Friday, June 5, 2009

We Don't Turn Off Our Brains in the Summer

Summer is here, and it is time to ponder our family's plans for the season. I always tend to struggle with the kids' summer activities. The school year is simple to organize- school, sports, etc., but summer is difficult because I want Curly Girl and Car Guy to keep growing without making it actually seem like they're working.

We have tried a variety of approaches over the years- half-school when we did one-two hours of school about three days a week; brain maintenance when Curly Girl and I worked on math about thirty minutes a day so she didn't have to relearn the multiplication tables in the fall; and doing absolutely nothing when Curly Girl was in organized school.

I love summer break. We all need a change from the hectic school-year routine, but I detest the idea of turning off your brain in the summer. I certainly want my children to realize that life constantly involves learning. Humans shouldn't just turn on and turn off their brains at will. We don't suddenly become couch potatoes in the summer, and if your children are like mine, they start messing with each other when they grow bored.

After mulling over the options, Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I have reached a compromise for this summer. This year it has worked out that June and the first part of July will be dominated by swim team which means that most mornings will be spent at the pool, and we have several trips and weekend jaunts planned for the second half of July and August. But, in between those times, I have no plans to let my children turn their brains to mush with constant video games and television.

To provide some structure, we'll put our Netflix to good use by watching some literary, history, and science-related movies and documentaries. My current queue carries "Apollo 13," Discovery Channel's "When We Left Earth" series, "Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire," and "The Tale of Despereaux," among others. I have also asked each child to select two to three areas on which he/she would like to focus this summer.

Car Guy surprised me by choosing writing in cursive and learning to type (What bizarre choices for a seven-year-old boy!). True to form, he has already pulled out the cursive workbook I picked up for him, and he has also been working on his typing. Mr. Methodical cracked me up the other day when he took Dr. Fry's Computer Keyboarding for Beginners and the wireless keyboard into his room. For at least half an hour, he carefully examined the directions for finger placement on the home keys and practiced typing innane patterns like "JK ASDFG LKJH GFDSA." Since there is absolutely no way I will allow my blossoming reader to lose any of the progress he has made, he will also be reading every day this summer. I have already printed out the Magic Tree House passport (, and after reading each book, he enjoys answering questions to earn passport stamps. I have also made an executive decision that he will learn the 0, 1, 2, and 3 multiplication tables.

Getting Curly Girl to commit to projects has been a bit more challenging. Where Car Guy plans like I do, creative Curly Girl is ruled by the chaos theory. In her defense, she will be volunteering several times this summer at our local history museum and with the Red Cross Youth Club, as well as rehabbing her knee with lots of physical therapy. I would like her to select some projects for the summer, though. All I have managed to wheedle out of her so far is reading, music, and art. My issue is that these are the same activities which usually fill her time, so I'm working on ways to encourage her to delve deeper than she usually does. For reading, we are going to get a head start on our school year reading list for Medieval history and Literature by jumping into retellings of Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Canterbury Tales, and Dante's Inferno. Tomorrow, we are heading to the music store so Curly Girl can select some new piano music to work on for the summer. I believe she is looking for some Bach pieces, Broadway show tunes, and Bella's Lullaby from "Twilight." I would also like her to pick up her guitar and teach herself to play it again, as well as work through the drawing book which she begged me to purchase, but has yet to use.

After seeing it down in writing, I feel much better about our summer. The season is a balancing act between relaxing in a slower gear, but not becoming a sloth. I hope you and your family have a fabulous summer full of fun, relaxation, exploration, and learning.

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