Keep the Fire Burning: Consider Summer School

Summer’s approaching, and if you’re like most American parents, your children have spent the last few months getting their education in the home, either by distance learning or by materials and assignments provided by their school. You’ve helped guide them through reading and math lessons, you’ve spent some time editing their compositions, you’ve encouraged them when they can’t get online for their scheduled hour of video lessons in biology.

Some of those students, and perhaps you, can hardly wait until schools reopen. Others—some polls say 40 percent of quarantined families—are considering homeschooling full-time beginning in the fall.

Whatever your situation, let me encourage you to keep up some form of schooling at home throughout the summer.

Summer Schooling

My wife and I taught all four of our children at home. They received extra instruction in homeschool co-ops in elementary and middle school, attended special seminars—I taught several of these—in high school, and entered the dual enrollment program at our local community college, but until the last two years of secondary school, they did the bulk of their work at home.

After a few years of experimentation, we found our school operated best by following a modified schedule during the summer months. Usually, this schedule meant either meeting for three days a week for a couple of hours of academic instruction or else for an hour daily Monday through Friday.

There were several advantages in continuing school during the summer. It took the pressure off of us to complete all subjects in a given amount of time. It often allowed our children to advance more rapidly through spelling lessons or texts like the Saxon Math books. Finally, sticking to a routine seemed to make our children happier.

Advantages for You

In the case of parents who intend to return their children to private or public schools, this summer instruction will enhance their performance in the classroom. The students will return in the fall to their teachers and classmates knowing they have achieved not only what was assigned them, but have gone above and beyond those requirements.

On the other hand, parents attracted to homeschooling by their experience this spring won’t lose the impetus and routine that learning at home has already brought them.

Moreover, as many of you begin switching from the distance learning of another teacher to materials specifically designed for homeschooling, the transition will be easier if you ease into it instead of facing some new and different method of schooling in the fall.

So what does this summer homeschooling look like?

The 3Rs: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic

Here are some of the ideas and projects my family devised, as well as some used by other parents I have known. Let’s assume you decide to spend one hour daily on instruction.

Reading. Set aside a certain amount of time daily for reading. Do not label this reading as a part of “school.” The idea is to grow lifelong readers, and making that activity part of the summer school day for some students is an instant turn-off.

This is the time when the kids get to pick their own books, with some supervision, and pursue their various interests. Does 14-year-old William love sports? Head for your public library for back issues of “Sports Illustrated,” which offers some excellent writing, or introduce him to the sports books in the adult section. Do horses enthrall your 10-year-old? Have the librarian introduce her to the classics in both the fiction and non-fiction equine categories.

Have the older children read to their pre-school and kindergarten siblings. This makes better readers of big brother or big sister, and keeps their younger siblings engaged with books.

Writing. This one is simple. For Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, have your children write journal entries for 15 minutes. Have them date each entry, and then write whatever they wish, with the proviso that you will occasionally read those entries. Encourage them to use proper grammar and spelling, but the main thrust of this exercise is to keep them writing. Someday their own children and grandchildren may enjoy perusing these journals.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you might ask them to write letters to friends, grandparents, and other relatives. From this exercise they derive two benefits: they are writing, and they are bringing a smile to others.

Mathematics. Have your young people spend a minimum of 15 minutes per day on math. They can review multiplication and division tables, advance in their textbooks, or choose from an array of math games on the computer. These drills and brief lessons will keep them sharp in math and will pay dividends in the fall when school resumes.

Other subjects. Your children have now spent 15 minutes on math and 15 minutes on writing. For science, history, geography, and other subjects, you have many options. If you are working from home or busy with household chores, go to YouTube and have the kids watch half an hour of a video about George Washington, elephants, earthquakes, or whatever other suitable topic draws their interest.

If you have the time and desire to teach them yourself, the “Core Knowledge Series” edited by E.D. Hirsch is an excellent tool for doing so. Each of the books in this series—“What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know,” “What Your First Grader Needs to Know,” and so on—provides instruction in all elementary school subjects, features many entertaining stories and folktales, includes some fine poems, and presents history and science in an approachable way.

Parental Explorations and Expectations

As parents close out the regular school year and enter the summer, it’s also a great time for them to begin planning for the fall. Those who decide to re-enroll their children in a brick-and-mortar school might explore ways they can strengthen their education or help them in those subjects with which they are struggling. Those who decide to continue homeschooling can use this time to consider the many curricula and resources now available to home educators.

Summer with its slower pace also affords an excellent opportunity for parents to step back and view their children’s education with a new pair of eyes. What are the goals of an education? What are the aims other than the mastery of academic subjects? What values do we want children to learn in school? What sort of adults do we wish our children to become?

Often, swept up in the demands and realities of daily life, we have little time for such questions. Now that you’ve had a taste of teaching, however, these questions are worth pondering. Whatever course you pursue when the school lockdown ends—a return to public or private school, or turning instead to homeschooling—summer affords a fine time for a deep, leisurely contemplation of prospects.

“The more that you read,” wrote Dr. Seuss, “the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

To which I add this line: “And summertime school will help make it be so.”

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C., Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See to follow his blog.