As we wind down the school year with our homeschool family, I have to say I get twinge of jealousy for well, pretty much everyone else. Teachers are looking forward to some time to rest and regroup, while school parents are about to spend some quality family time they haven't had with their children during the school year. Even if school teachers are also parents, they are still about to have a major change of scenery, but as a homeschool family, when summer “vacation” rolls around, nothing is all that different.
Let’s face it, we love homeschooling our kids, we wouldn't trade it for the world, but we are tired. I know I am at least. We always start off the year as a homeschool family raring to go. We have big plans, and we even accomplish some of them, but by the end of the school year we are kind of over it. We are ready to kick back and relax, but we also face a bit of a dilemma. Of course homeschool parents love spending time time with our kids, (that’s why we keep them with us) but many homeschool families also fully take advantage of the school year to go to lots of events, museums, parks, nature preserves and the like while they are empty of most school goers, so we find we have already done many of the typical “summer things” and have no desire to face the crowds that will inevitably be there. We are either going along “business as usual,” or if we don't have school year round, we now have a lot of time to fill. Either way, we have accomplished and finished something and we want to mark our progress. However, it can be a bit of a conundrum what we should do to make this time of year meaningful and special.
Ok, now that I have told you a bunch of stuff you already know, let's move on to the good part: How I personally (attempt to) keep my sanity through the summer. Maybe these ideas will help you too.
First of All, Breathe and be in the Moment
I know some families school year round, but for my homeschool family, by the time June rolls around we are done! We all really need a break. Some homeschool families may feel ready to dive in and start planning next year, or even start on next year’s curriculum. I know others are planning a break, but may feel pressure to tackle a “summer bucket list.” I personally think that no matter what kind of routine you follow, we all need the
chance to just take some time and simply be in the moment. Leave the to-do lists and organizing projects you thought you would do in the house and go sit somewhere shady, (preferably where your kids can also run and play too) sip some lemonade, put your feet up and just breathe.
Remember, it's ok to Let your Kids be Bored…
Again, I feel like this is something we have all heard, but I know I have to remind myself of it almost daily. I know for me after a busy year of homeschooling, I can feel a lot of pressure to not miss the opportunities for things like berry picking, camping, hiking, trips to the lake ,and other seasonal things we may not be able to do at any other time of year. It is also a continual battle to keep my kids from overdoing it with technology and I can feel a lot of pressure to come up with fun activities for us to do instead. But here’s the thing, kids actually know how to make their own fun, and they really don't need us to entertain them. Some children may think they need it, but they don’t. After a while they will find something to do. And they don’t need a whole bunch of toys or gadgets either. In fact, studies have shown that children who have fewer toys actually play more. So go ahead and take your children outside, let them play with rocks and sticks or whatever is on hand while you kick back your feet, and read that book. Or go ahead and pick berries and camp, but don’t let it become such a production it steals the joy. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
Use this Time to Make Learning a Part of your Lifestyle
Not only will letting your kids be bored give you some space, it actually has a much more important benefit: It allows them to get to know themselves in a way that won’t happen if you always make it your job to keep them busy. Children need time just like adults to discover their passions and interests, and to explore them in depth. This doesn't mean you no longer have a role though, because as you observe your children’s self directed learning, you will be able to get a better idea of how to teach them and facilitate their learning. We try to incorporate this type of self driven learning into our homeschool year round, but if you take a summer break, it's the perfect time to focus exclusively on it.
More ideas for self directed/Parent facilitated learning:
For younger children; allow them plenty of time and space to play freely while you are close by to observe them. Judiciously add materials to their environment based on what they have shown interest in. Discuss what they are doing and ask coaching type questions that guide them to extend their interests into ongoing projects (don't be intimidated by that word, a project is just another word for something you do- like making a recipe or organizing your drawers).
For older children; Discuss their passions and interests and give them the opportunity to work
on a longer term project related to what they want to learn more about. This can be anything from planting a garden or building a treehouse, to web design or paper crafting. Encourage your child to create lists and plan ahead so when they are ready to work they will have what they need.
Projects can be a family affair as well, and you can even get involved with the local community through them. Volunteering together for a local cause such as meals on wheels, or visiting hospitals or care homes can be a great way to build empathy and other skills.
Provide books and take regular trips to the library where they can find more
information about their interests. Make yourself available to help them and read books at their request. Ask open ended questions and discuss what your child thinks with them. Another great skill for older children to develop is to learn where they can find the resources they need to learn more, such as museums, exhibits, and people who can mentor them.
This Applies to Parents as Well
I read something recently along the lines of, “be careful when you start homeschooling it might just change your life.” You may have started your journey as a homeschool family thinking you are just going to pick out a curriculum and do book work at home, and keep everything else the same, but most likely you quickly discovered it is a lifestyle shift, at least I know I did.
You see, many of us homeschool our children because we want something different for them than what we had. We want them to have the freedom and flexibility to pursue their passions, and to define themselves as they see fit, not try to fit some arbitrary mold, but we need to be an example of this for them. Taking time to develop this, is referred to in Waldorf as the inner work of the teacher, in Charlotte Mason it is called Mother culture (keep in mind Charlotte Mason lived a century ago, so I think this can equally apply to fathers as well). Both of these perspectives are worth reading about but to sum up what they mean to me is, just like we need to give our children the space and time to figure out what their passions are, we need to do the same for ourselves. Perhaps as we take this time, we will actually find that we begin to rediscover the things that we loved as children, the things we forgot as we grew and more and more expectations were placed on us by our own parents, teachers, bosses and even peers. As we find our own joy of learning once again, we can share this authentically with our children.
What we can Learn from Apple juice
There is a story that went around a few years ago, and like most “folktales” (modern or otherwise), there were several versions of it. I cannot remember all of them, but here is my personal version.
Once a woman was asking her friend how she always reacted with so much grace and kindness under pressure.
“What happens when you squeeze apples really hard?” her friend asked.
“You get apple juice,” she responded.
“But what if you squeeze them really REALLY hard,” the friend pressed,
“You get even MORE apple juice” replied the woman thoughtfully.
“Exactly,” responded her friend, “if you focus on trying to be something you are not, you will eventually find yourself in a situation where you are squeezed hard enough and you won’t be able to hold up your facade any longer. Instead focus on being true to you, and the good that is within you will come out no matter how hard you are squeezed.”
In the same way, authentic teaching doesn’t have to happen in the classroom, or during a structured lesson. The “magic” you communicate to your children is something that you cannot help but pass on because it is bubbling up inside you and must be shared.
So take some time this summer to ask yourself who you really are, what you really believe, and consider how you want your home education journey, and lifestyle as a whole reflects this. I have found the more I take steps to be the person I want to be, and to live the kind of life I want to live, the more educating my own children is a natural process, because it's an extension of the life we are living all the time. Because learning doesn't stop when we grow up, it keeps right on going. Doing this together, is perhaps my favorite part of being a homeschool family.
If you are looking for more summer inspiration, check out the Summer Activity Tracker from our Celebrate the Seasons Curriculum. This beautifully illustrated tracker takes your children on a magical journey from The Birches of Embarkment, through The Caves of Wondering, over the Seekers Moat, to the Palace of the Great Beyond (with several other enchanted stops along the way). Use the colorful watercolor stones to mark your progress and choose one of the ten fanciful characters including Emperor Evergreen, Princess Peony, or Duchess Daffodil to go along with you on your magical summer adventure!