Summer is well under way by now, and if you're like most parents, you've probably heard the oft-repeated phrase "I'm bored" just a few more times than you'd like. And, like a lot of conscientious homeschool moms, you may be wondering if your kids will forget everything they learned during the last school year before the new one even begins in September. Wouldn't it be great if you could break the cycle of boredom and help keep your kids' minds active and learning at the same time?
Pondering the issue of fun summertime learning, I asked a handful of our regular columnists and authors here at Home School Enrichment to share their favorite ideas for making learning enjoyable and interesting during the boredom-plagued months of summer. Being the helpful and innovative group they are, they soon gave me an extensive list of creative ideas that can add some fun and unique learning to your summer.
IDEA #1: CREATE "SUMMER DAY" BOXES
Suzanne Broadhurst writes, "Gather cardboard boxes, plastic crates, or plastic storage boxes. It doesn't matter if they're all the same. It's the contents that matter, not the container. Label with titles such as 'Craft Stuff,' 'Science Stuff,' 'Math Stuff,' 'Historical Stuff,' 'Outdoor Play,' 'Water Play/Experiments,' etc." After this, she suggests keeping an eye out at garage sales, clearance racks, your own bookshelves, kitchen, laundry room, garage, etc., for anything that might fit into one of those categories. "Keep them handy, available and easy to get into," she continues, "even if that means out in the living room where God and everybody can see them. When the 'Mommy, I'm bored' syndrome strikes, point to the boxes, giving them free reign to explore, learn, and clean up afterwards."
IDEA #2: READ, READ, READ, READ
"Give each other time and space to be alone with your reading," writes Tamara Willey. "I love reading marathons where you get to read all day and not be interrupted. Have food brought in or snack food already prepared for the day. Maybe have at least one marathon day a month (if not more often). No one messes up a house when they're reading a book all day! Just be sure to balance it with getting out in the real world afterward!"
Melanie Hexter and Melissa Pinkley also suggest the value of getting involved in your local library's summer reading program. Melanie writes, "We always participate in our library's summer reading program. The kids, whether independent readers or not, set their own goals (number of books, number of pages, or timed reading) and log their reading over two months' time. At the end, they submit their log to the librarian to receive a free book of their choice and a nice goody bag from the library (coupons from local merchants, etc.)."
IDEA #3: JOURNALING
Several folks suggested the value of journaling during the summer months. Don't worry if it sounds difficult or too academic. It can be easier--and more fun!--than you might think. Tamara Willey says, "If your family has not gotten into the habit of journaling, this is a good way to do it. Relief is on the way for those who hate to write--you can journal via sketch-work, or pasting in representative photos or pictures (do caption these though), or schematics of a project being worked on. Journaling doesn't have to be writing stylish sentences. Journal diary-style. You are logging a record of goals, ideas to be worked on later, impressions, Bible study thoughts and revelations, funny sayings from the children or siblings, goals, etc. Have a 'Journal Reading Festival' at the end of summer planned so that everyone can read their journal or swap and read each others (if they are willing)."
Maribeth Spangenberg adds, "One summer, I bought all my children notebooks, and three times a week I had them journal. It was nothing elaborate or detailed, and involved anything from impromptu assignments, to descriptions, to telling about their previous day, or what they hoped to do that present day. It could even be something that they learned in personal devotions. Each morning I'd give them an assignment and tell them to write for 15 minutes. I did not correct spelling or grammar, so there was no pressure on either them or me. But I would always read each one myself, or sometimes make them read it aloud to each other. Then I would find something positive to compliment them on, and sometimes offer suggestions of ways they could expound on their writing the next day. As time went on, I would see improvement in length, descriptions, content, and imagination, which were my primary goals."
Katharine Trauger shares her motivation for getting her family started with summertime journaling: "After spending one summer busy to the hilt, we felt so bad about looking back and not being able to tell where on earth all that time went. We felt as if we had lost the entire summer. Only trips to the pantry told us that we had spent some time canning and gardening. Surely that was not all." She continues: "So the following summer, we made a journal. We stapled pages of lined paper between pages of construction paper, used stencils to make an attractive title on the front cover, and then proceeded to record our doings for each day. It became an official family creation, complete with vying over who got the privilege of recording in it each day. It did not matter if all we did was some weeding and a picnic, we recorded at least two significant activities from each day, one for the morning and one for the afternoon." And just what were the advantages of keeping this journal? "The effect was electric. We realized that 1.) every day of summer has significant happenings that we enjoy or profit from, 2.) that we really were a very busy family, 3.) that a summer break was absolutely essential in our lives, and 4.) that we really loved summer and used it wisely."
Suzanne Broadhurst suggests a fun twist on the journaling idea--have your kids write a book about themselves! They can add to it throughout the summer, perhaps finishing it in a single summer, or it can be a multi-year project that gets added to year after year.
IDEA #4: GARDENING
Although it may be a little late in the season to launch into a full-fledged gardening project, you can still have some fun and learn a few things by either trying to grow a few plants or researching plants you could grow next year. Suzanne Broadhurst suggests, "Plant something, watch it grow! Or watch it shrivel and die; or research what to plant and then don't plant it--in any case, it's a lesson! A few years ago, I had my son look up Perennial Plants That Will Grow in Shade in North Florida and Not Take Any Work From Mom. He made a whole list! It kept him occupied and learning. Now, where did I put that list..."
Melanie Hexter adds, "Having a large family, we focus on 'edible gardening.' We have strawberries for ground cover, raspberries for bushes, and blueberries amongst our flower beds. The kids help with weeding and picking, freezing and eating! What we can't or don't yet grow, we pick at nearby you-pick-it farms and create annual traditions for the meal that night. One day each summer we shuck, parboil and freeze 12 dozen or so ears of corn. Guess what's for dinner that night? Or when our strawberry crop is at its greatest, we make shortcakes, smother them in fresh strawberries and call that dinner."
IDEA #5: TURN FAMILY VACATION INTO A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
Says Marcia Washburn, "When we went on a family vacation, I tried to plan a variety of activities for each trip--scenery, museums, historical sites, visiting relatives, etc., as well as just plain fun. We'd mix it up so there would be something to interest everyone from the little ones through the adults."
Suzanne Broadhurst suggests allowing your kids to plan a trip (real or imaginary). "Choose a destination, or even many destinations within the U.S. or around the world, then have your children write to state/country visitor bureaus for maps and brochures (or go online to request them or view them right on the Internet). Plan distances, gas money/mileage, airfare, train fare, hotel or camping spots, sightseeing, food expenses, grocery lists, etc." If the trip doesn't fit in your budget or schedule, perhaps you can find some travel videos from your planned destination to finish up your project with.
IDEA #6: GET A DOG
"Summer is a great time to get a new dog, learn about raising it, and work on obedience or agility training," suggests Melanie Hexter. "Take an obedience course for your new dog together with one of your older children at the County Extension Office or Career Center, then practice, practice, practice. It'll reap rewards for the future."
IDEA #7: VOLUNTEER AT A LOCAL MUSEUM OR HISTORICAL SITE
Melissa Pinkley and her ten-year-old volunteer in 1803 costume at Lewis and Clark's Winter Campsite. "This is wonderful for learning about history (well enough to share with visitors) and it's also a great way to learn to communicate with others in a way that they'll learn, too."
IDEA #8: PHYSICAL TRAINING
Summer and physical activity go hand-in-hand, and with just a little effort you can add some fun variety and a touch of learning. Tamara Willey suggests activities such as rock-climbing, hiking, canoeing or kayaking, and walking. Come up with a plan that an individual can keep without relying on teams, etc. She also suggests coming up with a schedule for your activity so you can make a life habit of it--and soak up some of God's natural world, too!
Melanie Hexter and her daughter added an educational twist and a bit of friendly competition to their exercise routine. "We used a pedometer to mark out the perimeter of our yard, and then calculated how many laps it would take to walk a marathon ( 26.2 miles). We each determined to walk a 'marathon' and kept a running tally in our kitchen. She beat me to a complete marathon, of course--almost twice as fast!"
IDEA #9: GET INVOLVED IN 4-H OR YOUR COUNTY FAIR
"Our boys kept busy with 4-H projects through the summer," writes Marcia Washburn. "No longer just for farm kids, 4-H offers multiple projects such as rocketry, photography, electrical, various crafts, cooking, talent shows, etc. Our sons gained poise in speaking before the group while giving their demonstrations. Some of our local homeschooling families desired to form an HS-only club in order to be more selective about who their children spent time with, so they set the monthly meetings for a weekday morning when other children were in school."
Tim Palla shares: "From the time I was a young teenager, my family and I would compete in various activities at our local County Fair. My brother and I entered animals and artwork and my mother entered sewing projects, homegrown vegetables and canned fruits/jellies. It was always fun to see who would get the first blue ribbon or make the most money on premiums.
"Years later, the tradition was renewed with my own family. My boys have shown horses, pencil sketches, chickens, and lambs. I also have competed in equestrian sports with them. We have harvested vegetables and flowers from our garden and entered our 'best of the best.'
"With each entry we had to learn the Fair rules and guidelines. We talked to other competitors to obtain tips on how to 'show' the various entries. Each category was judged differently, so it was crucial to understand what a judge would look for and how to present ourselves, our animals, etc., in a way that would catch the judge's eye.
"Our County Fair is one of the largest in the state, so competition is usually tough. It was always fun to learn--even if it didn't result in a blue ribbon or cash premium. One of the things I enjoy the most is putting together our 'Fair Scrapbook' at the end of the season. All the photos, newspaper clippings, decorations and stories of our victories have given us some wonderful learning experiences as well as delightful (and sometimes humorous) memories."
IDEA #10: SERVICE WORK
Volunteering can be an excellent way to serve others and learn some skills at the same time. Tamara Willey offers the following suggestions: "Volunteer at the local soup kitchen, the local library for children's programs or shelving books, a local Christian radio station, maintenance at your church, or at your local wildlife refuge clearing trails and digging out invasives." Doubtless there are plenty of other volunteer opportunities as well, so find one that suits your family, and jump in!
IDEA #11: BUILD SOMETHING
Melanie Hexter extols the value of building projects as learning experiences. "Build something new for your yard," she suggests. "A swing set, playhouse or shed, deck, raised bed gardens, etc. Many home improvement stores offer courses and the Internet is chock full of plans."
IDEA #12: ACADEMIC DRILLS
This idea may not be a lot of fun, but you'll be glad when September rolls around that you put in the extra effort now to make sure your kids didn't forget everything from the previous year during the long weeks of summer. Maribeth Spangenberg writes, "If my children were weak in math, I'd have them do some speed drills or practice sheets. Even just a few problems a day for a short period of time can help to keep concepts fresh."
Leslie Wyatt writes, "This year I'm hoping to do an informal unit on astronomy, this involving multiple nights sleeping under the stars pointing out constellations we learn during the days, maybe tying art into it by drawing/painting the constellations, etc., and some creative writing--coming up with our own names and stories for the star groups."
And here's another suggestion from Tamara Willey: "Find new and creative ways to learn the multiplication tables. Let the kids make up games or requirements for ordinary games that require answering drills to move forward, etc. This is indispensable to success in math for any and all ages--one can never do this enough!"
IDEA #13: NATURE STUDY
What better time to get out and study nature than during the summer? Everything from bird watching, to creating a bug collection, to studying microorganisms under a microscope--plus a thousand other activities--make for great summertime learning.
Melissa Pinkley points out that now is a great time to prepare for certain types of science fair projects--even if the fair itself won't be held until the school year. "If your children want to do a science fair project that involves worms, bugs, sun, or any environmental issues, then the summer is the best time to do them. Make sure to take exact notes while you are doing the project. The official paperwork can either be done during the summer or later. Doing the project during the summer also helps when the actual science fair time comes since the project is done and you just have to review and make a presentation board."
Susan Lemons adds, "We like to do special topics during the summer, like insects, water or the ocean. For older children, we have done an insect collection. We used a killing jar to kill the bugs, then pinned them to a special board, and identified them using a field guide. This year, we're going to spend some time studying the ocean, and make a mural of the ocean complete with 'seaweed,' fish, and so on. We'll also learn about water: solutions, its forms (liquid, vapor, ice), observe ice melting, see how long it takes water to evaporate, and talk about where it goes. We'll also do sink/float experiments: I'll gather a bunch of things together, have the children guess which will sink and which will float, and then see if we were right; we'll also experiment with how shape affects buoyancy, and perhaps try building our own boats out of Legos, or wood, etc."
Nature hikes are also a great way to do hands-on science during the summer. Go to the library and find some field guides that will help you identify birds, plants, trees, animals, and different types of rocks, minerals, etc. Take along a bag or other container and gather samples (if you're in a park or nature preserve that doesn't allow collecting samples, you can always take your camera along and snap pictures of what you find). Melissa Pinkley adds that if any of your kids are "artsy," then outdoor art sketching can add some fun to your outing. Let them try their hand at drawing or painting flowers, trees, landscapes, birds, or any other nature they see.
IDEA #14: ASTRONOMY
Do some research online to learn about the various astronomy "events" that are happening this summer. For example, in August, there will be the Perseids Meteor Shower, as well as a total lunar eclipse. These are great opportunities to learn more about the night sky, and can also serve as jumping off points to read about early astronomers such as Johannes Kepler.
IDEA #15: STUDY AN EXTRACURRICULAR TOPIC
If there's a "non-essential" topic that you've wanted to study that you just haven't had time for during the school year, now is the time to dive in and get started! "My husband had been suggesting that I do some logic with the children," says Maribeth Spangenberg. "My school year was already packed full, so I saved it for the summer. There are some excellent logic books sold through Bright Minds Publishing ( www.brightminds.us). I have also used the Mind Benders series and the Critical Thinking series, which only required about 20 minutes per day to do. I was pleased in how they challenged my children's thinking skills."
Whatever that "non-essential" subject might be for your family, now would be a great time to finally get around to it!
IDEA # 16: HAVE A LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT
This rather unique idea was shared by Suzanne Broadhurst. "These scavenger hunts can be planned or spontaneous," Suzanne writes. For one of the spontaneous variety, she suggests the following guidelines:
- Go over social etiquette rules, then turn children loose in the library (see clarification below).
- Set a timer for an appropriate time (10 minutes is good for younger kids, 30 minutes to an hour for older students).
- Computer research not allowed--books only!
- Non-fiction only.
- Goal: Browse shelves until you find something of interest, jot down three facts (5–10 facts for older kids).
- Bring home three resources (all one subject or different ones).
- Share what you learned at the dinner table that night.
"Loose in the library doesn't mean no adult supervision," Suzanne shares. "It means, limit to children's area, teen area, or one aisle for 1 minute, then on to next aisle. We do this in the adult non-fiction, too (I'm banned from the cookbook aisle, though, until I start making some of the 100+ recipes I've already collected!)."
According to Suzanne, these unique visits to the library "open the library's wealth of information and variety of materials to the children in a way that might not happen if the trips focused on an assigned topic or an already-decided-upon interest."
IDEA #17: FAMILY JOBS
Why not earn some money, learn lessons in character, and build good family memories all at the same time? Do odd jobs as a family, and reap the rewards! There are plenty of possibilities if you look around. Tamara Willey says, "Possibilities could include mowing lawns, pet-sitting, house-sitting, childcare, household repair and maintenance, housekeeping (maid-service), newspaper routes, website maintenance or development, doing birthday parties for children, etc."
IDEA #18: ARTS & CRAFTS
The possibilities are almost endless! Maribeth Spangenberg has compiled the following list: "Candle kits, latch hook rugs, knitted scarves, stuffed pillows, painted lamp shades, stained glass, paint-by-number pictures, puzzles glued together and framed, prepackaged wooden projects, painting ceramic Christmas tree ornaments, assembling model cars, a model of the solar system, plastic models of the heart, lung, eye, or ear--are all very profitable learning activities."
Tamara Willey agrees, suggesting that families pursue worthwhile crafts that add to the family, such as "quilting, sewing clothes for the new year, landscaping or gardening, interior updating for beauty, etc. These are things we too often have to let slip for other things. But during the summer, when it gets too hot outside, they are indoor quiet things for mid-day."
Susan Lemons adds, "A fun idea would be to do a lot of different types of art, and then put on an 'art show,' inviting your friends and family to see your children's creations." (Don't know what kind of art to try? Check out the May/June '07 issue of Home School Enrichment for Susan's list of fifty fun and easy art experiences for children of all ages!)
IDEA #19: FINE ARTS
This is another one of those easily neglected areas that you can finally concentrate on during the summer. "Attend concerts, study selected works of art, and read up on the backgrounds of various artists," writes Tamara Willey. "Do a humanities course in worldview training (see Schaeffer's How Shall We Then Live? book and video series). Does your family do photography? Artwork? Music? Textile crafts? Gardening? Have each family member work on their specialty and plan an 'Open House' with a gallery, a concert, a walk through a beautiful garden area, and craft display. Get together with other families, if this is possible, and do it together for the church, family, homeschool group, or community (whichever you are braver for!), or just for each other."
IDEA #20: EDUCATIONAL VIDEOS
As long as they're not overused, there's nothing wrong with utilizing a collection of well-chosen educational videos to enhance summertime learning. Maribeth Spangenberg recommends selections from Answers in Genesis, the twenty titles in the Moody Science Series, and Alpha Omega's science experiment videos.
IDEA #21: DO A LONG-TERM GOAL
With lots of time on your hands, take the opportunity to accomplish a long-term goal, suggests Tamara Willey. "Hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, canoe a whole stretch of a local stream or river, take that month-long vacation traveling through a region of the U.S., go on a missions trip."
Even if your long-term goals aren't so grandiose, think about a project you've been wanting to get done, then tackle it together as a family. Most of us have something around the house that we've been putting off for awhile. Why not get it done now?
IDEA #22: LEARN A NEW SKILL
Has your son or daughter always had an interest in learning a particular skill--woodworking, sewing, or photography, for instance--but you've just never found the time to get around to it? Now's your chance! Get a book from the library, research the topic online, or find a trusted friend or family member who could teach your child the skill they're interested in.
Melanie Hexter and her family have taken a proactive stance in this area. Melanie writes, "In the past, we have had each child choose one or two 'badges' from the Contenders for the Faith/Keepers at Home series ( www.keepersofthefaith.com) to work on over the course of a summer. My son once earned a Jack Knife and a Chess badge, my daughter a Baking and a Library Skills badge. It requires of them reading, research, skill development, help from a knowledgeable adult, setting a goal and then executing steps to get there, and sometimes just plain hard work over a few weeks time!"
Summer doesn't have to be a dull season of endless boredom and mental lethargy. Just a bit of effort and creativity can make all the difference. So are you ready to get started? Then gather the kids together and get ready for some fun and fantastic summer learning!
Jonathan Lewis is a homeschool graduate and enjoys working with his family on Home School Enrichment Magazine. In his spare time, Jonathan can be found reading, playing chess, and spending time with his family.