Summer School

Mothers ask me why some years, we don’t take a break when it comes to homeschooling. I wonder that myself!  I guess the answer is that homeschooling is just regular life at our house. We have done it so very long, that it is part of the routine. It is easy to keep at it and it gives order to every day. Yes, I do ease up a bit in the summer, mostly in the amount of preparation I do as a teacher. During the school year, I feel more desire to really put in some effort to prepare such things as science experiments, unit study lessons and the like. When summer heat and activities arrive, I am more flexible. Some mornings we garden or go to yard sales or do service instead of homeschool. Gardening is a very important subject in our homeschool; a basic life skill!  We get our basic homeschool subjects done every day too. The children do it as automatically as they brush their teeth and say their prayers. This has been part of our daily life since they were infants, and it just continues year round, rain or shine, summer or winter.

When colonial Americans gathered in their one room schoolhouses, they dismissed just as soon as the ground warmed up for planting. They didn’t reconvene until the harvest was stored up in their barns. That is how summer break originated. Although some public schools are on a year-round school schedule, generally Americans still take a summer break, in spite of the fact that very few of the children are helping in the planting and harvesting these days.

If homeschool is part of your routine daily life, what would be the purpose in taking a summer break? We don’t have to copy the public school schedule. In fact, there are good advantages to taking vacation time when the schools are back in session. We like to take field trips or major vacations in May and September, as the rates are low, the crowds gone and the weather is more pleasant than in the dead of summer.

One thing I have avoided by holding year-round homeschool is the much needed period of relearning that occurs after a few month’s absence of study. Take a good look at any textbook and you will find they are geared for summer loss of skills. Saxon Math books spend the first few months of lessons (presumably from school’s starting in September until December) just reteaching and reviewing what was mastered at the end of the last school year and then forgotten over the summer. I find that we can skip 1/3 of each new level’s math book just by continuing math through the summer. My son Ammon was already halfway through Saxon 2 at 5 years old! He isn’t brilliant, we are just persistent. It isn’t hard to get ahead if you go year around.

Another good reason for keeping at it all year long is that I never have to re-establish the limits and rules for my children. It keeps fighting and complaining over schoolwork to a minimum. If you know that you are going to write in your school journal every single weekday of the year, there is nothing to grumble about. Whenever I take a little vacation from school, whether it be weeks or just a few days, I find that school is rocky for awhile until the routine settles in again. It must be human nature that whatever is a fun break today is the expected norm tomorrow.

I see neighbor children that really look like they haven’t much to do on those long summer days. They try to think up things that sound fun which often turns into nonstop entertainment (swimming, videos, sleepovers, shopping, etc.) During the school year, they are so overly busy with a full day of classes, bus rides, homework, sports, music lessons, and more that they haven’t time to think. Then it comes to an abrupt halt when summer break arrives and they have trouble filling up their days. To me, summer is the best time for music lessons. There are less demands on my children’s time and they can practice more and concentrate on learning their music better. Summer is also an ideal time to do service, which is easily lost in the shuffle of the busier school schedule of fall and winter. We enjoy cooking up extra food and taking meals to pregnant women, new mothers, or sick people in our neighborhood and ward. My children are learning to garden, cook and serve others at the same time—a great lesson! No one can argue that reading a good book is a treat on a lazy summer day. In spite of wanting to keep a year-round early bedtime, we all manage to stay up later in the summer. I like to use the longer evening daylight hours reading aloud to the whole family.

As adults, we know that a vacation is only fun for so long, and then we yearn to be back to work, doing our daily duties and accomplishing something. Sometimes adults even make a vacation into work, jamming in tours, sightseeing, doing the town, etc. in an attempt to “get something done”. I think children must feel the same way. They truly want to be about the business of learning all year long.

In our family in the summer, we do a modified school day, meaning only the basic academics such as reading, journal writing, math and music practice. For children 9 years and under, I have them read aloud to me. Emily, 8, has been reading two sections every day in The Robinson Crusoe Reader (simplified) out loud to me. We have really enjoyed the fascinating story together and look forward to it. Ammon, 5, reads to me from the Beginning Steps to Reading (phonetic reader) and it is a joy to listen to him. He chooses two stories (one page each) to read to me. They are Bible stories in disguise and we like figuring out which story it is and discussing it. Julianna, 13, reads silently in a classic book of her choice, or in the Pathway readers. She just finished Black Beauty and is working on Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates now. Math consists one Saxon lesson. For the younger ones, I play math games with them or assign them to do a math facts drill for a change some days. Journal writing means a few sentences (with a lot of help) and an illustration from the youngest, and private journal writing that I don’t check for my teenagers. While the older children practice music, I practice phonics with my 5-year-old.

My younger children enjoy having a wall chart of their assignments so they can see at a glance what they have to do for school. It makes schoolwork seem more manageable and as they check off each subject, they can see just what is left. I used a piece of butcher paper and wrote each subject next to a blank box. Then I cut up index cards in squares to fit into the blank boxes. On each square, I let my child choose and place a sticker. Then we laminated the chart and the sticker squares. We use tape, velcro or sticky-tack to stick the sticker squares into the box next to the subject as it is completed. I can quickly see who is done with their schoolwork or how much each child has left to do. At the end of school, we move all the sticker squares back to the bottom of the chart.

When public school is about to begin and all the other children in Primary or in the neighborhood are clamoring about who their teacher is and enjoying wearing their new school clothes, I try to make school a little more special by purchasing some new supplies such as markers, spiral notebooks and pencil boxes. New books also make school feel new and exciting. I often choose this time of year to start a new program, such as a 9 week geography course or a unit on studying the classical music composers. Changes breathe life into school and help my children feel there is something interesting going on in our home school and that they aren’t missing out on anything by not attending public school.

It can be easy to be swooped up in the public school schedule, but I truly find taking the summer off only sabotages my home school. Many of my neighbors that have their children in public school during the year make their children do chores, take swimming lessons, etc. in the mornings during the summer, so we don’t feel antisocial. My children are done by noon and able to play with friends and participate in activities during the afternoons. We flex if there is a morning activity that my children especially want to attend. What I have discovered, though, is that my children can practically accomplish two years worth of academics during one year if they don’t stop for summer break. Perhaps it is worth considering for your homeschool.
—DH

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