Changing How We View Summer Learning
by Rebecca Kochenderfer
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 peers.
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 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 preselected 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 personal.
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.
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