Summer School for Mom and Dad: Helping Our Fledglings Take Flight

Kids don't have to stop learning just because it's summer vacation

Summer School for Mom and Dad: Helping Our Fledglings Take Flight
By taking 15 minutes to go over your student's schoolwork every day, you can keep an eye on his or her progress. (fizkes/Shutterstock)
Jeff Minick

Few words in the English language are sweeter to most young folks, particularly pre-teens, than summertime.

No more being roused at dawn to catch a bus. No more racing around the house looking for that missing shoe or English essay. No more days scheduled by bells and classes. No more worrying about tests or homework assignments. To a whole army of the young, summertime is spelled F-R-E-E-D-O-M.

Of course, some of them don’t entirely give up academics while on this vacation. Some high school students dual-enroll in their local community colleges, taking a course or two to add to their high school transcript or to earn credit for college. Others of all ages take enrichment courses, available from all sorts of places and in everything from math camps to online biology courses.

Many homeschoolers prove the exception to this no-school rule. They may take a brief summer break, but continue to hit the books for the rest of the season. Home educators find it helps if they keep their students on a schedule, and the students themselves generally don’t mind, as these summer school days tend to be shorter than during the regular academic year.

But while the backpacks, lunch boxes, and books are mostly stowed away, summer does bring opportunities for all parents to boost their children’s education.

PSAT: Plans and Schools

That acronym may bring to mind the college board tests, but here it stands for Parents’ Summertime Assessments and Tactics.

Teachers worth their salt, including homeschooling parents, use the more relaxed pace of summer to make plans for the next academic year. Having done this myself for over 30 years, I’m here to tell you that it’s work, but also a pleasure. Digging into the material to be taught, dreaming up ways to liven up the class, and writing out lesson plans—whether it’s for 20 6th-graders or a homeschooled daughter—for teachers, these activities are a playground for creativity and imagination. Just as importantly, when school recommences, they’re way ahead of the game.

Likewise, all parents can use summer as a time to assess their children’s school situation. If you’ve moved to a new city, for instance, or if you’ve decided to place your child in a different school, now’s the time to find out how closely the old school and the new fit together. Major differences between the two can leave your child either bored by subjects already mastered or feeling frantically left behind.

Now is also a good time to take a closer look at what your child is supposed to be learning. Search online for “guidelines for school curriculum,” add the name of your state, and a list of learning objectives for different grades should pop up. In addition, you can search for evaluations on a particular school., for example, rated the two public high schools in my county. You can also search out a school online by typing its name along with “ratings and reviews,” and you’ll likely find plenty of comments and official outside reviews.
Suggestion: The quality of a school is important, but bear in mind that you are the primary educator of your children. They’ll learn spelling and cursive in elementary school, but they’ll learn about life by observing you.

Learners and Learning

Parents might also take some time in the summer to assess their students. A 5th grader may still be struggling with multiplication tables. A 4th grader may read more slowly than her classmates, like one child I know who needed to revisit lessons in phonics. Summer offers a chance to set aside a few minutes every day and coach a daughter or son in subjects they find difficult.

The more leisurely days of summer also provide an excellent opportunity to reevaluate what sort of general education best fits our children. A Montessori approach? Classical learning? Unschooling? A traditional reading, writing, and math program of studies? Now’s the time to research these topics. Look for “books about classical learning” online, for example, and you’ll discover more than a dozen excellent guides on that topic. Talk to a mother you know whose son attends a Montessori school, and get her take on the program. Ask parents whose children are enrolled in public schools or private academies what they think of them, and then evaluate whether those places meet the needs of your child.

Suggestion: If your students attend school outside the home, tell them that when classes crank up in the fall, you’ll be spending 15 minutes daily Monday through Thursday going over their schoolwork with them. These sessions will allow you to keep an eye on their progress, with the added benefit of drawing you closer together. By making this clear to them well before classes begin, and repeating it occasionally, they’ll have grown accustomed to the idea when schools reopen their doors.

Making Magic

In her book on homeschooling “The Call of the Wild and Free,” Ainsley Arment writes: “A magical childhood isn’t about having the best toys, gadgets, and vacations. It’s actually the opposite. It’s about simplicity. A magical childhood is about freedom. Freedom to explore, discover, and play.”

For children, summer is the most magical season of all, and you as the parent have the power to deepen that magic of discovery and play. It’s time for the kids to have some fun.

Trips to the library, visits to local attractions, a once-a-week family movie night watching old Hollywood films about American history, learning to cook with Mom and Dad, sewing with a neighbor, constructing bookshelves with an uncle, gardening, building a fort with friends in the woods—the list goes on and on. Expose your children to such activities, give them time for lots of free play, and they’re learning without even being aware of it.

Suggestion: Inviting their friends to join your children on some of these adventures is always a plus. If you’re baking chocolate chip cookies, ask some of your children’s friends to join you in the kitchen. Pop some corn, prepare some cool drinks, and throw a book party. Ask everyone to arrive with a favorite book in hand, ready to tell why they love it.

In addition, two or three evenings a week, you could form a family reading circle, where everyone gathers together for half an hour or so in the den or on the deck and read silently from books they’ve chosen. Try this one. You may be surprised by the sense of comfort and calm it brings to the home.

On Eagle’s Wings

One of the most beautiful musical tributes to this season is George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” This lullaby tells of a mother and father, and the hope they have for their baby:
One of these mornings You're going to rise up singing Then you’ll spread your wings And you’ll take to the sky
These few words express precisely the wish of all good parents. It’s why we do what we do, why we expend so much of ourselves on our children and their education. We want to hear them singing and watch them as they spread their wings.

We want to help them take to the sky.

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.