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I ensure my daughters have a balanced learning plan during the regular school year. During the summer, I refuse to entertain them or plan their summer learning. It is not my job to keep them entertained all day long. I believe masterly inactivity and a little boredom are good things for children to experience.
Instead, I use this opportunity to encourage them to assume responsibility for their own summer learning. I want them to acquire the desire and ability to continue learning on their own, so why not begin now? I still remember the day my daughter and I were discussing what she wanted to accomplish over the summer. When I told her it was up to her to make the most of her summer and that it was her responsibility, I saw the light bulb turn on for her.
Why I use this approach
The benefits of taking this approach have been huge for us. All year long, my daughters think about what they could learn 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.
Plus, they carry the skills they acquire during their summer learning throughout the regular school year. They have learned how to research a topic and how to find different types of resources. They have experimented with different ways to present what they learned.
And, most importantly to me, they have learned how to take initiative and manage their own time. Yes, there have been summers they accomplished nothing. It is so difficult to step back and allow them to experience the frustration of not accomplishing their goals; but because they see what they missed, they are more motivated each summer, and even during the regular school year, to stay on task.
How you can implement a self-education program
If you would like to begin this process in your home 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. We have found that we all benefit from a vacation after finishing the school year. We’ve worked hard and are ready to do nothing! So we take a break. 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.
- Let go. Resist the urge to plan your child’s summer learning. For him 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 schedule a time for us to go to a coffee shop and make a date of it.
- 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 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. 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 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. The summer started well and they made progress. Then they had a few weeks of being lazy, reading, playing, and swimming. I suggested several times that they should work on their summer learning. 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 that 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.