Summer stretches before us, beckoning with its bright sunshine and warm breezes. If you live somewhere like me, summer promises very hot weather which can be either draining or invigorating, depending on your personality and perspective. I happen to love the 110-degree heat, but some people prefer staying indoors, basking in the air conditioning and enjoying a cold iced tea! In any case, no matter what the temperature, come June, the rhythm of your days is bound to change.
Though some families choose to homeschool year-round, the majority of us find ourselves with three months of "freedom" from day-to-day homeschooling. Even year-round homeschoolers usually lighten their schedules, concentrating on different things than they studied throughout the regular school year, and often switching to a more laid-back approach to learning.
Younger children seem to have no problem filling their days with outdoor play--climbing trees, building forts, hiking trails, skating, biking, and reading out in the treehouse. Long summer evenings offer our families such fun as barbecues and croquet, catching fireflies and playing hide-and-seek in the dusk, and seemingly endless games of Uno, Monopoly, and Stratego. We all know firsthand that summertime is great for family bonding and making memories.
But what about our high-school-aged kids? For many of them, summer can easily devolve into boredom and wasted time at best--lazy attitudes and real trouble at worst. The summer months definitely require a planned course of action when it comes to our teens. Don't make the mistake of letting the hot days arrive with no idea what your teens will be doing with all of that free time.
Encourage your older kids to actively consider the various things they would like to tackle this summer. It's easy to get stuck in a rut at any age, so you might need to prod them into thinking in ways that are new to them. In addition, some teens have fallen into the trap of believing they shouldn't attempt to learn anything they feel they won't be able to "master." They need to understand (maybe through your example?) that experimenting with new projects and exploring new topics is a lifelong opportunity that we should embrace. Learning does not end when we turn eighteen. Everyone can benefit from acquiring new skills and knowledge despite the fact that we will all achieve differing levels of mastery.
Summertime offers up a wide range of options for our high school kids, and many of these choices will be highly approved or even expected by college admission committees when that time comes. Other choices may directly affect your teen's spiritual life, specifically influence a career path, or simply add to his or her repertoire of both practical and enjoyable life skills.
Here are some opportunities for your teens to consider pursuing this summer.
BEFORE WE GET STARTED . . .
Some of the ideas we'll discuss here may not be possible or beneficial to everyone. Some could potentially be detrimental, depending on the exact situation. As always, parents should do their homework ahead of time before allowing their teen to take part in any activity where the parent may not be directly involved. Prayerful consideration and ongoing involvement and observation are crucial to making sure our children's educational needs are met in a safe and God-honoring way.
Sometimes the best choice for the homeschooled high school student is to take one or two topics and study them in-depth throughout the summer. Perhaps your teen has fallen behind in algebra or has never really understood how to write a persuasive essay. Now is the perfect time for intensive review or for taking an entirely new approach to the material. Students can study some topics independently, while other topics may need the assistance of a private tutor. (By the way, high school and college exchange students love to earn extra money by doing foreign language tutoring.)
This type of catch-up study can be done informally at home, of course, but a student can also sign up for a community college class. Many people do not realize that local junior colleges offer high school level courses and that they generally welcome students of all ages and abilities. Some courses, such as science labs, are sometimes learned well in a group setting with specialized equipment. In addition, taking such outside classes provides your teen with an objective appraisal of his or her academic potential and ability both to function in and contribute to an organized classroom situation. Colleges like to hear this information about their homeschooled applicants.
On the other hand, maybe your student loves creative writing and wants to take advantage of these "unencumbered" months to write a novel. Or you may have an older child who is a budding historian and wants to spend the summer researching the various events and decisions that led up to a particular war. Maybe your son or daughter wants to study the Japanese language and culture! Colleges love to discover young people who have a real love for learning and an ongoing curiosity that prompts them to delve deeply into specific subjects.
Speaking of college, if your teen is scheduled to take the PSAT as a junior in October or plans to take the SAT or ACT as a senior this coming fall, the summer is the best time to take several practice exams, review any weak areas, and learn to deal comfortably with the timed aspect of the tests.
Across the country each summer, many specialized camps are offered to high school students. I am talking about the kind of camps that emphasize a specific interest or skill and seek to expand the student's knowledge and abilities in that area to a more advanced level. These camps vary widely in their focus, intensity, location, and length. The choices range from music camps to science camps to sports camps to leadership camps--and so much more. Camps like these provide a time for your student to concentrate on a personal interest to the exclusion of almost everything else. Your child is bound to be inspired when surrounded by other kids who are devoted to the same interest.
My own older children have participated in several such camps over the years, such as:
- Drama and Vocal Institute (highlighting opera) This is a daily, 9 am to 5 pm, local camp put on by our community college. It lasts three weeks, culminating in several wonderful evening performances. Kids aged 13 to 21 are involved in a well-supervised and tightly-scheduled setting.
- Pacific Music Camp (for orchestra and band instrumentalists) This is a week-long boarding camp sponsored by the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. Students benefit from expert teaching on their specific instruments, the experience of auditioning for and performing in various level groups, and many special workshops aimed directly at their musical education. My daughter made many "bassoon buddies" while there and enjoyed rooming with a Christian friend who went to the camp also. Busy schedule, lots of required practice time.
- Sports Camps (teaching skills relevant to many sports) These are half-day camps sponsored by our nearby community college. My oldest son was able to experience both the strategy and the physical rigors of football, the sprints and hurdles of track and the demanding field events, and the sheer fun of baseball.
- High School Conservative Leadership Conference (for those interested in politics and making a difference in the world around them) This is a week-long camp held in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Reagan Foundation. It is very affordable and quite thought-provoking. The camp is strictly supervised, with many conservative political leaders as featured speakers, and the students are truly challenged to stand up for what they believe against a majority opposition. Great sight-seeing opportunities, too!
In addition, many colleges advertise special short-term courses or camps that introduce high school students to possible career fields (such as the University of Denver's Making of an Engineer program), provide research and mentor opportunities for students interested in science, or immerse students in an area of great interest (such as art, music, writing, or computers). All it takes is a little online research, either through search engines or through questioning other experienced parents at various homeschool Web sites, and you will have more options available than you can imagine.
Another excellent way for many teens to spend their summers is working a job. This employment might be a paid job, a volunteer opportunity, or a more formal apprenticeship. Through such work, your students can experience the challenges of relating to other authority figures, learn many practical skills, and develop valuable leadership traits. Your teens may come away with a more mature view of the world, and they just might gain added insight as to what exactly they want to do with their adult lives.
For instance, a teen that expresses the desire to work in the veterinary field needs to experience firsthand what this type of work actually entails on a daily basis. When I conducted an informal survey recently, many vets in my tri-county area said they would be thrilled if a committed older homeschool student approached them about working as a summer volunteer. They mentioned that people don't always understand that becoming a veterinarian requires many long years of study, and that it's not always as glamorous as it sometimes appears.
In truth, not all teens are ready to work a job in the "outside" world. Still, employment options are available--perhaps a job with a Christian-owned business or working for a member of your extended family. My oldest son's first job was weeding and digging ditches in my brother's plant nursery. Considering my son is a real academic at heart, he learned a true appreciation for the value of sweat and manual labor. Alternatively, some older kids have an entrepreneurial spirit that leads them to start their own businesses: jobs as varied as yard work, computer repair, cake decorating, and house cleaning.
Of course, not all summer jobs will lead your children to their future roles in life. Some jobs are worked mainly for the purpose of saving money for specific goals--perhaps for college expenses, a car, or even a house down payment. Meanwhile, our teens can glean the satisfaction of working a job to the best of their ability, while all the time learning what it takes to maintain a balanced life in terms of family, friends, studies, and other interests.
Lastly, another working opportunity many teens find enriching is going on a summer mission trip. Many churches and other Christian organizations sponsor such trips. The teens are usually involved with child evangelism, building church additions and housing, and other forms of service.
By this point, some parents and teens might be wondering if the summer months can be spent in a more relaxed manner that still yields much in terms of productivity. The answer is: of course! We parents know that there is always something more to learn--exciting, fun, and useful things. Additionally, we all see the need of teaching our teens the real-life skills we know they will need in only a few years. Yet during our regular homeschool year, we are usually too busy to add in these extra elements of a good education. Summer provides the perfect chance for our teens to broaden their horizons and learn some of these wonderful extras.
Below is a list of life skills to start you thinking. I am certain you and your teens can come up with many more!
- Car Repair
- Portrait or Landscape Painting
- Vegetable Gardening
- Yeast Breads
- Knitting or Crocheting
- Driver's Training
- CPR Training
- Jewelry Making
- Cake Decorating
- Yard Care
DATES WITH YOUR TEENS
Finally, one advantage of the summer months that I particularly enjoy is the added time available for one-on-one dates with my teens. Soon they will be gone from our home and establishing independent lives of their own, so I'm glad for every chance I have to talk with them about their dreams and goals and thoughts. And what kid could refuse the offer of a hot fudge sundae or a special coffee with Mom or Dad?
As homeschool parents, it is our responsibility and privilege to make sure that, in ways that truly matter to them, our teens are prepared to make their summers count.
Kim Lundberg is the busy mom of 9 great kids. She and her family have been homeschooling for 16 years, and they make their home in beautiful northern California. Kim enjoys teaching drama, writing, and world history classes, as well as reading mysteries, baking goodies, camping, and listening to her kids talk, sing, and make music.
This article was originally published in the May/June '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine, a national publication dedicated to encouraging and equipping Christian homeschoolers. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com