As an educator I have long been a proponent for summer vacation, incredulously fighting seemingly all camps that lobby for longer school years or maybe no summer vacation at all. My position is as simple and logical as anything Star Trek’s Mr. Spock would surmise – kids burnout and teachers do too. For the mental and physical well being of both parties, summer vacation should be required and never seen as optional; however, there is a mystical bridge connecting a child from his/her previous grade to the next one, and we parents must be prepared to help them in crossing it.
There is no question that it reaches a point in the school year where a teacher and his/her charges need to part ways. Those who are not doing well and need to attend “summer school” do so sometimes in different buildings with different teachers (imagine a kid having to go through a summer class with the teacher who failed him/her in that subject). There is another reason for that too – sometimes a fresh face will inspire a child; sometimes another professional will see a strength that his/her colleague did not.
Despite the summer school issues, all of this leads to rule number one of education (that no one seems to want to face these days): kids need time off from school. Rule number two is that no commissioner of education, superintendent, or other administrative type is going to change rule number one. That said, there is definitely a place for academics during summer vacation. With two children of my own, I have been stressing this fact again and again to them all summer. My standard line is “We may be away but the things you need to know don’t go away.” This is why we bring books with us, make time during the hectic days of pool, beach, and sightseeing, to sit down and practice what they know and make steps towards things they will need to know.
Every year one of the staples of our summer is the Summer Bridge Activities series of books that are meant to “bridge” the gap between grades. Their clever catchphrase is “School Stops for Summer – Learning Never Should!” We have been using these books for years, and now they are also aligned with Common Core State Standards, so if you are looking for a quick fix for keeping your children on task during the summer months, you can easily pick up these books and know that you will have a solid tool with which to work.
There are other ways to do summer tune-ups with your children. One of the most effective ways I have used is to “play school” with them. There are a variety of ways to do this. When my daughter was little, we used to line her stuffed toys up in the room as if it were a classroom. We positioned the blackboard in front of the room, tacked up a calendar, maps, posters, and the alphabet, and ostensibly turned the playroom into a classroom. Every morning of the summer we would have a routine: changing the day of the week, noting the weather, checking off the calendar date, and so on. My daughter would be “teacher” and go through the motions of sitting and reading a book to her class. You would be surprised how many books were read and how much work we covered by the end of the summer.
Now my older child plays school with her little brother. Basically she has altered the old game to include a “live” student; however, he is much less cooperative than the old stuffed toys were. Still, we are including all the things he needs to get ready for Kindergarten, and the summer bridge is definitely being prepared to be crossed at the start of the new school year.
I have also found it productive to set up a schedule for the day. The most effective way to do this is in writing (either on that blackboard, or a whiteboard, or even a big post-it note that is displayed in a prominent location). Whether they admit it or not, kids like having structure and a schedule. They are accustomed to this from school days, and it can be fit right into your summer plans fairly and effectively each day. I usually put up two columns, with aligned schedules under each child’s name. Steps are listed as well as times for activities. An example of today’s schedule for my daughter is as follows:
• Get up at 8 A.M. (much better than 6:30 on school days)
• Have breakfast
• Play School with brother – 60 minutes
• Break (10 minutes)
• Practice piano (30 minutes)
• Pool and beach
• Summer Bridge workbook (60 minutes)
• Break (10 minutes)
• Read book (school required reading list) (60 minutes)
• Free Time (iPod, TV, play w/brother)
• Dinner time
• Evening free to go out to town for ice cream, sit on porch, watch stars, do nothing
This is a fairly standard summer weekday schedule for her (though it may seem rather rambitious to some people). It incorporates being away, utilizing pool and beach as we should, and recognizing that there are other things that we need to accomplish. The day can change depending on the weather (rainy days tend to include more indoor downtime), if someone is visiting from home, or if either child has a play date. It also changes if we are taking a road trip for the day to other places, etc. Weekends are reserved for longer beach days, more outdoor play, and allowing the kids to just be kids.
The beauty of this scheduling is that it is not carved in stone. It recognizes the fact that my children are on vacation, but reminds them that they have to have priorities and that school is always important, even when they are off for the summer.
Summer vacation is necessary for kids to be kids. They need to recharge their batteries, to see new faces, and to have a break from the school year routine. The wisdom of summer vacation is that it lasts just long enough for kids to have had enough freedom that they are ready to go back to the rigors of the school year schedule. The same holds true for teachers – they need that downtime to travel, to refresh their desire to teach, to maybe take a course or two, and also be ready to walk into school on that first day and face the increasingly intimidating commitment of being constantly prepared for the whole school year ahead.
As we turned the page to August this morning, collective grunts and groans were evident. My children’s solemn faces (I told them wait until we turn the page to September and they screamed) reminded me of my own youth. I recall the calendar in my mother’s kitchen. As long as I saw “July” on the top of the page, I skipped happily through my day. When she would turn the page to August, I used to “freak out” as Mom would put it. I knew my days were numbered, but looking back now it was as it should be because all good things must come to an end – even summer.
So now with one month left it is not too late to get your kids up to speed for back to school. Even without specific books, you can use last year’s school books and notebooks to review math, English, social studies, and science. You can have “art” class and “music” class in a variety of ways, and you can use online resources to find science projects, field trip ideas, and reading selections appropriate for your child’s grade level.
I know parents have lots on their plate all year round, and we educators have it quite a bit easier if we are home with our kids too all summer. If you are working you can still set things in place with baby sitters or relatives to keep the academic wheels turning. Even if your kids “play school” one or two days a week, you will be getting them ready to cross that scholastic bridge when they come to it.
Photo credits: bridge-wikimedia-org; books-carson-dellrosa publishing; beach-visitmaine.net