In the 14 years my family has home educated I have had the honor of knowing many home school families. Each of these unique families “do school” differently. For many, the summer months include some type of formal schooling. Whether it is defined by writing intensives, unit studies, or simply a book report, they each require progress from their students. I, on the other hand, view the summer months as a time to decompress, get a plan together, and prepare for the new school year while recovering from the last one. I say that with a smile, but you know exactly what I mean!
What my family has done instead of formal, year-round schooling is something I lovingly refer to as “sneaky learning.” We look for fun summer activities and find our lessons there. Is this as structured an approach as my cohorts? No, but that’s okay because many of the things we do are lightly structured. We enjoy the opportunity to be creative and lighthearted, taking time to find the hidden lesson in things we sometimes take for granted.
Here are a few of our favorite activities for secret summertime learning.
- Splish-Splash! Anything related to water is always a favorite summer activity for our children. Why not embrace the density and resistance of water while cooling off on a hot summer day? Select three or four waterproof objects of various weights. Do arm curls or play toss with the objects before getting in the water. Have your child note how heavy or light each object feels. Time how quickly he or she can throw the objects to a partner. Now hit the pool! Replicate those same activities with the added resistance of water. Bowling balls can be held with a single finger while ping pong balls won’t sink to the bottom and it seems like an eternity for a billiard ball to reach waiting hands. If you do not have a pool close by, a lined plastic trash can or tub will work just fine.
- Master Chef! One thing we love to do together is cook, particularly outside. Consider having a hamburger contest. Let each child or family member select seasonings from the pantry. Younger children need guidance unless you’re fond of almond extract on your hamburger–yuck! Each contestant seasons one or two hamburger patties. Use this time to learn about the senses of taste, touch, and smell. Discuss how spices and preservatives were utilized in Ancient Egypt or in the pioneer days. Cut the cooked burgers into bite-sized pieces so everyone has a taste of each. The goal is to determine the favorite seasoning by guessing its combination of spices. The burger with the most correct guesses is the “Master Burger” and its creator is the “Master Chef.”
- Freezing Chamber. Have your children ever asked if something will freeze? I have found all kinds of interesting items in my freezer. A friend recently posted a picture of her son’s basketball shoe in her family’s freezer. I can’t say we’ve ever tried that, but we have frozen all kinds of other things like fruits, plants, flowers, oil and water combinations, and small balloons filled with shaving cream, water, or rubbing alcohol. We’ve placed in our freezer things like toothpaste art, wet bandanas, wet socks, and layers of Kool-Aid and JELL-O on paper plates to see if we can predict what would freeze and what would not. Discussing the freezing point of various liquids and solids will give your students an opportunity to create their own hypotheses. As always, use caution when attempting to freeze things in a can, or items that are carbonated or under pressure. Safety is the most important lesson you can teach!
- Birds of a Feather. Whether you live in the country or in the city, birds are all around us, particularly on days with warm summer sunshine. Try your hand at constructing various types of birdfeeders then watch to see which ones the birds frequent most. What materials best withstand the weather? To which colors do birds seem most attracted? As well as providing the birds with quality seed, you can also experiment by providing different types of nesting materials. Cut pieces of twine, cotton, thin cloth strips or shredded newspaper and offer these as mid-summer nest repairs. A bird watcher’s guidebook will be useful in identifying the birds you attract to your yard.
- The Wild, Wild West. Camping just wouldn’t be the same without campfire stories, cowboy coffee, and a good old-fashioned bedroll. Why not take time to research just how the cowboys camped? Learn what was actually stocked in chuck wagons and take a few of these items on your next campout. Let the kids try their hand at a true cowboy bedroll. There are even cowboy stories to read under the stars. Don a bandana, grab your tin grub plate and spend the night on the prairie–even if it is in your own backyard!
Learning is an ongoing adventure in home school families. At every age, children’s minds desire new and exciting things. Listen to their questions and consider your reply. “I don’t know, but let’s find out together,” will become their favorite answer!
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