Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer School

Am I the only crazy, kill-joy, Tiger Mother wannabe who likes summer homework? I'm sure there are a few more outliers somewhere in the universe.

Why, oh why, am I so very, very happy school is ending in under 24 hours (yes, I'm counting) but ready to start it all again for the summer?

1. Some of my kids have a hard time in school and can't handle a multi-month break from reading and math.

2. The heat forces us indoors a good portion of the summer, and I can't deal with non-stop TV and video games. Can. Not. Deal. We need purposeful activity. Not tons. Not so much that summer is just as scheduled as school. No, no. But a little structure goes a long, long way in bringing happiness and harmony our way.

3. Much of it is fun, and I'm not even making that up.  I don't think fun and educational have to be mutually exclusive.

Thanks be to God and the fine administrators at the boys' school, I have a little help in this bold endeavor. The kids are assigned summer homework, and by "homework," I mean more than the standard "Read these two books, and we'll talk about them in September." They get for real work, and so I have an ally in my humble attempts to keep the academic fires burning during June, July, and August. And even if I don't need an ally, occasionally it's helpful to have a target (as in, "Sorry, kids. It's a school requirement") to do something I would require of my kids anyway.

Here's what works for us:

1.  Ask the Kids

Years ago I attended a talk at our parish about planning for a good summer. The speaker, my friend Ellen, suggested setting three goals with your kids: a spiritual goal, a fun goal, a practical goal.

Spiritual goals typically have been reading a chapter of scripture every morning, going to weekday Mass once a week, having a short morning prayer time. The simpler we keep them, the more likely they are to actually happen. Ex. We pray a litany of the saints on the way to swim practice. Five minutes. We're not turning summer into Lent, but using the relaxed pace to turn our hearts toward God.

The fun goals have included guitar lessons, swimming, movie making, science camp, Lego camp. Again, the kids choose what they want to do, and the relaxed schedule gives us time to pursue interests hard to tackle during the school year.

The practical goals are usually age-related and set or highly encouraged by me. Some years, potty training ranked high on the list. Other ideas: Basic Cooking, Typing, Laundry 101, Basic Lawn Maintenance. This summer John's going to learn to load the dishwasher (He thinks it's fun. Please don't enlighten him!). Driving is on top of Tim's list.

2. Use the Internet

It's amazing how much more motivating typing practice can be when it involves a program similar to Centipede. For math, we are big believers in Khan Academy (free and the kids love it!) and Aleks (costs money but worth it).

3. Keep Stuff In One Binder

Math drill sheets, handwriting exercises, and other worksheets go in one binder with dividers for each child because, if I've learned anything about teaching these kids of mine, it's this:

Half the problem with getting the kids to do anything is finding the stuff. 

One binder -- easy, portable, goes with us on vacation, done.

4. Use Pinterest

Little girl hairstyles
Dizzy just looking at this.
Pinterest gets such a bad rap because loony tunes mothers with deep-seated insecurities fashion cupcakes into mermaids with movable fins and then feel compelled to show up the rest of us slackards.  But, really, it's a treasure trove of free printable worksheets and neat hands-on activities. Have a child who struggles to count by fives, to tell time, to calculate money? Pinterest is the place to go. Want a list of books for adolescent boys? Pinterest. Gardening with kids? They've got it. Seriously, I searched "connect the dots by fives" and found exactly what I needed. (And then I perused the loony tunes hairstyles for little girls. Whoa.)

5. Poll Your Home-schooling Friends

Mary at Better Than Eden gave me the idea to buy history CDs to play on the wayhome from the pool this summer. Better than arguing and just slightly more edifying than Weird Al. VOX sells music appreciation CDs that we've listened to for years. They run a penny plus shipping on Amazon (and if you go through Mary's site, she gets a kickback, I think).

6. Netflix

Used strategically, TV, just like the computer, can be our ally as well as our adversary. Netflix has a ton of interesting documentaries and about a zillion saint videos. We currently subscribe to Amazon, but I think Netflix outdoes Amazon in the educational department. Bottom line: We are going to watch TV, so it's good to have alternative to endless hours of Curious George and Phineas and Ferb.

7. Reading Time

For various reasons, we have never had a scheduled reading time. I've read about other families having "Quiet Time" in the afternoon, and it always sounds so blissful and so, well, quiet. This may be the year. John is now an independent reader, and Ainsley is sounding out words and loves to color and write "letters" to everyone, everywhere. We're going to give it a try.

I've read approximately a zillion books about parenting, and I think the single most valuable technique I have learned is Kevin Leman's "First this, then this."

You can do the typing game when your room is clean.  We'll leave for the pool when the living room and dining room are straightened.  We'll watch that show after reading time. 

Summer tests my level of self-discipline as much as the kids'.  I hope I'm up to the task!

.Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes.


Mary @ Better Than Eden said...

I have got to start peeking at Khan...everybody raves about it! I'm sure my oldest would eat it up. How awful is it that one of things keeping me from it is that I would have to share the computer??? Thanks for the shout out! Hope you enjoy the CDs!

kviz said...

Can you tell us how to find saint videos on Netflix? I have a hard time finding them.

Kelly Dolin said...

Mary - I understand the computer issue. When our oldest hit high school, we bought a second one because at least 50% of his work involves the computer. This ushers in a whole new world of supervision and one that I recommend postponing as long as possible. Major headache.

Kath - The Saint videos may have been on Netflix disks.Last September we did streaming and two disks per month. The disk subscription offers a whole lot of material unavailable through streaming. They had pretty much every saint video you see in the Catholic catalogs.