“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy:” that line from George Gershwin’s opera “Porky and Bess” might serve as the motto for many schoolchildren. No homework for a couple of months, no tests and grades, no racing around in the morning throwing books into a backpack and looking for that lost assignment: the summers of my childhood meant freedom from everything except household chores, and I hope any youngsters reading my words are enjoying similar liberties.
Parents, however, might consider a different approach to summer and schooling.
The last 15 months threw an enormous wrench into our educational system. The pandemic closed down most of our schools, forcing children to attend classes via distance learning. A large number of students fell behind in their studies, missed their classroom buddies, and saw their extracurricular activities come to a screeching halt. Though less affected academically, even homeschoolers found their co-ops, soccer practices, and dance classes canceled.
This disaster had this bright spot. With their children learning at home, many parents had a firsthand look at what the kids were studying. They could see better than ever how their math, science, social studies, and other classes functioned, and which subjects left their young people struggling.
As a result, parents and guardians now have the opportunity to use this summer as a time of planning to help their children in their learning.
What if in October the Wuhan flu or some variant raises its ugly head, and some governors decide once more to close the schools?
Now is the time to plan for that eventuality, to figure out what succeeded and what failed in home learning this past year. Let’s say you stick with public school classes, but the state sends students home to learn from their computers. What can you add to that curriculum to enhance their learning? Suppose, for instance, you determined last year that your children’s grammar and composition classes were weak. Unless you have reason to believe that this instruction will improve, you should begin this summer to explore resources both online and in your local library that will improve their writing abilities.
When the schools closed and extracurricular activities were canceled, many young people suffered from loneliness and depression. With a potential repeat of that awful situation in the fall, now is the time to contact the parents of your children’s friends and discuss play dates and get-togethers, and to plan activities outside the supervision of the state.
Plans and Prep
No educational system is perfect. But whether our students are learning in a reputable public high school, a prestigious private school, or at home, parents need to ask themselves: How can we best further their education?
Here’s the good news: We live in an age unimagined by our recent ancestors, a time when a wealth of resources is quite literally at our fingertips. Not so long ago, most Americans had no access to a public library. In my own childhood, I never imagined a day when with a few clicks on a keyboard would bring up a score of editorials, the day’s weather, the balance in my bank account, an email from France, and an abundance of sites aimed at helping children learn everything from reading to physics.
Summer is the perfect time to investigate and gather this information for use in the coming academic year. Like teachers, parents can use these months to plan out what they want their children to learn when school rolls around again.
Suppose you are a homeschool parent and wondering whether your ninth-grader is reading books equivalent to his contemporaries in brick-and-mortar schools. Google “9th grade reading lists,” and you’ll find dozens of titles listed that are typically read that year in schools around the nation.
Or maybe your child is in ninth-grade math in a public school, and you’re wondering whether she is keeping up with other students. Google “9th Grade Math Lessons,” and again you’ll find sites that will both explain what students at that level should know and tips to help them achieve their potential.
By planning now rather than in September, we avoid stress for ourselves and anxiety for the students in our care.
Focus on the Basics
In “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home,” mother-and-daughter team Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer write “In the classical curriculum, reading, writing, grammar, and math are the center of the curriculum.” These subjects should be the center of any elementary and secondary academic program.
As you consider your child’s education, keep in mind that these subjects are the core of any curriculum. Anyone who can read with discernment and comprehension, who can write clear, grammatically correct prose, and who has a grasp of basic and advanced mathematics can undertake and conquer all other subjects.
This three-legged stool of knowledge—reading, writing, and math—is key to your child’s education.
A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body
If your child attends a brick-and-mortar school, public or private, this summer is the best time to contact the school’s administrators with some questions about their policies for the coming year.
Will the school require its students to wear masks? There is growing evidence that masks on children can damage their health, causing them to breathe carbon dioxide at dangerous levels and serving as incubators for a variety of diseases.
In addition, masks are inhibitors of social development, psychological barriers to friendship and intimacy. Think back on your trips to the grocery store last winter, when as one of my granddaughters remarked, “Masks make everyone look grumpy.” What must masked six-year-olds be experiencing?
Now is also the time to learn what your child will be taught, if anything, in addition to traditional academic subjects. Does the school intend to feature courses based on critical race theory? Will your third-grader be taught sex and gender studies? If so, what action might you take? Will you protest or acquiesce, or withdraw your child from the school?
To learn of one mother’s battle against such ideas, read Paulina Enck’s online article “Loudoun Mom Explains How She Discovered School-Sanctioned Racism During Lockdowns.”
Forewarned Is Forearmed
Learning about these policies now brings you far more freedom of choice than having to deal with them once classes have started. Setting academic goals for your children and planning how they may achieve those goals is easier now than in the fall or winter.
Numerous studies have shown that the closure of schools and distance learning slowed both the academic and social development of many of our young people. Those in elementary school in particular have suffered, falling behind in math and reading.
This summer gives parents some breathing space to consider their alternatives, to focus on the basics, to take positive steps to ensure a better year for their students, and to see that they get the education they deserve.
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 non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.