Planning for Summer – By Willa Ryan

Some home-schoolers like to preserve their summers as a time to relax, visit friends, go to the pool or beach, and prepare lesson plans for next year. Other home-schoolers school year around. There is a third category: doing a combination of both the above. Summer gives my family lots more time for leisure activities, but we also choose some more or less academic areas to focus on through the summer months. This seems to help relieve the summer “bored days” and also has the effect of either reinforcing what we did last year, preparing for the year to come, or focusing on some areas that tend to get dropped during the regular school year. It doesn’t have to take much time in the day.

Some examples may be helpful:

One summer I had a child going into first grade and a bright kindergartener who really wanted to read. I was expecting a baby in January and so would be short of time the coming year. So I spent the summer teaching them basic decoding and phonics skills. It only took about 45 minutes a day and by fall I had two children already entering into literacy, which saved us a lot of stress that busy year.

Another summer I focused on memory work and had the kids work on their basic prayers and catechism. We devised an incentive program where when they mastered a certain amount of material, they could have a trip to the local market to choose a small treat. That same summer I devoted time to finding and acquiring good books for a son who was interested in US History. He read a lot, learned a lot and appreciated the fact that I was working to support his interest.

Other summers we have pursued science labs or kept nature journals, or spent time on arts and crafts that took too much time and energy during the school year. Last summer I helped my daughter learn to sew, and one of my sons learned with a little help to saw, sand, and paint wood to make swords and other medieval weapons. We also continued some math last summer at a reduced pace of 2-3 days a week, to catch up for many sick days the year before. This worked so well that by fall, my children had already started well into their math books for this year and so even with the inevitable interruptions will finish at or before schedule this year.

In general, sometime during spring, I start thinking of possible ideas for our summer projects. These usually fit into one of four categories:

  1. Reinforcing this year’s work – perhaps working on multiplication and division drills for a child who knows his facts, but not yet fluently, or a scheduled free-writing time for a child who has trouble putting his thoughts on paper.
  2. Preparing for the year to come—starting a core textbook ahead of schedule in order to have extra time for review and interruptions during the school year, or a handwriting readiness program for a child just coming to school age.
  3. Focusing on areas that seem to get pushed aside during the regular year – perhaps map skills, or art, or lab work. Also, areas that are important but aren’t directly part of the academic curriculum – like training chores, or working on character issues.
  4. Helping with things that the kids want to pursue – a craft, or a subject, where they will provide most of the motivation and I only have to provide resources and guidance. This category often has wide-ranging results. The interests developed this way can bear much fruit – my daughter is becoming an accomplished sewer, and my son with the interest in US History is now the family expert. Helping the kids accomplish what they want to is also a good relationship-builder and provides a nice counter-weight for the inevitable times when Mom is pushing a more arduous and less naturally appealing subject during the school year.

I don’t find it necessary to have my summer plans worked out in detail. I pray and keep lists of possibilities in my head, and ask my kids to think of ideas for themselves. For me, it’s not imposing more work on myself, but a way to redeem the past year, prepare for the coming year, and avoid the hassles of a schedule-less summer for 7 kids. I do have to remind myself “much, not many” – in other words, there are usually many possibilities, and if I over-plan, it will become drudgery, and a recipe for burnout the following year. Plus, a proliferation of activities seems to detract from the benefit of focusing on just a couple of areas. I think of it as a time to plant seeds, which need space and time to flourish especially at the beginning. However you choose to plant your summer garden, I wish you happy gardening!