Question: What about summer, Auntie Leila?
I love your philosophy on homeschooling. It is always encouraging. Could you post ideas for homeschoolers in the summer?
My little ones and I have just finished our first official year of homeschooling. And now I’m not quite sure how to maintain sanity and structure with my boys (5, 5, and 3) and girl (21 months). Do you have tips for ways to sneak in enjoyable educational activities for the summer months- while giving ourselves enough of a break that we feel refreshed to come back to it?
I don’t know where you live (or anyone reading this for that matter), so my thoughts will be based on my own experience of summer with my kids in a “humid continental” climate, with “with warm summers and cold, snowy winters.”
That translates as, “we cling to our too-short summer with all our might, ignoring that it can be a bit miserable.”
Anyone with some different climate, consult your own collective memory and maybe stay in the AC doing schoolwork until such time as you can find relief.
Still, my love of summer is tinged with the recollection of living for six years in the endless actually torrid summers of Washington, DC — those summers that begin in late February and end after Halloween.
I get that it can stretch out interminably, and remember the panicky, almost choking feeling of contemplating being home with little children under those circumstances. Maybe the money or the schedule won’t allow for a long vacation.
Are you there? Are you beyond there?
I used to feel a bit sorry for myself until I realized how enjoyable summers with the kids can be.
Let’s plan an old-fashioned summer with some low-key expectations where the children can look forward every day to simple pleasures: a few chores (because there can be pleasure in knowing you are all in it together), many books, and lots of play.
Ideally, you will have at least a bit of a vacation. Even a day trip here or there works. Obviously, we all want six weeks by some shore, but even a garden hose or kiddie pool provides an unexpected amount of satisfying water fun — and doing something watery is how I define summer fun!
Which brings me to the question of activities.
Precondition to all I will say: Ban all screens. Hide the remote, close the computers, ditch the tablets. (Even in the car: instead, listen to good music including sing-along songs that you will all then know forever. Or, just sometimes talking things over — it’s nice.)
Try it. The silences of summer, punctuated by crickets and cicadas and birds (try opening your windows when and if things cool off), are its pleasures. Reading a book (or looking at the illustrations if the child can’t read), coloring on the porch, playing cards on the deck under a tree, playing in the sandbox… your children will only do these things if there is no screen to tempt them. Don’t use them to bribe — just ditch them and be free! (It’s fine with Auntie Leila to have movie night, but you get what I mean here.)
Naomi’s children are quite small — many of my suggestions here are for when they get bigger, although many can be implemented even with younger children. If yours are older, have a little meeting and let them know how things will go, especially about the screens if you have gotten bad habits. Let them talk to you, but be quietly firm about your goals and hopes for this time. Every once in a while, our children need the experience of having to give up.
Once they give up, magical things happen to their time!
1. Just playing. Let them play. Their play will be fueled by their own imaginations and the books they read (see below). Give them the necessary “tools” of play, if we can use that term: a sandbox, an outdoor mud kitchen (see this brilliant post by Ginny), board games as age appropriate, balls (including whiffle balls and bats), a basin of water, a bucket of plastic army guys, dolls and carriages.
2. Swimming lessons. Highly worthwhile. It’s worth figuring out how to pack sandwiches and juggle naps to give the gift of knowing how to swim. Plus, it wears them out. Plan on plenty of high-calorie snacks, big sandwiches, big suppers, and early bed.
3. Camps that last for only a few weeks. I don’t mean send-away camps, I mean little neighborhood camps that give the kids a fun skill. Our older kids and their friends have actually stepped up to providing such camps as teenagers, after attending ones given by kids who were older than they: drama camp, fiddle camp, boating camp, Gilbert & Sullivan camp, tennis camp, baseball camp, basketball camp, art camp — you name it, they can go to it and then give it. Your children, Naomi, are still young, so you have a little time to identify where these activities might be offered in your area. If you don’t have a group (how about a St. Greg’s Pocket? your homeschooling group?), join your Nextdoor network and look in the local library for postings.
Camp gives a nice structure to a short part of the summer, which allows your children to have a good balance between having somewhere to be and enjoying endless days of “doing nothing” (only they will do plenty, as you will see!).
4. Chores and work around the house. And service. Most families do try to have some sort of garden. Towels have to be washed and hung out! There is still the matter of keeping the house, and once a week you have to give it at least a full morning. (Pro-tip: if you aren’t in your house, it stays cleaner! Go to the zoo! Go to the museum! Anything to not have to clean!)
With those boys, dear Naomi, you want to be sure that you have lots of good solid hard work for them to do. Read them stories in which little boys do lots of work! Give them big holes to dig way in the backyard (if you have one!). They can literally swab the decks and everyone will be better off.
There’s hardly ever not a project going if you actually own your home. Children can be workers. They can be in charge of picking up nails, of bringing you supplies, of washing up outside afterwards. They can pull the baby in the wagon while you do your work. Soon they are old enough to take over.
Meals are simpler, but still have to be prepared, eaten, and cleaned up after. The start of summer is the perfect time to give out new chores and work out new skills around the house. Neighbors still get sick and have babies and need their lawns mowed. Send the children out to help with these things — they are your little ambassadors and if they do a charitable work, it certainly gets you a check mark! I’m counting on this myself.
I recommend challenging the children to do their big chores very early on in the day while things are still cool. If you are heading out to swim lessons or camp, now is the time to share with them the satisfaction — the downright pleasure — of coming home to an orderly house after a day spent away. Trust me, they will get it.
5. Reading. Plan a day each week to get to the library (if yours has good books — if not, perhaps swapping with friends who have good collections or getting to a used book sale near you, or “shopping the house” for a rotating crate or shelf of books). For a long time we were lucky enough to live within walking distance of the local branch. My kids would take a wagon full of books (and they’d pop Bridget in there too sometimes) to and fro. They could also ride their bikes. In any case, there’s nothing like a pile of tempting books — fiction and non-fiction — from the library to keep everyone enchanted for a while on a hot summer afternoon.
If you guide them wisely, you will find that these books provide all the “educational activities” necessary, when taken with conversations with you and others, long periods of quiet in which they can think things over, and the gift of that “unstructured play” we are always hearing about but never know how to implement.
This is it! Summer! That magical time when, if you have a question, you are blissfully free to read about the answers in a book or ask someone who knows. Summer! When you have the whole day and week and month to try building, making, doing.
A great book: The Boy Scouts Handbook. Be sure to get the original edition, and be prepared for your children to build traps, light fires — safely, one hopes, and make their own fish hooks. At least they will be leaving you alone!
Dover Thrift books in general (who publish that reprint of the Boy Scouts Handbook) supply so many hours of good activity for the children.
If the children have done chores in the morning and had swim lessons before lunch, they will be ready for some quiet time with their books, after which you can read a chapter of an especially fun one — reading aloud is also such a treat after the baby is in bed but the sky is still bright.
6. Praying. Any change of season is a good time to inaugurate a better prayer time, as I explain in my book. Summer is the perfect time to use the nature table to transition into a Little Oratory (I explain how in an appendix chapter of the book). When you are all together at breakfast, you can say a little morning offering together. Your gratitude at the more relaxed pace can overflow into the habit of praying grace over meals. The long summer evening is the perfect time to start the Rosary — even one decade is lovely. Perhaps with everyone getting up a bit earlier with the sun, you can make it to morning Mass.
7. Back to summer evenings. If you can have your supper relatively early, the family can enjoy the hours of daylight afterwards, especially if Dad can get home to toss a ball in the driveway, take a walk with the family (and maybe some homemade ice cream cones), visit with neighbors on the porch, or have his turn with a chapter book. Those evenings also lend themselves to having friends over for bonfires, s’mores, games of ghost in the graveyard or horseshoes or what have you, and singalongs. Older children like to put on little plays too!
So you see, even in summer, it helps to keep a schedule of sorts where you do divide the day into periods of activity and periods of relative inactivity. A rhythm.
If you remember that rhythm is your friend, you will avoid that sense that the day stretches out with no relief in sight — it’s just that you have to be rather firm in keeping the schedule and the freedom in that good tension that helps you, not going too far from one extreme to the other, but knowing just how to hold the reins.
Within that good, helpful structure, just let them have a good old-fashioned summer.
Finally, before you tuck them in, wash your children’s faces and feet — do not let your children go to bed with dirty, dusty feet. You want their sheets to escape actual downright grubbiness and you want the children to have the enjoyment of lying in their beds with tingling toes. Try it yourself — it’s delightful.
Above all, do not make the mistake of thinking that unless you purposely include so-called educational activities in there, they won’t learn.
They will be learning very well. Let’s take a break from trying to make everything educational, while having lots of great books to read and music to listen to and materials to make things from. With less stress in that area, you’ll find that you yourself will feel renewed. You could get to a project of your own (maybe during the baby’s nap?). You could read a book! When the children see you doing any of this — and most importantly, enjoying yourself! — they will themselves figure out what they want to do.
Many blessings as you plan a summer where every day is just a great summer day — a real, old-fashioned summer! Enjoy!
Lots of love and a big hug,