An Elective Summer

I hate to stop homeschooling for the summer. Not many of my friends feel the same way, but for me it takes so much momentum to begin again that I’d rather not stop at all. Homeschooling keeps the children in an excellent pattern of waking for scripture study, doing chores, and then getting on with their schoolwork every morning. There is still lots of time in the afternoon to swim, play with friends, and do all the summery things children look forward to.

Besides that, children lose so very much in skills over the summer. All you have to do to prove it to yourself is open a math book. Nearly 1/3 of the entire book is catch-up for what was lost over the summer vacation. I began my little Emily at age 5 in Saxon 1, the first grade book. She sailed along fine and arrived at the end of her book in February when we began Saxon 2. As you know, Saxon books are not cheap but they are excellent. But, I did feel it was wasting my money when nearly half of the Saxon 2 workbook (part 1) was review. We did bits and pieces of the lessons but Emily pronounced them all too easy. Math is not her forte so she probably represents most children. What we were faced with is the public school’s need to bring children back up to date that have done no math all summer long. Skills such as math and reading are easily lost if they are not practiced!

This summer my teenage boys are working, so I only have four children at home all day long. We decided to have an “elective” summer. Since this school year was pretty bare maintenance at my house due to pregnancy/birth of my seventh child, we didn’t do much in the way of “fun stuff”. I asked my children what they were interested in learning. Since three of the four children are girls, they chose: sewing, cooking, crafts (photo albums, art projects, stenciling, tole painting, etc.), piano and gardening. We named Monday: Sewing Day. Tuesday is Cooking Day, and so on. The children look forward to each day with great enthusiasm. I find it tricky to get anything done when I have a new baby but knowing that all I have to accomplish is this one thing makes it possible. The house isn’t staying very tidy, but we are spending some great time together learning. On our first Sewing Day, even my little 4 year old Ammon was able to cut out the pattern pieces for his shorts and sewed them up on the sewing machine with my help. I was amazed at what he was capable of doing!  The children were so excited to learn a new skill and have worn their projects proudly and often.

For Cooking Day, we are learning basic skills such as making bread, tortillas, soups, etc. We also use cooking day to mass produce meals for the freezer to free us up from having to cook dinner on evenings when we’d rather enjoy being outside. A team of children working side by side with mother’s direction can produce 10 casseroles assembly line fashion rather quickly—and it’s fun! Daddy likes to come home from work on Cooking Day because there is always something fresh baked—cookies, cinnamon rolls, or bread. We try new recipes and experiment with favorite recipes to see if we can make them healthier without ruining the taste, a tricky endeavor! Cooking gives children confidence as well as kitchen skills. The other day I was nursing the baby at lunch time and my big children were not home, so Emily (6 years) made lunch all by herself and it was good. She made her choice: vegetable sandwiches, washing and slicing all the fixings herself. Good job!

Each of my children is keeping their own photo albums and we enjoy sitting around the table gluing photos into our books and writing comments and dates by them. We decorate our pages with stickers and fancy writing. It is a fun way to keep memories alive and the children feel proud of their books. This is a good choice of project, because if you don’t get your children to keep up their books, you will find yourself swamped with unlabeled, unidentifiable photos in a few years—I know from experience!

One day was a little rocky because the baby was fussy and needed most of my time and attention, but we did manage to have some short piano lessons. Emily and Ammon learned where middle C is on the piano, and memorized a simple little tune. Julianna got a longer lesson and some songs to practice. Not exactly what Mozart would have done, but at least we are getting started on some long overdue desired topics in homeschool.

You can make each elective topic into a notebook, collecting information as you go along pursuing your interest. Or, use a binder with five dividers—one for each topic. Our sewing notebook contains the children’s measurements, numbers of patterns that worked well with notes of how they had to be adjusted, sale flyers, and pictures from ads of outfits to inspire future sewing projects. We also keep a large zip lock bag containing a square piece of fabric from each project that they sewed so that they will be able to piece a quilt from all their projects someday. I did this when I was a teenager and still enjoy that quilt and the memories of sewing projects, clothes I’ve made.  Over the years, our cooking notebook eventually developed into the Hopkins’ Healthy Home Cooking book that we sell! My son Nathan has collected so much information in his Spanish notebook that it is the size of a dictionary (well, almost!).

Besides these electives, I require my young children to do a math worksheet daily and practice their phonics flashcards or read to me from their readers. Julianna (12), practices typing or piano daily, as well as doing part of a math lesson. These skills have to be kept up. But these things can be easily done in 1/2 hour to an hour and then the fun can begin.

My teenage boys love juggling, Spanish, fixing engines, and computer animation. My girls enjoy cooking, making up dances and skits, sewing, gardening, and drawing. These are just a few of the things they are interested in learning more about and study with great motivation.

If you want to have an “elective “ summer, start a brainstorm list with your children. Then chose the five things they want to do the most, one for each day of the week. You can pick another five after a month if you want to. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Woodworking
Drawing
Electronics
Quilting
Cross-stitch
Canning
Gardening
Calligraphy
Raising rabbits or chickens
Photo albums
Herb study
First aid
Pottery/Ceramics
Knitting
Spanish (or any foreign language)
Playing a musical instrument
Cartooning
Drama
Sculpting
Scouting skills
Tropical fish
Story
writing
Wood
carving
Knot tying
Haircutting
Singing harmony parts
Baking

Have fun!

(Written when my children were younger.)

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