Are you looking for fun and educational summer break activities for your homeschool? Then tune in to this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat, as HSLDA blogger Rachelle Reitz shares practical ideas for making the most of your summer break.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Rachelle Reitz. She’s a homeschooling mom and contributor to HSLDA’s blog. Rachelle, welcome to our program!
Rachelle Reitz: Thank you Mike, it’s great to talk with you.
Life-long learners [0:27]
Mike: Tell us a bit about what it was like to be homeschooled, and are there any experiences that stick out as truly memorable for you?
Rachelle: That’s reaching back into the past. My mom was really, really intent upon creating life-long learners, and one of the unique ways that she did that with me—who responded very, very well—was one of the ways in which I would be disciplined was to lose the privilege of doing school. I think that’s really unique, but I remember just being devastated because I was told I couldn’t do math on a day because I was being naughty. So I think that’s a unique way—it certainly lit the fire and continued my love of learning.
Mike: Not only is that a unique way; you’re a unique person!
Rachelle: Well, I love to learn. I grew up in a family that loved to learn. And so I think that homeschooling only contributed to that, and it didn’t destroy that.
Mike: That’s great. What’s the most important lessons you learned from being homeschooled, though?
Rachelle: I think one of the most unique things in homeschooling is the opportunity to be close to siblings that might be far from you in age. I have one sibling—a younger brother—but he’s six years younger than me. And we fought, and we didn’t like each other through most of our childhood; we’re very, very different. But because we worked through that and we had to stick with it and we were in the home together, he became my best friend up until the time I was married. And he’s one of my best friends today, even though we are different. And I think we would have just drifted apart if we had gone off to separate schools, because we were so far apart in age. So I think that’s one of the greatest things.
I also loved to learn, and I learned how to find things on my own: how to use the library, how to use the dictionary. I learned independence, I think, in a unique way that my peers necessarily didn’t have the same experience, because I had to work harder to find things out.
Regrouping and evaluating [2:13]
Mike: In your blog articles, you say it’s important for homeschooling families to take a summer break. What can you accomplish in a summer break that you can’t during the school year?
Rachelle: In my family, we live life flat-out. I think that it’s happening throughout a lot of our culture. My husband works long hours, he travels a lot, I work part-time in addition to homeschooling. So summer is the chance to stop and regroup and make sure that we’re doing what we want to be doing during the school year. It allows my children to work on things that they want to work on, and not just stick to a program that I’ve set out for them. They can pursue their hobbies and find what gives them joy.
So I don’t think it’s necessary that that happen in the summer for every family, but especially as my children get older, they also have peers and friends that are out of school on summer break, so they want more free time to play with those friends. And so it’s easier to do that in the summer.
We also take periodic breaks throughout the school year. So we have a little bit shorter of a summer break, so that we can take vacations in the off-season when it’s a little bit cheaper.
Mike: What are some good questions to ask as you take a break to evaluate your children’s progress?
Rachelle: I think it’s a great time to make sure what you’re doing is working. I actually do an evaluation. I go subject-by-subject and make sure that the curriculum and the tools that I’ve found for my children are actually meeting their learning styles and the objectives that we’ve set out. I also think about how my children are working toward being whole beings, and are they developing the life skills I want them to have, how are they doing relationally—with each other and with other people that they interact with—[and] their character, as well as their academic progress.
And again, like I say, we live life so fast that having that real time of reflection is really important.
Mike: Well, when you’re taking a break, what are the kids doing?
Rachelle: My kids are getting to the ages now where they have their own hobbies and their own friends. And so they love to read, they always want to be on the computer, so we fight that battle. And they’re off playing with friends, riding bikes.
Keep the wheels turning [4:21]
Mike: Some families might be worried that if they take a summer break, their children will forget everything they learned during the school year. Rachelle, is that really a danger?
Rachelle: No, I don’t think so—not if you have covered the material that you needed to cover during school time. I think texts always review. So whenever you start the next academic year, you’re always having the chance to reflect on what was learned the year before. So they’re going to go back over that material. Learning is really cyclical. Even throughout our lives, throughout their entire academic careers and then on into life, they’re going to go back over things.
I am just now starting to teach algebra to my son. And I haven’t done algebra in years. But it still—after I take a look at it—it comes back.
So if learning is done well, they’re not going to forget everything that they learned. They’re going to be able to come back to it, pick it back up—just like adults do who go on vacation. They don’t forget how to do their jobs when they come back two weeks later.
Mike: Well that’s great, but do you have any strategies to keep the children’s minds active during the summer?
Rachelle: Oh, yes! There’s great summer reading programs, and that’s something that my kids have enjoyed—the competition of being involved and getting prizes from the local library. I think Pizza Hut does a summer reading program and gives prizes. So they are getting to do the reading that they enjoy and pick out their own books.
I think it’s a great chance, if they did need to spend a little bit of time on something that might have been a struggle for them—math comes to mind. I have one daughter who really hates doing flashcards. But I have found that she will happily do those flash cards if they’re in the form of a computer program. So she spends 20 minutes one day a week in the summer reviewing her [multiplication] tables.
I think there’s also great opportunities sometimes in the community to take brief, one-week-long summer camps, day camps, to focus on a particular area. I live in a state that has the most engineers in the country, so every community college in the area offers robotics and LEGO camps during the summer. So there’s those kinds of opportunities to keep kids’ minds active.
And we read. We never stop reading. Even in the summer, I’m reading to my kids.
Mike: Rachelle, those are great suggestions, and it’s important to remember that learning doesn’t always have to take place in the classroom, isn’t it?
Rachelle: Yes, absolutely. Even when they’re out there gardening, they’re learning.
Mike: They’re learning. They’re learning in the garden.
Summer skills [6:33]
Mike: Rachelle, what are some good practical skills your children can learn during the summer break?
Rachelle: I think different families are going to be different. They’re going to emphasize different areas. I know I grew up learning how to can fruit in the summer. It’s a skill that I passed on in my own adult life, and I don’t do a lot of canning. But my mom lives nearby and she has actually taught my children some gardening skills, and how to plan for a garden, and what should grow next to each other. So that’s a good practical skill.
We also focus on how to run a business, so some of the money management that goes along with that, and the planning and plotting what a child at 12 can do for a business. So this summer my son is going to learn how to mow the lawn. We’re a little bit late on that, but I think that’s a practical skill that you can cover.
And one of the things that we have our kids do each summer is to plan and prepare a meal each week with me, so that they’re learning how to cook. Because their academic program is so full, I often don’t do a lot of those practical things with my kids on a daily basis, so summer is a wonderful opportunity to really make sure that they’re learning what they need to know to be successful in life.
Eventually that will move on very quickly to: how do you balance a checkbook? Right now we’re working on how to earn money and set aside this for savings, and this for tithe, and this for spending. So those are some of the skills, I think, that kids can learn over their summer break that they can’t necessarily spend a lot of time on during the full academic year.
Exciting summer activities [8:15]
Mike: Rachelle, what are some of your favorite fun and educational summer activities?
Rachelle: Well, I love to travel. So whenever we can afford to take some time away, we might do a quick overnight trip. I studied history in college, so that’s my love. I love to go to historical sights and to museums. And quickly our children have joined me in that love. So whenever we have a chance, we will break to do that kind of thing.
This summer, we’re going to do astronomy. Even though that’s an academic subject, here in Michigan it’s kind of hard to do that during the school year, because the sky is cloudy and it’s too cold. And my children are finally old enough to stay up late enough to see the summer sky, so we’re going to spend some time doing that.
When my kids were younger, we would have a zoo membership to a local zoo, so that we could go and spend time observing animals and learning about animals. And also in Michigan we spend our summer trying to absorb Vitamin D for the rest of the year, so we have to get outside. We also like to do things like cooking. And I have chosen to have my children do keyboarding in the summer, because there just isn’t time to do that during the academic year, and they are already spending enough time on the computer. They want to be on the computer in the summer, so I make it educational by having them focus on doing keyboarding in the summer.
Mike: Well, that’s smart. Are there any helpful resources on this topic that you would recommend to our listeners?
Rachelle: Oh, sure. There are some great things, I think, that you can do. We teach cooking in the summer—I think I mentioned that. We also have them cook a meal. And there’s a great book called ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family. It’s a book by Sally Samson. It’s real colorful—it has pictures of kids in the kitchen. And it’s real practical, so it lays out: these are the tools and the equipment you’re going to need, these are ingredients you should always have in your kitchen. And then it has a number of recipes and simple instructions that kids can follow.
Some of the other things we do—we have a chore system. I teach the kids a new chore each summer, and that becomes their responsibility during the school year. And we use a computer app called Chore Monster so that they can go through every day and check off when they’ve completed their chores. And I have a chance to jump on the computer and just make sure that they’ve accomplished what they were going to accomplish.
My kids really, really want to be on the computer—more than I like them to be on the computer. So I focus on how to maximize that time. There’s a homeschooling mom who put together a resource for kids who love Minecraft, which is a computer program and gaming system. And she incorporated all kinds of academic disciplines in it, and uses Minecraft to teach them other subjects like creative writing and science. And that’s GamedAcademy.com.
I use a program called AdaptedMind.com for summer math drills for my daughter, who needs to spend a little extra time on her flashcards. Those are just some of the things that we’re using at our house.
Mike: Well Rachelle, thank you very much. It’s been such a pleasure to have you with us this week, and thanks for taking the time to chat with us. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.