Summer and the Homeschool Mom
By Kari Lewis
June, July and August. Summer. In many homeschooling homes those months mean “summer vacation” from the regular schedule and rhythm of homeschooling. For others, who school all year, those months mean life and school continue pretty much the same as they have the rest of the calendar year. There are probably as many different methods, perspectives, and schedules in the homeschooling community as there are homeschoolers themselves! Though many families begin this life called homeschooling in much the same manner, it seems that it doesn’t take long for each family to settle into a method and schedule that is, in many ways, uniquely their own - a rhythm that works for their own family. Whatever works best for your family, whether you school year round, or take the summer months off, I think it is important to take some time, on a regular basis, to prayerfully reflect. Since many families take the summer off, or at least relax their schooling schedule a bit, this would be a great time to do some thinking. So, grab a cool, refreshing drink, get comfortable under a shade tree, and let’s spend some time brainstorming together!
Think back a bit: how did the last several months of schooling go? Were there areas of your life or school (where does one stop and the other begin?!) that went well? Wait a minute, stop thinking like a homeschooling mom - stop being so hard on yourself! If you are like the vast majority of moms I talk to, myself included (and all homeschooling moms talk to themselves!), you struggle with feelings of inadequacy on a rather regular basis! You worry about learning gaps, sibling rivalry, and dirty dishes. You wonder if you will ever get “caught up” with all you have to do, if your children will “turn out” okay and if they’ll be able to function properly in society. If I just described you, pause a moment and pray. Take time, right now, to focus on the Lord and ask Him to open your eyes to the positive things in your life. As you think of the different things, both big and little, that went well, or were fun or memorable, thank the Lord for them! It’s also helpful to try to analyze a bit about how or why the positive things happened. Had you been praying more specifically and regularly? Were you and the children getting all the rest you needed? Had foundational work already been done that allowed success in some area? If we consider what brought about the positive events in our lives, it sometimes enables us to implement what we have learned to achieve success in our current areas of struggle. Ask the Lord to show you how to use what you have just learned to build more and more positive, spiritual, fun, memorable learning experiences into your family and your homeschooling experience. Ask for wisdom and direction as you ponder the curriculum, and activity choices, for the upcoming months. Try to think realistically! Do you really, truly, think that you will be able to complete ten 32 week unit studies between the months of September and May, plus gather in and can all the produce your family will eat through the winter, plus remodel the house, take care of your aging mother, deliver and care for a newborn baby AND take the lead in beginning a homeschool co-op? By the way, if any of you answered “yes” to that question, give us a call! I'm sure we could use your talents around here!! No, wait. On second thought, take your temperature and go straight to bed!
Along with analyzing the good areas, and implementing plans that will hopefully continue to bring joy and success into our lives, we also need to look at how we can minimize stress and frustration. It is vitally important to consider the less than glowing moments and events in our lives. Think back over the last several weeks or months. Are there areas or situations in your life that are frustrating to you? Actually try to formulate in your mind exactly what things have been bothering you. Are they big or little, true or exaggerated? Are there areas that feel like large frustrations, that when viewed in the light of reason, diminish in size? Realistically, is there something you can do about any of the frustrations to minimize them, or do you just need to learn to rely on the grace of the Lord and simply deal with them? Would a change in your schedule, curriculum type, or in your expectations, help? Sometimes I feel vast frustration, but when I honestly think about the situation, I realize that something is blowing it all out of proportion and I find I have seen the wrong thing as the problem. This is why reflection is so important. When we have thought through problem areas, we can take practical steps to find a remedy. Look at your situation. According to your personality and the needs of you and your family, prioritize the problem areas. Pick a couple of the most important frustrating areas to work on. For some, that would mean tackling the biggest problem first. For others it would mean taking care of a few smaller areas, which would free-up minds and emotions enabling them to deal more effectively with the larger areas of frustration. Ask the Lord to show you things you can do to minimize and deal with the frustrating areas of life. Thankfully, the Lord is gracious and merciful! He truly loves us and is eager to help when we turn to Him. He loves our children and has a plan for each of their lives. He has called us to homeschool and HE will provide all we need to accomplish all He has called us to do!
Well, we’ve talked a bit about some important things we mom’s and dad’s can do during the summer months, but what about the kids? It seems that if children (or adults for that matter) have too much free time on their hands, much of that time gets wasted. Not only that, but having too much spare time seems to make many children cranky, and bored besides! We found that if we kept our sons on a fairly normal schedule during the summer, it was easier to slip back into the “school” routine in the fall. We tried to maintain a pretty regular schedule in the areas of bedtime, time to get up, devotional time, meals, work, and free-time. Of course, allowing some flexibility in the schedule enables us to take advantage of the special times summer vacation affords! Children will have less of a tendency to resent school if their summers are not quite as much of a “free-for-all”. We moms will have an easier time adjusting to the school schedule in the fall as well, if we have maintained some degree of a normal schedule throughout the summer months. Think about it. If summer vacation means staying up late, sleeping in till all hours, being catered to and entertained, along with hours and hours of meaningless fun, “school” will be very hard to adjust to in the fall! Once the school years are over, and our children are working and raising families of their own, it is improbable that they will get three months totally “off” each year! May as well get ready for real life now!
Have you ever started a new school year, only to find that your children are acting, well . . . shall we say, “less than competent” with their lessons? It can really be frustrating to start back to school in the fall, only to find that our children have lost some of the academic ground we worked so hard to attain during the previous year. Very soon after we began homeschooling, we determined that our children would at least maintain, if not add to, what they had learned during the previous school year. Our main “maintenance” subjects were reading, writing and arithmetic. We found that our sons were able to keep their skills sharp with short, daily doses of review. Sometimes this was accomplished by setting aside a specific amount of time, or time of day, when we worked with flashcards or worksheets. I liked this method as it gave me a quick, concrete picture of how they were doing. I also looked for ways throughout the day to utilize their skills and keep them sharp, but tried to do it in such a way that our children didn’t realize that it was “school”! This is really fairly easy to do. Have your children write the grocery list, read a recipe, tell you what time it is, read a letter from grandma, count change from the grocery store, take notes during the sermon at church, or write in a journal about their day. Sometimes our review was in the form of educational games or musical tapes of math, grammar or geography facts. Oftentimes “playing” school in a special sheet tent in the yard, or at the picnic table can make the review times more fun and interesting for children who are aching to be off having fun.
If your children are less than happy about doing school work during summer vacation, let them know that a little bit of review each day will make the beginning of the next school year much easier for them. If that doesn’t convince your children . . . join the crowd! Most children, and adults for that matter, have a tendency to want to put off preparation for the future while simply enjoying the present. If all else fails, just remember, you are the parent! If you have decided something needs to be done, have the courage, even during summer vacation, to make sure that it gets done!
Summertime can also be a great time to do some of the messier learning projects or experiments that you didn’t have time for during the school year, or didn’t want to do in the house! Papier-mâché, painting, clay, woodworking projects, and a variety of science experiments, are great activities to take outside! The neighborhood kids may find it very interesting and fun as well. When we lived in a neighborhood full of children, (though it did make it a bit more difficult for me), we were glad to be able to offer a “fun” activity that kept all the kids happily occupied, all within our line of sight and hearing!
Summer vacation is also a great time to fit in unit studies whether you are a veteran or novice at it. Nature studies are especially suited to the summer months. Try to make the study fun and interesting! You’ll all learn some really exciting things about our Creator and His world, your kids will stay interested in learning, and will be keeping the skills they have already learned, sharp.
The possibilities to enrich your children’s education, while maintaining their skills and interest, are endless! Start a family project and involve the kids. Plan a garden, then plant and take care of it together. Try new recipes using your homegrown fresh produce! Research different animals to determine what kind (or IF!!) your family wants a new pet. Watch some travel videos and plan a real, or pretend, vacation. Have your children determine the route to take, how long the trip would take, how much gas would be needed, how much money the trip would cost, and points of interest along the way. If you take a vacation, visit some historic sites and be sure to take nature hikes! While on your hikes pay particular attention to the types of trees, plants and insects you see. Are they pretty much like what you have at home, or are they different? How and why are they different? Be sure to have your children write about what they saw and what they did in a journal! If a vacation doesn’t fit your budget or your schedule this summer, maybe you can fit in some field trips near your home. The idea is to keep your kids busy doing constructive things that will help grow a love of learning, keep their skills current, teach new things, and allow you to have fun as a family!
Well, I hope you have enjoyed our visit as much as I did! I pray that the Lord will bless you and your family with grace, patience and most of all, His direction for your particular family!
Take care and God bless,
Kari Lewis is one of the founders of Home School Enrichment, Inc. She and her husband, Frank, homeschooled their two sons from first and third grade through high school graduation.