As I pull up the calendar to check on the proposed busyness of next week and prepare to tailor our menu plan accordingly, I fall into my traditional end-of-summer elegies such as: My, how this summer has flown! It was supposed to be quiet, streamlined, and peaceful! Where does the time go?
Well, technically summer won’t end until later in the month. I tag my nostalgic seasonal musings onto Labor Day weekend for reasons categorical.
Labor Day serves many functions in our society. For those enthralled with traditions and refinement, it marks the end of the season where one can permissibly wear white shoes. There are historical roots to the holiday, too (although personally I’m a little conflicted at the notion of a day celebrating industry and hard work while promulgating economic and class divisions.) And from an academic perspective, Labor Day traditionally (at least as far as I can remember) marked the official end of the summer school hiatus and heralded the inevitable return to school.
Mind you, I don’t know exactly how I got this idea. When I was growing up, we always schooled more or less year round, which allowed us the freedom and flexibility to take random breaks whenever busy seasons of life required. I’ve tried to adapt this model to fit our family’s schedule. Theoretically we school year-round, but we did seem to end up taking a bit of a break from our official school schedule during the seriously Sirius days of summer.
In the back (and forth) to school dichotomy, I believe that blurring the lines between fun and serious stuff can help predispose children for a lifelong love of learning. Last summer we focused on handwriting practice, online typing tutors, swim lessons, and Spanish language videos. This summer, we traveled, went on field trips, and gardened (to name a few of our “extra-curricular” pursuits). But mostly, we read extensively. I fell into almost a schedule (not quite, because that would be too regimented and predictable): since our preferred branch of the library is near a local discount grocery store, we made regular library runs concurrently with the new sales week.
One of the nicest things about library days was the inevitable hush that befell the house upon our return. The haul of books occupied everyone reasonably well until nap time, buying me a similar lull in which I could either rush around accomplishing things or, more likely (this was, after all, summer), curl up with my own stack of books.
I recall one occasion when, on a more conscientious day, I was entering receipts in our financial software (I still don’t like spending money, but my goodness, do I enjoy tracking it! Perhaps I am a closet math aficionado after all!) while the children sprawled across the room, engrossed in their new finds. The nine-year-old called out to me, “Mama, did you know that starfish can have up to fifty arms?”
Here’s the beauty of this anecdote: it wasn’t assigned reading. She had picked up the book of her own accord and was poring over it because the topic fascinated her. I’ve often heard it said that kids are like sponges, which frankly seems a rather passive approach to education. Drifting about with the currents of life, generally adaptable to a wide range of habitats, drawing into their mind and digesting many times their body weight in ideas…actually, come to think of it, perhaps they are rather like sea sponges. I could go on and on about sea sponges, because I kept hearing tidbits from this science book. But it wasn’t a textbook, and we weren’t following our regularly scheduled programming. We were just learning because we love to acquire new information.
As far as I am concerned, “regularly scheduled programming” loosely translates into “the boring, tedious stuff,” which I readily confess boils down to math lessons. We rather ease up on math during the summer. After all, fractions and pi aren’t going anywhere, so I figure there’s no real rush to track those concepts down.
I will say, though, that a return to a more structured environment can still be managed with flair. As we pulled out the math textbooks from their resting places in the school cabinet, I encouraged my students to remember that learning can be FUN! But it’s still my job as teacher to set the tone.
One child called me over, asking for help with prime directives. “Well, there you have it,” I told her cheerfully. “Obviously I have to let you figure this one out for yourself. If I interfere, that would spoil the lesson.” Ha, ha! Of course I went on to explain derivatives until she understood it. For obvious reasons, the joke was lost on her, so I tried again the next time my tutoring was requested. “Mama, there’s something wrong with this factor tree, but I can’t put my finger on it.” Oh, dear! Can’t have that! I quickly came over and helped her place her finger on the page. Now that she appreciated.
Whether or not school is in session, learning and laughter will always be a part of our lives.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images by Rose Focht.