Preview: I no longer plan my children’s homeschool summer learning. What I do instead helps our entire school year run smoother.
We were eating breakfast and discussing what my daughters wanted to do over the summer break. I still remember the look on my oldest daughter’s face when I said, “I’m not planning anything for you this summer. This is your opportunity to learn what you want to learn. Your education is your responsibility.”
This idea struck her. I saw the wheels turning as she processed what this meant. She was ready to step up to the plate and take charge of her education.
It hasn’t always been a smooth transition, but my daughters assume more responsibility for their learning each year. The skills they acquire during the summer carry over to the rest of our school year.
In this article, you’ll learn why summer is a great time to utilize an unstructured but intentional approach to learning, the skills your children will develop, and how this approach reduces your stress.
Why I Don’t Plan Our Homeschool Summer Learning
In our first few years of homeschooling, our summer learning plans probably looked similar to yours. We participated in our local library’s summer reading program. I snuck in learning through games and educational field trips. And I found as many ways as possible to keep learning. After all, when we homeschool, we’re always learning.
After several years of this, I realized that I was robbing my children of a valuable and important life lesson. In the elementary school years, it was my responsibility to plan and direct their education, but they would need to assume that responsibility before graduating from our homeschool.
So why not start now? I could provide them with opportunities to practice and develop the skills they would need to continue learning for a lifetime. Instead of me planning their summer learning, we could have summers of self-education.
Learning what they need to know when they need to know it and enjoying learning new ideas are two of our home education goals. I try to provide opportunities for them to develop the skills they need during the school year, but I wanted them to be responsible for their efforts and the results during the summer.
Benefits Of A Summer Self-Education Program
Summer is the perfect time to let your children take over their learning plans. (If you use a non-traditional school year, you can use this approach any time you have an extended break during your school year.)
Here are some reasons I like to allow my children to assume responsibility for their homeschool summer learning plans.
- Our summer break is short, so they do not have to plan a lot, and if they fail to act on their plans, it will not impact their education. (More on this in the next section.)
- With more free time available, they can explore a topic in as much depth as they desire.
- Provides more time for you to plan your next homeschool year, read, or accomplish other projects.
Our summer self-education program is similar to the unschooling homeschool philosophy. Both are unstructured but intentional. A primary difference is that parents implementing an unschooling approach are more involved in providing resources and guidance to help their children follow their interests.
Risks Of Not Planning Your Children’s Summer Learning
Allowing your children to be in charge of their homeschool summer learning plans does come with some risk. Much like the rest of parenting, we can provide all the right opportunities, necessary tools, and a positive environment. But when it comes down to it, our children have to step up and assume responsibility for their actions.
Some summers my children accomplished nothing on their learning plans. It was difficult to step back and allow them to experience the frustration of not accomplishing their goals. I provided gentle reminders that they should work on their summer learning. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they chose to read or play instead.
I remember their lamenting at the end of one summer. Here are a few of their comments:
- “I accomplished nothing this summer!”
- “Where did the summer go?”
- “Why didn’t I work on my project more?”
- “Urgh! I’m so frustrated with myself!”
We discussed how they spent their time, what they wished they had done differently, and how they wanted me to hold them accountable the next summer.
They were frustrated that they had squandered their opportunity to learn about a topic they were very interested in, and they wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again. Each summer, they were more receptive to my reminders to work on their summer learning plans. They accomplished more each year.
Skills Your Children Develop When Planning Their Own Homeschool Summer Learning
My children have developed many skills as part of our summers of self-education. They use the skills listed below not only during their summer learning time but during our regular homeschool year too.
During a typical school year, I provide most of the resources my children need to complete their lessons. (An obvious exception to this is when they need to write a research paper.)
During the summer, they are responsible for finding books, documentaries, tutorials, etc., for learning about their chosen topic. When they were younger, I worked with them to find resources. As they became more proficient, I only stepped in to help if they had difficulty finding the resources they needed.
I do not require my daughters to tell me what they learned during their summer learning as I do during the regular school year. They are responsible for what they learn and what they do with that new knowledge.
However, I do encourage them to share what they learned with the family. They usually are willing to oblige because they are excited about what they learned, and they want to tell others about it.
I help them brainstorm ways they could present what they learned. Some examples include:
- Describe what you learned and lead a discussion of the topic at dinner.
- Make paper dolls and clothing to represent what you learned.
- Design a game that incorporates what you learned.
- Make a travel brochure about a place you studied.
- Make a model or perform an experiment to demonstrate what you learned.
- Create a special feature for a pretend DVD. (Examples include deleted scenes, quizzes, or interviews.)
- Prepare a slideshow or scrapbook page that features the projects you worked on or interesting facts you learned.
- Create a video or stop-motion video.
- Make a craft using the skills you honed.
You can learn more about narration in The Homeschool Roadmap.
During the regular school year, I provide a weekly schedule to help my daughters know when they should work on each lesson. During the summer, this responsibility falls to them.
When they were younger, I helped them develop a plan for when they wanted to work on their summer learning plans. We also discussed how much time they should spend depending on their goal. As they matured, I provided less help. I’m still available to provide guidance and reminders as needed, but I’m careful not to nag and only provide assistance when it is requested.
After our first summer of self-education, my daughters are always on the lookout for topics they could learn about during the summer. It is not uncommon for me to hear, “I could learn about that this summer!” Sometimes they even use their free time during the school year to learn about something new instead of waiting for the summer. They have learned that they can pursue their interests and now have the skills to do so.
Most people enjoy the rewards of investing time to learn about an interesting topic, but putting in the work necessary can be challenging. Children would prefer to do what is fun and easy than to put in the hard work needed to develop and hone new skills and acquire new knowledge.
Because my daughters were learning about topics that interested them, they were motivated to work hard and accomplish their goals. Through this process, they developed diligence in learning new material. This habit has carried through to our regular school year. They work harder and longer on difficult subjects.
How To Implement A Homeschool Self-Education Program
If you would like to implement a self-education program in your homeschool this summer, here are the steps you can take to make that happen. It doesn’t require a lot of time or energy on your part, and your children will develop valuable life skills as a result.
- Take a break. Everyone benefits from a vacation after working hard and finishing the school year, so take a break. During our breaks, there are no requirements for how they spend their time other than reading their Bible and completing necessary chores.
- Let go. Resist the urge to plan your child’s summer learning. To realize the long-term benefits of this approach, he needs to put in the effort to plan and implement his own learning. Simply checking off the boxes won’t cut it.
- Have a conversation. Ask your child what he finds interesting and would like to learn more about. Sometimes this happens informally, but my daughters particularly enjoy it when I make this time special by scheduling a time for us to go to a coffee shop or have a private conversation at home while eating a special treat.
- Brainstorm how to learn about his chosen topic. When my children were younger, I helped them request books from the library that they would read on their own or I would read to them. I also helped them acquire any necessary supplies they might need, such as craft/sewing supplies or items to conduct an experiment. Whenever possible, they were involved in finding the books and making the list of necessary supplies.
- Brainstorm ways he could present what he learns. It could be as simple as telling you what he learned over dinner or more complicated such as creating a video or a slideshow presentation. If they are resistant to present their discoveries to the family, I remind them that they have an opportunity to teach the whole family something new, but I do not require a presentation. After all, this is their summer learning, not a “school project.”
- Step back. This should be your child’s opportunity to take charge of his education. It should also be when he learns to accept the consequences of choosing not to learn over his summer break.
Need help implementing summer learning plans?
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