Here in the Okanagan summer is in full swing, which means long, hot (really hot, 40 degree kind of hot) days. It also means opportunities to spend time at the lake, hike, bike, laze in the shade, eat every meal outside and just generally soak in the beauty of where we live. Back in the spring, when camp registration brochures were coming home daily, I made the conscious decision not to schedule my kids this summer; no camps, no lessons, just wide open stretches of time. Partly this is a selfish decision - I don't want to spend my summer driving my kids here, there, and everywhere - but mainly I wanted them to choose their own adventures. I wanted them to have time to run through the sprinkler and then sit around in wet bathing suits eating watermelon with the juice running down their chin. I wanted them to seek shade with a book or a journal in the heat of the afternoon. I wanted them to walk two blocks over to knock on their friend's door and see if she's home, then rip around the neighbourhood on their bikes like some ragamuffin biker gang. I wanted them to feel free. (Please note - I am a teacher. I don't work in the summer so I have the luxury of allowing my children this freedom. This is not an option for everyone. Don't feel bad, don't feel guilty. Do what you need to do.)
Even as our summer began to fill up with a few trips to visit family and friends, I was feeling pretty good about my decision. Then an email hit my inbox - something to the effect of "Banish boredom and stop the summer slide with these daily learning activites". The email then went on to explain that with just a little prep you could have an activity a day for each child that would keep them learning all summer. There was a calendar and materials lists all provided. I'm not gonna lie, I thought about it for a hot second. Prepared activities for my kids to do every day? Something to suggest when the dreaded "I'm bored" (which, by the way, I swore my kids would never say but, of course, they do) reared it's ugly head? Sign me up! And then I envisioned the last-minute trips to the dollar store, panicking late at night about printables and the 30 or so seconds my kids would probably spend on the activity and I hit delete faster than you can say "Hell nah". This was the complete antithesis to the simple summer I had envisioned; planned activities wouldn't encourage creativity and independence, they would stifle it. Individualized baskets of supplies would not foster collaboration and communication, they would eliminate it. Feeling like you had to do something (me and them) would not create calm and confidence, it would stress us all out. So no, just no.
What will we be doing to encourage some summer learning instead?
Going to the public library
Our local library came to the school and did an awesome sell job on their summer reading club. While it is heavily prize driven, which generally isn't my thing, my class and my kiddos were super stoked about it (plus, most of the prizes are books, so who's really going to complain about that?). They also have some pretty great kids drop-in programs that encourage a wide variety of learning, from STEAM to magic to the natural world. Plus, the library is a great place to get out of the heat. And with the rate at which my kids are filling up their reading/activity logs, we'll be there a lot!
Totally not a word. It should be though. My kids love riddles and jokes and we have found them to be a great way to fill up car rides and lazy afternoons at the lake. Google riddles for kids and you will find a ton of easy (and not so easy!) riddles to share with your family. Pretty much guaranteed there will be a few jokes in there too. And that your kids will start making up their own. You've been warned.
This one is not necessarily for every kid but is huge in our house. My kids love to write and often mimic the books that we read to them, which is a great way to sneak in some good modelling. You can also encourage your kids to write letters, postcards or emails, keep a journal or start a back and forth book where they write to you and you write back. Setting up Lego or Playmobil characters, taking some photos and then writing about them is a super fun way to get into writing too (see this post for more).
Playing card and board games is a great way to pass a slow afternoon or evening and is some of the richest learning around for kids. Our favourites right now are Uno, Clue, Quirkle and Labyrinth. Our oldest (8) started playing cribbage last summer and caught on so quickly! The great thing about card and board games is that they teach all sorts of skills that are challenging to teach really well in a classroom but are so important - strategy, turn-taking, losing gracefully, playing for fun, even letting others win sometimes. My husband often plays a hand or two of Uno with the girls before he heads off to work in the morning; it's a great way to slip in some quality dad-time in what is otherwise a pretty mom-filled summer.
Trying new things
Some kids enjoy trying new things, some do not. I happen to have one of each. Knowing just how far I can stretch my oldest outside of her comfort zone is an art that I have only partly mastered, so sometimes trying new things is a good time and other times not so much. It is, however, always a good learning experience; we learn that new things can be hard, even if we're really excited about them, we learn that patience and perseverance are important skills, we learn that we are not always good at things the first time, and we learn the sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering something new. Of course, psychology tells us there's a lot more going on that just that - as we learn new things, our brain is growing, reinforcing and pruning neurons like crazy, making us smarter and more mentally agile. Good for kids and adults alike!
The concept of physical literacy has been growing in popularity in recent years; knowing how your body moves and how to move it are key skills for life-long health. While it is easy, especially in the heat, to stay inside and be lazy, getting outside every day is fundamentally important to both our physical and mental health. It's also an easy one to couple with trying something new - instead of your regular bike ride on a paved path, find a skills park or easy mountain bike trail in your area and give it a shot. Instead of going for a walk in your neighbourhood, find a hike close by that you've never tried before. If it is really hot out (or smoky, as it is here right now due to some pretty major forest fires burning to the north), try something new indoors - hit a climbing gym, drop-in gymnastics program or swimming pool. No matter how you do it, make sure you get active every day.
Playing - together and alone
Free play is so important for kids! From selecting an activity that is interesting and engaging to you (and others) to having the mental stamina to keep the game going without direction from others, free play builds creativity, stamina, self-awareness and more. Playing with a friend or two brings in cooperation, collaboration, empathy, sharing and managing group dynamics. While occasionally I have to step in and help when emotions start running high, I try to stay out of the kids' way as much as possible. Allowing them to sort out challenges in their own way empowers them to be problem-solvers and encourages them to think of solutions that make everyone happy and keep the game going (or start another one!). All of these skills are fundamental life-skills that are just as important as reading, writing and 'rithmetic.
In the end, I want this summer to be about self-directed fun that isn't structured or organized by an adult. While I know that this may result in more than one "I'm Bored!" I think the skills that my kids will learn are worth it. And who knows, we might just sneak in a mom-planned activity here or there to keep us going!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!