We welcome Kim Fry of Starry Sky Ranch to TAN Homeschool.
For most American children summer break is at hand, bringing with it the promise of cloudless, blue skies overhead, sprinklers spraying, and fireflies to chase before bed. There are ball games, freshly cut grass, and leisurely mornings to sleep in.
For their parents it may be a different story. Many have had it impressed upon them that their children risked significant educational “backsliding” during these weeks off school. Bookstores and websites offer myriad suggestions for “summer bridge activities” which promise to alleviate the regression. Ideas are dispensed for filling every one of those hours to preserve parental sanity, which is presumed to be precarious during these weeks.
My feelings about summer rest began years ago as a college student when my psychology professor discussed the importance of down time for proper assimilation of information. His studies suggested that children who were given breaks in instruction were later returning to their studies having inexplicably absorbed the previously imparted concepts. Further, those students who were not given similar rest periods did not demonstrate a corresponding increase in learning. In fact, they lagged behind a bit.
It was one of those aha moments that stayed with me as I began my own family. Perhaps my fond memories of summer at my grandparents’ farm impacted as well. As an only child I spent hours making my own fun, exploring woods and meadows. We did not have the internet nor cable television then, no satellite radio. I count that as a singular blessing. The truth is I got bored. I count that as a blessing as well.
Boredom prompted me to dig through my aunts’ old college textbooks, to try my hand at sketching horses from our breeder magazines, and to replicate comic characters from the local newspaper inserts. I browsed my mother’s seed catalogs learning the names of numerous plants and whether they grew for one season or perennially, whether they thrived in sun or shade. I read poems from an old anthology. Some inspired, others left me cold. There were stray kittens and some abandoned attempts to learn to knit. There were changes in the sky as storms rolled in. There were trees that began summer with unfolding buds and ended it bearing tiny fruit. There were bits of piecrust dough handed to me to roll and shape with explanations that, “cake batter improves with beating, but pie crust does not.”
Summer was a lot of things. Despite the absence of math facts and formal grammar, it was most definitely never an educational void. Though my schedule was cleared and the adults in my world were otherwise occupied much of the day, my mind was never idle. In fact, some of the most vivid memories of my life come from those seasons.
Educators have long valued hands-on, tactile learning. I would propose that this happens very naturally during these academic down times. We often stress ourselves as teachers devising or attempting to create elaborate multisensory lesson plans during the school year, yet we miss these very natural cycles built into daily family life. Instead of feeling guilty about “not doing school” this summer, we can reframe these experiences for the multi-faceted learning potential they have.
Good teachers will pull in some of the book learning done during the ‘indoor months” such as discussing the names of the clouds while hanging the sheets in the sun or explaining which plants in the garden are weeds and which are vegetable. You can master the omelet or the running stitch or the backstroke. All of it is important and makes for rested parents and children who come to the new school year satiated and ready to dive in again with the advantage of having stretched out, figuratively and literally.
Give yourself the opportunity to breathe deeply this summer. Success is not about doing more, but doing the right things. Consider giving your children the gift of boredom and all its glorious potential. Give them time and space to process all the fabulous facts and figures they’ve accumulated during the year. Be sure they are equipped to handle and appreciate down time. As Carl Sandburg reminds us:
“Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln never saw a movie, heard a radio or looked at television. They had loneliness and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely because they knew that was when the creative mood in them would work.”
About Kim Fry
Kim writes at Starry Sky Ranch.
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