic than some of the other things on this list, but reading for pleasure is such an important skill to develop and the earlier it starts, the better. During the school year, our kids probably read books that may not be quite as interesting to them as we had hoped. Maybe those books tie into the history or science they are learning about. Maybe it’s on one of those lists of “must read” books before you graduate. During the summer, allow your kids a little more freedom in selecting the books they want to read (or have you read to them). It could be all a struggling reader may need to push them over that hump to become an independent reader – a book that is at their level that they proudly picked out on their own.

I want to encourage you to be sure you are modeling reading every day as well. This is such a struggle for me, especially in our tech-heavy world. It’s an area I want to work on this summer, so I’m implementing a 20-30 minute reading time each day where I read my own books while my daughter can look through hers (she’s not reading independently yet). Of course we will still have times that we read a book together and she continues to build her reading skills with me, but I want her to see me reading books I’m interested in and enjoy.

There are so many different ways you can get outside during the summer. Camping, hiking, swimming, and visits to the beach are all fairly inexpensive options to get your family outside and active. But you don’t have to go far to find outdoor activities. Run through the sprinklers in your front yard (yes, even you, mom). Host a sidewalk chalk drawing afternoon with your neighbors. If you have access to a projector, have a “drive-in” movie night where kids decorate boxes like cars and then watch a movie. Go on a nature scavenger hunt around your neighborhood – I know my daughter is always showing me all the insects, leaves, sticks, and more that she finds just in our yard!

Be sure to bring sunscreen and bug repellent! Memories are the only thing you want to take away from these activities.

Summer is often a time of traveling for many families. If you are able, travel to visit family or friends who may live out of state. Not only can you spend time with people you don’t have the chance to see in person often, but you can explore a new area of the country that you may not have visited before.

Plan a BBQ, potluck, game or movie night, or whatever your family enjoys doing. The activity isn’t what’s important; it’s the time you are spending together. Remember you have 18 summers with each of your children. Make the most of them and make them memorable!

While these ideas are focused more toward the summer months, you don’t necessarily have to take your break during the summer. A flexible schedule is one of the benefits of homeschooling. Some families choose to take a month or two off during the holidays in November and December, and that’s great! There are so many different ways that families arrange their schedules as homeschoolers. Whenever your family chooses to take your break, I encourage you to make sure it’s a time of rest, rejuvenation, and fun!