I will always remember the day we were eating breakfast and a light bulb of understanding turned on for my elementary-aged daughter. We had just completed our school year and were discussing plans for the summer.
Even though we take time off during the summer from planned academic studies, we don’t stop learning. I plan very little though and encourage my girls to assume much of the responsibility for their summer learning.
As we were discussing what they wanted to learn that summer, I said, “It’s up to you. This is your opportunity to take charge of your education. It’s your responsibility.” She thought for a moment and I saw the light bulb turn on. She was astonished; this revelation had never occurred to her before.
Each year, I use our summer break to encourage my children to take an active role in their education. When they were younger (under age ten), we often explored topics together they found interesting. Sometimes, we attempted a new handicraft they had been wanting to learn. I assisted them by helping them find books to read or read the books to them. As they matured, I gradually turned the responsibility over to them not only for deciding what they wanted to learn and finding resources from which they would learn but also the responsibility for accomplishing their goals and accepting the consequences of their efforts (or lack thereof).
Implementing A Self-Education Program
Our children need assistance as they assume responsibility for their education. We need to facilitate their learning and help them acquire the necessary skills so they can assume more responsibility each year. Summer is a great time to do just that!
Before you jump into any summer learning program though, I would encourage you to take a break. We have found that all of us benefit from a vacation after finishing the school year. We’ve worked hard and are ready to do nothing! So we take a break. Sometimes we might leave town and go on a family trip. Other times, we just lounge around the house. We might not get dressed until noon (or later). We might read, play games, or just relax in the hammocks. Or, my children might find something interesting to investigate, such as the day my daughter decided to pull out four different instruments to explore. The point is that I do not plan activities during our vacation time. Other than some basics such as reading their Bible and completing necessary chores, there are no requirements as to how they should spend their time.
Masterly inactivity at its finest today! My daughter decided after practicing her guitar she would change the old strings on my dulcimer (which has been hanging for years but not played sadly) and teach herself how to play. Then she got out the psaltry and her sister got out the melody harp. It’s been a day full of music, exploring, and delightful learning. I love how they love to learn and dive deep into things that interest them!
After a break, we are all ready for some structure and learning again. At this point, I have a conversation with each of my girls to discuss their summer learning plans. Sometimes it happens informally at some point during the day. Other times, we schedule a trip to the coffee shop. They particularly enjoy the coffee shop trips; everything is more special when discussed over a frappuccino!
You might begin by asking your child what he finds interesting and would like to learn more about. One of my friends maintains a “Curiosity List.” When her children want to investigate something new during the school year and they do not have time to learn about it then, they write that topic on the Curiosity List and learn about it over the summer.
Next, brainstorm with your child how he might go about learning more 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.
Don’t forget to brainstorm ways he could present what he learns to your family. It could be as simple as telling you about what he learned over dinner or more complicated such as creating a video or a slideshow presentation. I encourage but do not require my children to present what they learned. 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.
A Few Final Words
Encourage your child to do as much of the planning and record keeping as possible. This should be his opportunity to take charge of his education. It should also be a time when he learns to deal with the consequences of choosing not to learn over his summer break.
One summer we made a plan of what my children wanted to learn and what they wanted to accomplish. We set goals and brainstormed how they could meet them. The summer started well and they made some progress. Then they had a few weeks of being lazy, reading, playing, and swimming. I suggested several times that they should read about their chosen topic. They didn’t and then the summer was gone.
I could have ensured they made progress each day and held them accountable. Instead, I chose to let them experience the natural consequences of their decisions. Looking back over what they accomplished over the summer (or lack thereof), they were disappointed and a little frustrated. They learned from this experience and the next summer was much smoother. I still have to provide some prompting and accountability, but they are much more receptive and appreciate the reminder.
Want a little help implementing a summer learning program in your home?
The Stepping Into Self-Education Summer Learning Program provides step-by-step instructions to help you implement a summer learning program in your home for children of all ages. It requires very little prep work on your part. Included are editable checklists, curiosity list, reading log, and helpful tips for implementation. Help your child take the first steps toward assuming responsibility for his education!
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