6. Common Problems & Inspired Solutions
Summer learning is a fabulous way to connect with your kids and to engage with the sort of activities and interests that most energize and excite them. Summer learning is a time to stretch and to grow—to travel outside of comfort zones and engage with the world in new and inspiring ways.
As you present the ideas on these pages, you may find that your child shares your enthusiasm. From the start, some kids dive in headfirst and test the deep waters right away. If this is the case, the greatest challenge will be stretching the days out long enough to accommodate your child’s curiosity and wonder.
However, this won’t be the case with every child. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts to introduce summer learning are met with trepidation, reluctance, or apathy. Fatigue and school burnout can make a child balk at the thought of “more school.”
A child’s resistance isn’t the only obstacle you might encounter. Tight finances, demanding work schedules, and uncomfortable weather are all obstacles to consider before the summer begins. Fortunately, with a little creativity, there aren’t many hurdles a parent can’t overcome!
Kids are busy. After a full day of homeschooling or in school, many spend their afternoons, evenings, and weekends engaged in rigorous programs or part-time jobs.
Naturally, many kids suffer from burnout by June. They look forward to summer as a time to regroup and recover from the frenetic school year. Hearing that mom wants them to spend their vacation time “engaged in learning” might sound alarm bells as sons and daughters imagine themselves tethered to desks indoors, required—once more—to pass every minute of the day in some form of structured activity.
Avoiding this anxiety is easy. Providing your child with a concise, clear picture of the summer’s possibilities will eliminate confusion, resentment, and misunderstanding. Introduce summer learning as the new and exciting thing that it is. Begin by sharing the key features of summer learning with your child.
Summer learning is:
- everywhere—outdoors, on a stage, in the kitchen, on the basketball court, in a cozy reading nook, at summer camp, on a hammock, with friends, etc.
- about fun and discovery
- whatever you (the child) want it to be
Summer learning is not:
- an extension of the school year
- about right and wrong answers
- about tests and memorization
- about staying busy
- about learning what other people want you to learn
As you and your child discuss his summer goals, express your own deep love of learning. Share your plans for the summer with statements like, “Now that summer is here, I have a pile of books I have been dying to read,” or “I’ve always wanted to play the flute. I’m going to look for a teacher and get started on that this summer!” Enthusiasm is contagious!
The Kids Would Rather Be Sleeping
Summertime learning can be about sharpening soccer skills, learning French, or gathering seashells at the beach. It’s also a perfect time to focus on health and on developing better sleeping habits.
From a parent’s perspective, it may feel as though we spend the first part of our children’s lives coaxing them to sleep with lullabies and the second half desperately trying to rouse them out of bed! Your child’s desire to sleep may be especially obvious when school is not in session and they have nowhere to be. As you try to establish a sensible summer schedule, don’t worry if your child thinks this means starting the day later than you’d envisioned. Most medical professionals agree that teens require between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night. Many older children do not get nearly enough sleep. In fact, one study found that only 15% of teens reported sleeping at least 8 1/2 hours on school nights.
Summer learning is flexible and can easily accommodate your child’s need to catch up on rest. Sleeping in will feel less disruptive if the schedule you establish with your child is realistic from the start. Organize activities and events a bit later in the day to avoid feeling pressured and rushed. The summer months provide a perfect opportunity to reset one’s internal clock and get back into a sleep schedule that is sensible and restorative.
Insomnia is a common and serious complaint among teens. Too much of a good thing can be a problem as well. Whether your child is sleeping his summer away or not getting the sleep that he requires, address your concerns openly and with humor to avoid turning this into an area of conflict.
As is so often the case, this is a wonderful opportunity for learning and growth. Encouraging children to follow good sleep hygiene now is a gift that will last a lifetime. The following tips will raise your child’s awareness as well as help him to cultivate healthy habits. Share these points and suggest your child track which ones are most helpful.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Look for fun ways throughout the day to get the exercise your body requires.
- Avoid sugar, caffeine, and heavy meals before bed.
- Turn off television, computers, and phones at least an hour before bed.
- Enjoy calming activities such as reading, meditation, or a warm bath before bed.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. By doing so, the body learns to recognize the signals that tell it it’s time for sleep.
All They Want to Do is Watch TV and Play Video Games
This issue stirs up a lot of emotion in both kids and parents. As schedules slow down for summer, it becomes a central issue in many households. Like most things in parenting, there are no easy answers and how one chooses to help a child manage screen time is a very personal decision. The “right answer” will look different for each family. Follow your gut; you are the expert. You know your child better than anyone else does and you are the most qualified to determine what sort of presence screen time has in your family.
If you are unsure whether your family’s current screen time practices are a help or a hindrance in your home, try asking yourself the following:
- Is my child spending time with family and friends?
- Does my child engage in self-directed activities that do not involve screens?
- Does my child explore outdoors?
- Does my child get enough exercise?
- When did my child last pick up a book?
- When did my child last travel outside his comfort zone to try something new?
- How does my child respond when I ask her to turn off the computer and shift her attention to a new activity?
Whether you choose to A) be a screen-free family, B) allow your child freedom to establish limits himself, or C) fall somewhere in the middle, summer learning can complement and support your decision.
In our case, becoming a TV-free family was a positive decision that I’ve never regretted. TV and video games can be obstacles to learning and creative play. I loved it when my kids approached me complaining about how bored they were. Since we didn’t have a TV, I knew they’d have to find other ways of entertaining themselves with wild art projects, extraordinary worlds built with Legos, and imaginative outdoor play.
You may want to try being TV-free during the day. Organize your home and your schedule in ways that provide alternatives to television. Accessible art supplies, musical instruments, sports, books, field trips, and fun with friends can fill the day in all sorts of wondrous ways. Check in with your kids asking how it feels to be TV-free and discuss what new things they’ve been able to accomplish and enjoy as a result of this special time.
Just like many things, TV is also a valuable teaching tool when used with purpose. If your child is a visual learner, films and quality television programs can be worthwhile resources. Check out sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime for advertisement-free programming worth watching.
If you choose to watch television, make this time special. Gather the whole family together and choose your programs mindfully. Bring down the most comfy pillows and blankets and make sure the family dog sits in for the fun. Be open to teachable moments that might surface during these times together. Engage in meaningful discussions and debate about the things you watch together. Cultivate the dying art of meaningful conversation.
Here are some helpful resources:
- Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other online sites offer programs you can stream any time and use to complement themes and projects you are exploring at home.
- Try Googling “homeschooling with Netflix or Amazon Prime” for all sorts of program recommendations.
- Join one of the “homeschooling with Netflix or Amazon Prime” groups on Facebook and see how other families use these resources.
Most experts agree that kids are spending too much time in front of their computers. However, not all screen time is equal. Is your child zoning out on video games, or is she learning programming? Is your son spending all of his time on social media, or is he writing a novel? Find out. Ask questions! Consider your child’s answers as you come up with a reasonable plan for managing screen time this summer.
Whatever decision you make concerning your child’s time on the computer, expectations must be clear, fair, and consistent from the very start of the summer. Encouraging your child’s input in this matter makes success more likely.
The Stretched Budget
Summer learning doesn’t need to break the bank. If your child is watching her friends make plans for expensive summer programs and far-flung travel, you may be feeling needless pressure to do the same.
Summer learning is about connecting your child with meaningful activities and people who inspire him. It is about having fun, growing your child’s sense of accomplishment, and cultivating his desire to learn more. You can accomplish these goals on a shoestring budget with just a little extra thought and planning.
- Start a book club and invite friends.
- Keep a close eye on your local paper’s event calendar. Museums, libraries, and universities offer many free events in the summer.
- Attend free concerts. This is a perfect way to introduce new styles of music to your child without financial risk.
- Write, direct, and star in a play. Depending on the age of your child, this production can be a simple event put together in less than an hour or an elaborate, summer-long process involving the help of siblings and neighborhood kids.
- Produce a neighborhood talent show.
- Help others! Volunteer at local hospitals, nursing homes, and animal shelters.
- If you have a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card, get free tickets to participating organizations (over 150 sites in 33 states). Visit http://museums.bankofamerica.com/ for more details. Check with museums in your hometown to see if they offer discounts. If you intend to visit particular museums or nature centers frequently, consider becoming a member. The cost savings can be significant.
- Ask a family member or close friend to spend some special time with your child pursuing a shared interest.
- Home Depot and Lowe’s offer monthly building workshops for kids ages 5-12. The projects are simple, fun, and free. Check out what similar offers local businesses in your community are providing.
- Go camping in your backyard. Make it a big deal. Take a week to plan this event together and be sure to have special foods and plenty of good ghost stories on hand.
- Enjoy nature. Set goals. Are there 15 trails you want to hike together before the summer ends?
- Train for a race.
- Write a book, a song, or a new computer program.
- Create an “I love learning” festival in your neighborhood, maybe on a cul-de-sac or in your neighborhood park. Get your community involved by giving them a chance to share their knowledge and interests with others. This is a great way to get connect the community and have a lot of fun learning something new.
- Hold an end-of-the-summer art show. Have an art auction with extended family and donate the proceeds to a charity your child learns about over the summer.
- Tinker and invent amazing new things.
- Teach the dog new tricks.
- Plant a garden.
- Visit the fire station and courthouse.
- Connect with retired professors who share similar interests as your child.
- Learn about astronomy and explore the night sky together.
- Connect with others. Spend one-on-one quality time with each member of the family. Visit nearby relatives your child doesn’t often see. Visit elderly shut-ins in need of company.
- Research your family’s genealogy and share your findings with extended family.
For a list of questions to help get the process started, visit http://genealogy.about.com/cs/oralhistory/a/interview.htm
- Perform random acts of kindness.
It’s Just Too Hot to Go Outside
Summertime temperatures can really put a damper on plans. Young children especially can become cranky or lethargic. The following tips will help you keep your cool!
- Hydrate all day long.
- Plan activities in the early and later parts of the day when temperatures are cooler.
- Young children love experimenting with water. Set up a water table. Give your child boats, spoons, and things to pour water. I promise that this activity will keep them busy for hours!
- Visit air-conditioned sites such as museums and libraries.
- If it’s too hot to play outside, build a fort indoors.
- Take a cold shower.
- Play in the bathtub.
- Make popsicles.
- Use a friend’s pool.
- Explore nearby lakes and rivers.
- Camp out in the basement.
- Observe and discuss animal behavior. How do they adapt to extreme temperatures?
- During the hottest periods of the day, come indoors and work on creative art, writing, and computer projects.
- Schedule play dates for the hottest days. Time with friends takes our minds off the discomfort.
“On really hot days (and cold ones too), I like to fill up the tub with water, bubbles, and toys. I’ve also let them play in the tub with washable markers and without water. The novelty of being in the tub with clothes on and no water is fun for them. I also have a large baking tray that I fill up with sand for them to play with. They have so much fun with it that I’ve seriously considered getting a sand box for inside the house!”
Alison B., New York
“When it is a scorcher out there, we get out early in the morning to play. We come in for the warmest parts of the day and then go outdoors again when it starts cooling down. Our other favorite activities are going to the creek, a local lake, or the local pool to swim with friends. Another favorite is to take a meandering hike through the park near our home where there is shade and an assortment of large rocks to climb on.”
Leora V., Virginia
No matter how much planning and preparing we do for the summer months, unexpected surprises will come up. Our kids, our wallets, the weather, and the calendar won’t always be in sync with our ideas and expectations. Breathe deep and be open to unforeseen possibilities and potential. Respond to challenges that rise with flexibility and optimism. Above all else, when you are feeling discouraged, remember that ice cream and a walk can solve many problems!
For more summer learning inspiration dive into our Summer Learning Challenge Podcasts!