Summer Schedule: Let Them Play, Let Them Learn

No matter how tight of a ship you run during the school year, it’s time to loosen up a bit. As you plan your summer schedule, remember that it can be a great time for decompression, exploration, and unconventional learning.

Use it wisely.

Oftentimes, we feel that we are not doing our job as parents if every minute of every day is not scheduled with “good learning” activities for our kids.  This idea could not be farther from the truth.  Let’s discuss the idea of “unstructured structure.”

For online learning families in particular, we have to structure our lives around lessons and formal learning to get through the school year.  We have to chart progress, log attendance, meet standards, attend online sessions, complete  assignments, benchmark assignments, complete face-to-face activities — the list goes on and on.  These things do need a tight schedule or you will never be able to accomplish all that is required.

Summer needs to be a time of less schedule and more fun! It is good, and may I say, NEEDED, for everyone to have down time from a tight, demanding schedule.

Just as an Olympic athlete takes days to let his body recover from intense workouts, so should our kids get a break from “formal” education.  Does this mean we let them veg in front of the TV or in front of the computer all summer long?  Of course not!  But I do submit three ways our kids will learn in an unstructured way with sneaky, ninja-like parenting.

1. Loose Schedule

It  is OK to have certain expectations of chores during the year, such as dishes, laundry, clean room or take out the trash.  These give our children responsibilities and instill them with a work ethic.  I love that!  Chore time can be scheduled into the day because we are an online learning family.  During the summer, however, I would suggest giving your kids a list of what needs to be done, and a time limit.  Let your kids structure their time themselves.  You will soon learn what kind of child you have. Is your child a “do it now” type or are they the “last minute” type?  Use this exercise to help teach them the advantages of not waiting until the last minute. Discuss the pros and cons of how they have decided to structure their day to include the chores.  This can be a great learning opportunity that kids can discover for themselves.

2. Allow Exploration Time

Did you know that there is a  huge learning tool we have that many of us don’t use anymore?  It’s free, too! It’s called “outside.”  As a child I used to play outside for hours.  I think this has become a lost art.  When my kids are outside and out of mom and dad’s  structured time they become very creative, and active.

Inside, I would have been met with so much resistance if I would have told the kids that they would be doing a unit study on knights, armor, and weapons. I would have had a complete revolt if I said they would be required to write a paper about the things they learned.  I would have had to endure hours of whining if I said they had to have PE for three hours a day.  The world would have come to an end if I suggested that they create a story and complete worksheets about the characters they created and how the characters developed throughout the story.  The tears and stress of assigning an art project in which they would be required to create a drawing, sketch or costume to fit each character would be overwhelming.

Yet, outside, my kids have done all these things.  They did them by themselves without assignments, and without prompting.  My son hates to write.  Yet on his own he is creating stories and sheets of paper with each of his siblings as characters and all their traits and super powers, so they can have a record to refer to as they play.  The boys made swords out of PVC pipe and duct tape.  They “learned” about fencing and knights.  They created characters and role played.  They dug through boxes and created costumes and story lines.  This is learning!  Learning without a schedule!  It is awesome to behold.  They covered the subjects of history, art, drama, creative writing, handwriting practice, and physical education!  I couldn’t have planned a better activity!

The sneaky part is they didn’t even recognize it as learning.  They were just having fun and following their interests.

3. Set up your Environment

You do not, and I repeat, do not have to go out and purchase anything!  Most of us have things around our homes or things that we can borrow from the library that can be put into our environment that will stimulate learning.

What about those board games that gather dust in the closet?  What about those “old fashioned” games or puzzles?  What about the cool Christmas or birthday gifts that are still in the packages because they require a parent or older sibling to help assemble it.  I know my youngest has a table top hockey table kit that he received for Christmas about two years ago. We just never got to it! 

Do you have paint, clay, and science supplies? Use them in in an unstructured way.  Let your kids be creative and let their interests guide them. 

A word of caution — of course we want our kids to be safe, I hope that goes without saying, so pay attention to the activities they are choosing.  Guide them if you need to, but don’t interfere too much. 

Kids are not used to this idea.  They have often grown up with major structure in their lives.  It will take them a while to figure out what to do with themselves, and that’s OK. Boredom can be a precursor to creativity! It will take time, but if you can keep them away from the TV and computer, and have an environment with interesting things available to them, trust me, they will learn.  Our family calls it structure detox. 

You will be amazed how creative and wonderful your children are.  You will be amazed at what they have learned throughout the school year and how they apply that knowledge.   Creativity isn’t just a trait that you are born with. It needs to be nurtured and exercised.  That is why summer time vacation was created!  They will be learning more than you think they are, and more than they know.  Win win!


Image credit: How to Prevent the Summer Backslide by Daniel Breiner

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