The true joy of summer learning
By Tracy Grant,
“Summertime ... and the livin’ is easy.
Fish are jumpin’ ... and the cotton is high.”
— “Porgy and Bess”
You can be forgiven if you see few similarities between the season immortalized in 1935 and the one you’re embarking on.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
— “Stop the Dreaded Summer Slide,” screams the subject line of an e-mail in my inbox.
— A Los Angeles Times article outlines the summer schedule for 10th-grader Derek Lee: Chinese school, violin lessons, AP classes in summer school, college-level courses at Stanford.
— “Sign up for Summer Boot Camps in math, English and science” says a sign outside the Silver Spring Trader Joe’s. Boot camps? Really?
— Did you know that June 21 isn’t merely the first day of summer, it’s also “National Summer Learning Day”?
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the importance of not letting minds turn to mush over the summer. Over the years my kids have participated in their elementary school’s 1,000-page summer reading challenge. This summer, as preparation for AP U.S. History in the fall, they will be reading and writing about six seminal Supreme Court rulings. Then religion class requires a project on one of the four Gospels of the New Testament.
Still, I want there to be plenty of time for riding bikes, catching fireflies, being amazed by dry lightning, hanging at the pool. Time to breathe.
Is it really so bad to downshift from Memorial Day to Labor Day? To revel in not having to check homework, not having to be at Place X by Time Y? To allow your child’s brain — and yours — to work differently?
Note that I didn’t say to work less.
I know we don’t want a generation of kids who forget their multiplication tables from June to September. But do we want a generation that has so lost the ability for quiet contemplation? A generation so obsessed with scoring well on the AP Physics test that it ignores the inner voice that says, “I want to be a writer”?
And when better to hear that voice than when it whispers on a summer breeze.
For nine months, we place our children’s education in the hands of the professionals. In the three months of summer, we are given the chance to take the lead. To teach them how to think, how to live in the space between their ears (sans headphones), how to be at peace.
So this summer, in the pursuit of mush-free minds, try a few of these suggestions:
— Lie in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Don’t turn this into a competitive “do you see the dragon?” game; just watch the drift.
— Go for a walk or a bike ride with no destination or specific route in mind. At some point, take a random left turn and just explore.
— Skip stones. It requires patience and practice, but the payoff is gigglicious.
— Read together, either aloud or silently, but as a shared experience.
— If some overt education must take place, go to a battlefield or a museum or a historic house. When your daughters grumble, tell them that it’s a family tradition: Your dad dragged you; now you’re dragging them so that 20 years from now, they can drag their own children. These are the trips that kids can value only once they’ve grown up, but they must be taken now.
I can’t help but wonder how a Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson would have fared in a world where every activity is scheduled.
It was Thoreau who went off to Walden to experience life “and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.”
It was Emerson who wrote, “We are by nature observers, and thereby learners.”
So what will our children learn this summer: Let me suggest that we leave the vocabulary-building and flashcard drills for when the nip of fall is in the air. Summer is for lessons in observation and life that can inspire arias to a season.
Online poll Is the amount of homework your child has to do over the summer . . . A. Too much B. Too little C. Just right D. My child doesn’t have summer work. To vote, go to washingtonpost.com/advice.