For homeschoolers, it can be hard to decide when the school year begins and ends, but because we live in a way that is very interconnected with our school-schooled friends and neighbors, we have found that found that for our household it makes the most sense to begin in September and end in June each year.
This does not mean, however, that there is no structure or learning going on in the summer. In fact, I think that summer is a great opportunity to keep up skills, give a little bit of attention to weak areas, or explore rabbit trails which came up during the school year, and summer needs to be well used by families of children who will go to school in September as well.
My mother was able to make our summer fun and learning (and everything about our family life, really) feel like it just naturally happened to occur in the most brilliant way. She is cool like that. I, on the other hand, have to impose an obvious structure on things, in part because I am so often distracted that I can’t seem to make sure that the good stuff happens if it doesn’t happen on purpose.
So, the idea of 5 things each day makes sense to me, and my kids know about it and will have an assignment in each of the following categories to complete each day:
SKILLS – Growing up, we got a big workbook each summer, I guess it was a skills book at our grade level, and on rainy days we would sit around the kitchen table at the beach house and do it. The book had stickers, which was all the incentive I needed. My mother tells me now that by having ALL the kids in the house do a workbook, she never had to draw attention to one child or another who had struggled and needed some assigned review over the summer. Well done, Mom. By high school, SAT vocab flashcards while lounging in the pool were the norm. Nerd-o-rama, but hey, it seems to have worked.
For my kids, this will be math and perhaps a little bit of writing, not more than about 15 minutes a day.
BOOKS – The very best summer thing for me was the trip to The Corner Bookstore before we would head away for a quiet week in the Adirondacks — there was no TV there (and no internet anywhere :)), but we got to chose and buy books, some from our school lists and some of our own selection, and it was heaven. As I got older, my father would often read the same classic books as me, which added a lot to the experience.
In our case, we read off the school literature list for each grade level over the summer, so that during the school year I can assign fiction that ties in to our history curriculum and also just leave time to read stupid fun stuff like the Hardy Boys. So, each child will have 2 or 3 assigned good books over the summer. We are not going to do the summer reading program at the library, because I can’t count on getting there every week, but I think I will set up a little prize box and just do my own program.
With longer evenings, summer is also a great time for reading aloud. Last year we read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.
EXERCISE – Like my brothers and I before them, my kids will have a forced march to an icy pool every summer morning to work out for swim team. They will wear their bathing suits so much that they wear them out! I really just think that this is great for them and makes it easier to fall asleep at night even when it is light out long past bedtime. Also, I loved swim team, and they do, too. In our case, it is a nice way to be part of a community over the summer and see people everyday, so even though we have a pool in our backyard, we head to the neighborhood pool to swim.
MUSIC – My children who take piano will continue with lessons over the summer, so they will still have to practice piano each day. I am also hoping to add some music appreciation to our longer summer car rides. As much as I love that they love Billy Joel and Bon Jovi, it may be time for some more formal exposure.
ART – I am going to try to throw some art and craft projects at them over the summer, anything from drawing prompts to potholder looms.
With a baby due in mid June (any day now), our summer is going to be a little bit funky. Therefore, my children know that the household routine will be to do their 5 things and then be pretty free and independent. Some of this time will be spent watching TV or movies, I just know it, and I have made my peace with that. This is just how it has to be this year. But, with the 5 a day structure, I know that it won’t be 9 hours of TV and that they will have done plenty of good stuff before they flop on the couch.
Lest you think that we are tiger-summering, most of August will be TOTALLY unstructured. We will spend some time “watching the grass grow.” A certain someone may learn to ride his bike without training wheels. We might take some day trips to the ocean. I will order books for September and make each child a crate, and try to hold them (and myself) back from starting too soon. Maybe we will take a rainy day and do a massive clean out of the school room. We’ll do back to school shopping on a day when the crisp air conditioning at the mall makes it feel like a huge treat to be there. Come labor day, we will put our feet back into real shoes and look forward to apple pie and the changing leaves. To everything there is a season…