(Last Updated on June 12, 2023)
I’d like to start this post with an apology for any neck injuries you may have sustained by following this series of posts. It’s been like watching a tennis match!
Back and forth I’ve gone, trying to find the sweet spot for our summers. More academic? More relaxed? Over-scheduled? Lazy days? Seems like we’ve tried it all.
We’ve finally caught up to real time in this series – we’ll be heading into our 5th official homeschool summer in less than a month!
It’s been so helpful for me to review where we’ve been so we can decide where we’re going. I highly recommend all homeschoolers – all parents, really – take some time to review past school years and summer breaks. The lessons you’ll learn about what works and doesn’t work will be so helpful for future planning!
Ironically, based on what I’ve learned has worked for our family so far, our plan for this summer will look a lot like our very first summer! I guess we’ve come full circle!
Our best summers have been those with a framework of fun activities (vacations, camps, some goals for our days) and lots of planned spontaneity (intentional but somewhat optional activities).
Keeping that in mind, here’s what I’ve got planned for our upcoming summer:
Summer Reading Program
My kids love reading so we might as well get some free books while we’re at it, right? The Half-Price Books summer reading program is one of the easiest we’ve done as far as record-keeping goes. No specific book lists or complicated rules. Just add up the minutes. Easy peasy. (Check out this post for other reading incentive program ideas)
VBS & Summer Camps
We’ve consistently had great experiences with our local Vacation Bible School (VBS) and our park district’s camps. To keep from over-committing ourselves (or going broke), we’ve let each of our boys choose one week-long camp in addition to VBS. My soon-to-be second-grader has picked an art camp and my almost-fifth-grader is taking a campfire cooking class at a local nature center. This will give some structure to our summer and give the kids each some time apart for unique experiences.
My oldest had a great time in our homeschool band this school year and has decided to try their summer marching band. This will involve a one-week band camp and a handful of parades. He’s excited to try something new and his younger siblings are excited because parades = candy. So I think that will work out well.
[2021 Update: Marching Band has been one of the best summer activities we’ve gotten involved in so far! We’ve built new traditions around attending the parades our kids are marching in. If your kids have access to a community or homeschool marching band I’d highly recommend trying it!]
Required Daily Activities
Although we’re leaning towards the “all play” end of the continuum, there are still skills and habits I’d like to see happen every day. We’ll do daily Bible reading as a family and individually. My kids will also be continuing with piano practice (we’re still fans of the Bastien Piano series) and percussion practice for my oldest. And I’ve decided not to set a minimum daily reading time since they read all the time anyway – we’ll see how they do with the freedom to read as much or little as they want this summer.
The Usual Summer Stuff
By keeping a tight reign on the camps and commitments, we should have plenty of time to take part in our traditional summer fun stuff. I can already hear our pool passes calling to me from the pool bag! We’ve also got vacation plans in progress and free time to spend with family and friends at parks, kids’ museums, and nature centers. And our garden is already in full swing! (Thanks mostly to low-maintenance edible perennials that show up with out me doing a thing — oregano or mint anyone?)
So, that was the easy part – the “framework” and the fun stuff.
But I’ve still been trying to figure out a way to work in a little more intentional learning without making it seem like a “list of schoolwork.”
I’ve tried fun-looking to-do lists… too school-y.
I’ve tried having them pick daily copywork & STEM activities out of jars… sorta fun (they liked the element of surprise) but sometimes the activities were too much like work (mainly for me).
I’ve tried summer workbooks… okay, but not super fun.
I’ve tried directly suggesting they work on certain learning activities (as in “why don’t you practice those multiplication flashcards!”)… yeah, right.
If only there was a way to encourage my kids to do some hand-picked learning activities without A) having to do much prep work and B) having them recognize it as mom-suggested “school stuff.”
Well, maybe… just maybe…. there is!
If you haven’t heard of strewing, it’s basically just purposely leaving certain things (books, activities, etc) in your kids’ path where they’ll find them. Unschoolers tend to use it and it works well with child-led methods. I’ve read about it in the past and I’ve left things out from time to time, but I’ve never really made a serious effort to try it. Check out this post for a quick explanation and some examples of strewing in action.
I’m hoping this might be a good way for me to get educational-ish activities in front of them without pushing or nagging. I’m building a list of fun and educational things I’ll be strewing around the house for them to find and explore. So far I’ve got:
- Books – Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, the Sir Cumference series, Life of Fred math series, and more
- Science Kits – like an Electronics Lab, Geode Kit, and Chemistry Set
- Documentaries – mostly onYouTube, Pureflix & Netflix
- Games & Puzzles – Settlers of Catan, Risk, Thomas Kinkade puzzles, In a Pickle, and others on our shelves that we haven’t played in a while
- Geography Resources – Great States board game, Highlights Which Way USA magazines, and continent puzzles
- Crafts – YouTube art tutorials, art supplies, and craft project idea books
The best part is, this doesn’t have to cost a lot! A couple of items in my summer strewing stash are new. But most of them are things we already own (but haven’t used in a long time) or super-inexpensive finds from recent local homeschool sales and garage sales.
And so we don’t just get caught up in a “gimme-more-material-stuff” habit, I plan to mix in natural and non-store-bought things. A bowl of pinecones, a new recipe to try, or some pieces of scrap wood will hopefully help spark their creativity.
This past week, I did a test-run of the process (that is, I forgot to put a book away and they found it). The book was called Top Secret – full of secret codes and ideas for wanna-be spies.
It worked so well!!
They spent days – DAYS – playing detective, writing out coded messages, and creating their own detective kits with hidden compartments. And they’re showing no sign of stopping. Brilliant!
So, with that huge, accidental success under my belt, I’m optimistic for summer. My plan is that on days we’re already busy, I’ll skip it or just leave out a new book for quiet time reading. But when those whiny summer “Mom, I’m bored!!” days roll in, I’ll be prepared with worthwhile activities they can explore for hours (a mom can hope, right?).
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