Summertime Schooling:

To Do or Not to Do?


By Marianna Bartold

Founder of The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Magazine

and original Home School Editor, Sursum Corda

On this page: Summer Schedules , What's a Little of Both?,

Reading - For Fun?,

Pursuing Family Interests

This article from the spring 1995 issue of

The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine

Copyright 1994. All Rights Reserved

Every year about this time, a phenomenon, applicable only to homeschoolers, sweeps the continents. We ask ourselves, "Should we school through the summer?"


What is "summertime schooling" anyway? Do we use this precious time to further our educational goals for our children? Do we use it to pursue interests that we don't have time for the other months of the year? Should we continue with our regular schedule....or use the time just to brush up on basics while enjoying the good things that summer brings?


These are questions almost every homeschooling family will ask themselves each spring. The choice, ultimately, is up to each family. There's no right or wrong way to go about our academic pursuits. Each family must assess the past year, taking into account where each child stands....and even where the primary educator, whether it be mother of father or both, stands. Children need to be motivated, of course, but so do mom and dad.

 Summer Schedules

Perhaps, for a family we'll call Family A, it is time for a break from the regular home schooling schedule. Their children have finished all the work for the year, and the books will take a nap till fall. This family may wish to go to work in the garden, pull the house apart for another thorough cleaning, pursue hobbies, have the freedom to "get up and go," paint the house - or just soak up some sunshine! Mr. & Mrs. A. may have welcomed a new baby to the family - so they want time to enjoy the little addition. They've decided they are taking a summer vacation away from official educational pursuits.


Next, we have Family B, who have come to the conclusion they are going to school year 'round. This family may school 3 weeks, take a week's break, school another 3 weeks, take another break - and this is the schedule they follow throughout the 12 months of the year. Perhaps Mr. & Mrs. B have decided they will teach 4 days a week, taking breaks as the "conventional" school does during the various holidays. Family B may be new to homeschooling, or they're a very large family so the parent must teach practically every grade level and simply needs more time! Then again this family might simply enjoy teaching and learning, or they have a relaxed approach to schooling. Whatever the reason, this year-round schedule works for them.


Then there's Family C, who does a little bit of both.


What's "A Little of Both"?


In our family, we try as hard as we can every year to finish the "academic" training by the end of June. Some years that has actually worked out. But usually, things that have happened over the winter that slowed down our schedule and made it a necessity to continue teaching and learning throughout the summer.


What kind of things are we talking about? It can be anything from having a bad year of colds and flu during the something happier, like having a new addition to the family! It can be children who have done exceptionally well in certain subjects, but need more time for others.


The fact of the matter is....each family is different. Schedules are different because of dad's job, the mom's time clock (she may being a morning lark....or a midnight owl), how many children there are in the family, the children's strengths, weaknesses, abilities and ages.


Although I like some sort of schedule to work with, I am constantly fighting my "organizational" tendencies because, unlike the beads of a well-beloved rosary, days just don't always flow smoothly, one after the other. It is not always "same stuff, different day" (unless, of course, we're talking about the winter months when that does seem to be the case!)


No, summertime, for most of us, is a beckoning time to go on to new and exciting things, a call to get more accomplished while there's time. Like God's world around us, we're "waking up" with the luscious greenery that's bursting forth from the trees, the colors emerging from the new flowers, the summer winds that tickle our noses with the scents of green grass and fresh air - enough to entice even the stay-at-homes to peek out of the house!


But duty calls - there's still work to be done with our children's souls and minds, not to mention the work to get done in and out of the house. So what does one do?


For us, we juggle the learning times from mornings in the early spring back to afternoon when the "dog days of summer" hit (and when we are very grateful for the air conditioner!). We keep up with the basics like religion, reading, and math. These "classes" don't have to be formal instruction in the true sense of the word. For families who can't do so during other times of the year, daily Mass might be an attainable goal during the summer months. What better "religion" class than that?


Reading - For Fun?


Reading can be less formal, too. Trips to the library, which may be difficult at other times, can now be an easy family junket when there are no boots, hats, mittens and coats to deal with, much less snow and ice! Having children pick out books they'll enjoy - just for fun - and letting them read during a certain time set aside just for that purpose, and then discussing those books at dinner or during an evening walk or car ride are just a few great ways to make reading more attractive to children. No book reports - no timelines, no "work" - just reading for the joy of it.


Some people feel they have to read aloud every single book to their children. When they can't do this because of other duties, the reading gets neglected - and mom and dad get the guilties. My opinion is if the older children can pick out a book, they can read it to themselves. The younger ones, of course, can be read to on occasion, even if just to teach them the love of reading. If a family is lucky enough to have younger ones who actually take a nap at a regular time, mom and kids can silently read their own favorite books - all at the same time, too!


I can honestly say that, in my own family, my parents did not read aloud to us regularly. Yet my beloved father and maternal grandmother (may God rest their souls) always read the newspapers, and my loving mother always had great books and magazines in the house that I couldn't wait to get my hands on. Before I entered kindergarten, I wanted to read and would often pick up a newspaper, pretending to read the columns to my mother. In the summer preceding 5th grade, I clearly remember picking up and reading my mother's copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. As a child, my next sister was the outdoors type and would rather play outside that read. As an adult, however, the family love of reading caught up with her, and today she likes adventure and science fiction books. By the time our youngest sister arrived, we had quite a collection of reading materials. The baby of the family beat my childhood record of picking up a newspaper and "reading" it before the age of two. Were we child prodigies? Of course not! It was a simple case of "Nothing teaches better than example."


Math review can be anything from a simple game of flashcards, to playing a software game on the computer, to a 5 minute drill per day to keep up the basic skills. (And there's nothing like teaching children the value of money - especially when the ice cream man comes by every day!) Just think of it - 5 or 10 minutes a day on math drills through the summer can save 4 to 6 weeks of review come fall!


Pursuing Family Interests


Then, of course, all the things that you wanted to accomplish but couldn't quite finish (or perhaps even get to!) can be pursued during the summer. This can be directed by the family interests or at least the main topic of interest. If, as in our family, Dad has an interest in the Civil War while Mom likes things Victorian, one son likes electronics and woodworking, another likes anything that moves fast, a daughter who likes anything mom does, and an active four year old who just wants to be with his family - what can we do that is interesting, fun, and educational to everyone?


First, we can look for places of interest right where we live. Each state, each city, each township or province, has its own history. While Dad may want to find out what Civil War stories he can dig up about the area we live in Mom and daughter are interested in the houses, families, and fashions of that time, the eldest son can look at how things were built, how they worked without electricity, and compare them to things we have today. The next son, who likes to watch anything that moves, can keep an eye out for inventions and the moving scenery. The youngest - well, everyone just has to be prepared to answer his ever-lasting "Why, Dad? Why, Mom?"


Keeping an Eye Out for an Educational Situation


If the kids are begging to stay up late, and Mom and Dad want to sit on the porch just enjoying each other and the stillness of the night, maybe it's time for an impromptu family astronomy lesson. Simply picking out the Big and Little Dippers can get kids interested in the stars of heaven - sometimes much more than if we had planned an entire unit on the subject! From there we can later pick up reading materials, (if we don't have some on hand already!) and perhaps acquire an inexpensive pair of binoculars to get a closer look at the moon and other heavenly objects. We might want to discuss how the moon's light is reflected light from the sun, and from there.....


We can then point to Jesus, who is the Light of the World. We can explain how the sun is another of His creations. We can point out how wonderful it is that God gave us the sun to provide light, food, warmth, and even to help, with the planets, keep the earth in orbit. Later, we can point out pictures of Our Lady, who is often depicted standing on a sliver of moon, or with twelve stars around her. What do these images represent and why are they associated with the Virgin Mary? (See The Apocalypse, Ch. 12:1 - "And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.") We can remind our children about the children of Fatima, who called the sun "Our Lord's Lamp" and the moon "Our Lady's Lamp."


When we look at the planets and constellations and research the stories behind their names, we can easily go into a miniature history or cultural lesson. We can also explain the difference between astronomy and astrology....and how one is an allowable study of the heavens - and one is not.


All this can occur from the normal event of children pleading to stay up late! An opportunity taken for a little family togetherness can lead to so much. Isn't using such an opportunity also the truest sense of the word?


As for languages, this could be the time to get out those books and tapes that we didn't have time to really sink into the year before. The Latin language (or any language, for that matter) may be something we want to teach our children, but haven't had the chance to do. Simply playing language tapes regularly, especially music sung in the chosen language for study, is bound to sink into those darling little (or not-so-little) heads. Arouse their natural curiosity. Even if the children don't understand one single word of the new language yet, and declare they have no interest in learning it ever, they'll pick up something from the songs. Before you know it, they'll want to know what a particular song in this foreign language means - especially if it has a catchy beat. Pull out the foreign language/English dictionary to introduce a word here and there....and, by fall, you've got them hooked for further intense study. Summertime is the perfect time for easing into it.


Sign language is another option. The basics of sign language are easy to learn by starting with the alphabet. Children love to think they know a special code....and indeed, they will, when they learn something about sign language. A trip to the library can glean information about the origins of the language, the life stories of Helen Keller, or Louis Braille and his alphabet for the blind. Yes, the children will have fun. More importantly, they will be learning about the indefatigable human spirit and the challenges others have faced and surmounted.


So, how do you feel about "summertime schooling" now? To do or not to do? It's up to you!


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