Interested in learning more about The Summertime
Survival Guide for Parents? Well, here is
Chapter 2! Enjoy!
This Summer, Fall in Love with Learning
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such
gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who
can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the
world we live in.” -Rachel Carson
The approach of summer evokes spectacular images of fun in the sun and a
chance to finally slow down and spend more time with our families. In the
last months of school, most students can barely contain their excitement as
they imagine time with friends, adventures outdoors and perhaps attending
camp or going on a family vacation. Summertime is the best!
At the same time, many parents develop anxiety wondering how their
children will fill all of the empty hours looming ahead. Perhaps a shortage
of time, finances or transportation makes this scenario especially daunting.
If you are a family on the road all summer long, though excited by the
prospect, you may be looking for ways to maintain some semblance of a
Maybe you are simply looking for ways to keep your child’s skills sharp over
the holiday while expanding his or her thinking in all sorts of wonderful
ways. When done right, summertime learning can address all of your goals
and concerns by transforming a long stretch of vacation into a meaningful
opportunity for adventure, growth and learning. Summertime learning is
also a sure-fire way to enjoy some serious fun.
The ideas and activities collected in this book will be of use for all sorts of
families, budgets, schedules and environments. You can easily adapt most
of the ideas I share with you for use with one or several children and with
larger groups. All of these resources have something in common: they will
provide you and your kids the chance to have fun this summer and to learn
at the same time.
What is Summer Learning?
Let’s begin with what summer learning is not. This book is not an appeal for
traditional year-round schooling. Summer vacation is a wonderful tradition
and one that is well worth preserving. A break from our usual routines is a
chance to replenish creativity, enthusiasm, energy and spirit. This slower
season rejuvenates parents and educators as well by providing a chance to
view learning through a different lens and to develop new sets of dynamic
Summertime learning is about freedom and learning on our families’ own
terms. It is a chance for each of us to roll up our sleeves and plunge deep into
projects that ignite our curiosity. This special season provides a unique
opportunity to create educational goals that are in harmony with the specific
needs of our kids. Your child may have the mind of a specialist wanting to
delve deep into a single subject—perhaps entomology, calculus, theatre or
the violin. Introduce this child to local professors, members of an acting
troupe or musicians in your community. Perhaps you have a young
Renaissance kiddo who enjoys sampling a smattering of everything. Summer
is a great time to introduce such a child to a range of diverse experiences. At
last, there is time to pursue the individual learning needs of your child.
Summertime learning leaves room for uninterrupted, undirected play.
Children make some of their most profound discoveries and connections
when given the freedom to explore, move and navigate their own learning
paths. While mapping your family’s plans for the summer, be sure to leave
ample time for doing “nothing.” Often times, these are the most magical
moments of the summer season, allowing incredible opportunities for our
kids to flourish.
This summer, your family will develop practices you can easily extend
throughout the school year. Some of these practices might just be the best
summer souvenirs your family acquires.
Who Benefits from Summer Learning?
Not all children are natural students. In fact, many struggle in a traditional
brick and mortar setting, which can lead to lowered self-esteem and other
problems. However, all children are natural learners. Kids come to us
hardwired to seek out new experiences they can explore and apply to their
Summertime learning appeals to the inherent curiosity in all of our children.
It is a not a punishment for kids with bad grades. If Tom fails math, vacation
is not the time for times table drills that didn’t seem to work in the first place.
Instead, the summer months are a chance to reintroduce math to Tom, to
grab his attention and to help him see both the value and fun in this subject.
How one goes about doing so depends on Tom’s interests. Does he enjoy
carpentry, mountain climbing, cooking or music?
Parents who sit down and ask these questions are taking a perfect first step
toward making math come alive for their child. Before he knows it, Tom feels
good at math, perhaps returning to school with a fresh outlook and renewed
sense of confidence.
To “reward” a child who had a successful academic year by providing him
with a summer plan void of learning opportunities would be a mistake as well.
Though a child might have performed well in the classroom, there’s no
guarantee that the academic year adequately addressed the student’s learning
needs. Perhaps the teacher was unable to delve as deeply as this child may
have liked. Maybe there are new subjects to explore. Opportunities for
learning are a gift, so don’t present them as a chore or a punishment.
Kids aren’t the only beneficiaries of summertime learning; parents and
teachers have a great time, too. Many children spend the majority of their
year absorbing the teachings of adults. This model can be as exhausting for
the adult as it is for the child. Summertime is a great chance to give the
grownups a break. Switch places with the children in your life and let them
lead the way toward new learning adventures. You’ll be amazed by the things
you discover when your child becomes the teacher.
Throw Out the Have-Tos and Focus on the Want-Tos
During the school year, even the most creative teachers and home educators
have a certain amount of required “stuff” we just have to plod through. In the
best-case scenario, we find ways to bring this learning to life through a range
of engaging practices. Still, as any child will point out, an adult usually
determines what students learn during the school year.
In the summertime, all of that changes! It’s time to hand over the keys.
Let your kids take the wheel and steer the course of their own learning.
Ask them what they want to know more about, and help them find the tools
they’ll need in order to pursue those interests. Then sit back and enjoy the
Here’s a story I tell often because it perfectly captures the great learning that
is possible when we ask kids the right questions and really listen to their
responses. When my son was quite young, I asked him what his #1 goal was.
“I want to learn to drive every kind of boat,” he told me. Since I knew
absolutely nothing about boats, I was uncertain how best to support him.
However, as I’m sure you understand, when your child has a dream, you can’t
just stand there shrugging your shoulders. You have to do something!
I hunkered down and did my research. Sure enough, the local university was
offering a children’s boating camp. Each day, campers took turns driving a
different kind of boat. Canoes, kayaks, wind surfers and mini sailboats were
all a part of the fun. My son attended the camp and enjoyed it so much that
he returned for a second summer the following year. He is twenty-five now
and though he did not become a sailor or a sea captain, he did grow up
knowing that his parents take his dreams seriously and that we believe he
can accomplish anything he sets out to do.
Keep the Focus on Fun
At the start of the season, we may feel especially ambitious. Mapping out
plans for an extraordinary summer is wonderful fun. Let your child’s
excitement fuel discussions concerning how best to spend the summer
months. In the early planning stages, do your best not to put the brakes on
any ideas. At the same time, it is helpful to remember that summer is a season
for rest and rejuvenation; the goal this season is to grow your family’s curiosity
and love of learning. This may require moving at a slower pace than you are
accustomed to during the rest of the year.
Of course, if your child’s plans involve other people—such as is the case with
volunteer work or summer employment—she must honor those commitments.
However, there may be instances in which a child identifies a more personal
goal; perhaps she aims to read all of Shakespeare’s works by August. Commend
her for coming up with this admirable plan but should she find it to be
unrealistic or less interesting than she’d expected, encourage her to recalibrate
and come up with a new plan that excites her.
By providing our kids the space and freedom to pursue their unique interests
joyfully now, we are encouraging them to become life learners who
continuously seek out new experiences and ideas and engage deeply with
their environment and the people in their lives. These traits will serve them
well down the road. Should our children run into financial difficulties, they
can learn their way out of them by strategizing a new plan. If their job
downsizes or their industry fades out, life learners are better able to adapt
and develop a new trade or career path. When health challenges arise, they
can do research to determine the best way to manage the problem. For these
reasons, inspired learning is a vital part of every child’s education.
Changing How We View Summer Learning
“The natural opportunity for learning during the summer months is exciting
to me. I love all of the little moments that come up and make new
discoveries possible—all without any need for curriculum.” -Jill W., Tennessee
In creating artificial divisions between school time and vacation time, we send
our kids the message that learning is something unpleasant we get to escape
from in the summer. When families make it a point to pursue learning
opportunities enthusiastically throughout the year, we are telling our kids that
we value learning. We let them know that being open to new experiences,
knowledge and discovery is our family’s way of life. It may look more sparkly,
quirky and colorful in the summer than in February perhaps, but the message
remains the same—always, we are individuals striving to learn, to grow and to
try new things.
My parents died when I was eight-and-a-half years old. The months following
my parents’ death were extremely difficult. Stomachaches and nightmares
bothered me constantly as I struggled to navigate my deep loss. School was
also a challenge; I was the new kid and that is never easy. Even more painful
was my growing awareness that, academically, I was lagging far behind my
An announcement of the Willy Wonka reading contest came just in time. I
listened intensely to my teacher, Mr. Hagrid, as he explained the contest rules
to my fifth grade class. He told us the student who read the most books would
receive a certificate, a giant chocolate bar and a free karate lesson. I really
wanted that chocolate bar. And, in the depths of my soul, I wanted to be a
winner. So, I read like crazy. I devoured and digested pages and pages of books.
My hard work paid off: I won the contest. Hearing my name announced in
front of all of my peers affected me deeply. I felt a shift in my entire sense of
self as my confidence grew.
This achievement made me eligible to attend a summer school program
for academically gifted students. There, I learned about new ideas that
challenged and engaged my thinking. My natural curiosity received attention
and it blossomed. For the first time in my life, I believed in my own
intelligence. It pains me to think how things might have turned out if I had
spent that summer with low achievers instead of in a summer program for
gifted kids. I imagine us all stuck indoors together, forced to review dry, old
material while wearing invisible labels marking us as the “bad students.”
This experience is evidence to me that we must revise how we think about
summer learning. Summer should not be a time to dole out learning as
some form of punishment nor should kids spend it behind desks following
pre-selected curriculum. Summer learning must be inspired learning; it is travel
and it is fun times in the kitchen. Summer learning is exposure to great films,
music and dance; it is about movement, exploration and calculated, intelligent
risk. Summer learning is hands-on, experimental and—above all else—deeply
If I had my way, of course, these would be elements of every child’s education all
year long. Since circumstances make this difficult for many, let summertime
be that special season when our kids can pursue the passions that
move them the most.