Why You (Probably) Need a Summer Break

If your student is behind in a school subject and you are thinking of homeschooling through the summer break, please stop a moment. I’d like to share a few thoughts on homeschoolers doing summer school.

Schooling through the summer may be the right choice if you’ve planned it from the beginning, do it routinely, and have plenty of built-in breaks of at least a week. That’s not usually the case for moms I hear talking about homeschooling through the summer, it’s a dreaded last-ditch choice in order to get through a particular amount of material before the next school year. The student might be unhappy about it, but mom is even more miserable!
Children at the beach on summer break. Attributed to James Pyne.

Before you throw away summer break

If your student is struggling with a particular subject, type of problem, or the selected curriculum, more days of pounding in the same idea may not be what he needs. Just as an athlete who is weight training must take time away from the weights in order to let his muscles repair, it is sometimes necessary for students to take time away from studies in order to let their minds rest, mature, and make connections.

  • If the student is not developmentally ready for a concept, more days of struggle and tears will not help him mature any faster.
  • If the curriculum is a terrible fit for his learning style, more days of trying to push a square peg into a round hole may not be very effective.
  • If you’re springing the “no summer vacation” decree on your students at the end of the school year, be careful not to do so in frustration. If summer break has always been a part of your lives, your students could feel blindsided and betrayed by the sudden change of plans, and that certainly doesn’t lend itself to focused learning or a strong, trusting relationship.
  • The Creator modeled taking a sabbath day of rest each week, and when we follow that example by making Sunday special and different, it can be a great blessing. In the same way, the summer break can be the sabbath of your school year — a time of joy, rest, and blessing.

Begin With the End in Mind

Instead of banishing the break, consider the desired end goals for your homeschool. Do they include

  • Close family relationships?
  • Spiritual growth?
  • Love of learning?
  • Helping your student discern his calling and gifts?
  • Getting through a certain number of textbooks each year?

If the goal of homeschooling is to cover material, then by all means, throw out the breaks (but I do hope that’s not your goal). If the goal is long-term learning, consider a summer break that encourages a different kind of learning and offers the student (and you) a wholesome break from the school routine.

A Different Kind of Summer Break

Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.
Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 42

Instead of seeing summer as a time when learning ceases, consider it a time when the student can focus on developing a hands-on skill, hobby, or micro business, and family relationships can be strengthened. The creative summer won’t look the same for everyone, but here are a few things I’d suggest.

  • Don’t plan too much — one hobby per child and one special family event per month is plenty.
  • Make sure that at least one of the family activities takes place outdoors and lasts at least a weekend.
  • Allow plenty of free outdoor time and creative time.
  • Eat outside as often as possible — it will remind you that summer is for simple, practical, seasonal fresh meals. And it’s fun!
  • Try to provide a selection of art supplies (a picnic table can be a perfect place to use them).
  • If you don’t have any musical instruments, let students make some.
  • Let them have a bit of junk to build and tinker with (see the suggestions in “Play is a Child’s Work“).
  • Listen to wonderful audiobooks over lunch, in the car, while doing handwork, and on rainy days.
  • Many cities have free summer events. If you can, visit an art museum, a battlefield or botanical garden, and go to an outdoor concert, historic re-enactment, or other performance.

What You Do Matters More Than You Think

One of my summer break projects was a quilt for my granddaughter.

Do something you enjoy; learn something you want to learn. Let your students see you grow!

Most importantly, be aware that your children observe how you spend your time. If you incorporate a bit of learning and creativity into your own summer, your students will start to believe you when you tell them that learning is important; and that creative, constructive activities are fun and worthwhile. 

  • Model creative, constructive hands-on work for your children by doing something you enjoy. It doesn’t have be grand or expensive – if you enjoy it, that is enough. Sew, garden, cook, can, make things to sell on Etsy, help an elderly neighbor with home maintenance or repairs, paint your basement floor to look like tile, reupholster a ratty old chair, or anything else you’d like to try. Do with your might what your hand finds to do!
  • Model self-directed learning by learning something that interests you – how to decorate cakes, paint with watercolors, plant a garden, knit, dance the polka, play a harmonica, quilt, repair old clocks or lawnmowers, graft apple trees, refinish old furniture, develop a fabulous chile recipe, tie fishing flies, or whatever you like. If you’ve always wanted to read Dante’s Divine Comedy or Shakespeare’s plays, start by reading one canto or scene a day. Let them see you preparing for the coming school year by reading, lesson planning, etc. Although they may not say anything, they will observe that school is work for you, just as it is for them.

Whatever you do, be transparent. Let them see you try, and if you fail, let them see you fail. Let them see you think through a problem and try different solutions. Let them see what perseverance in the face of a hard task looks like. Even let them see how gracefully you can handle a thousand interruptions! And if you get frustrated and say or do something you wish you hadn’t, let them hear you apologize.

Children will observe these things anyway, but if they also see that you are working to grow and mature, and striving to develop the fruit of the spirit as you develop new skills, they will be better equipped for their own learning journeys.

I’ll write more later about hands-on skills, and why they are so important, but for now, I’ll just encourage you to create a different kind of summer break for your family – one that will be remembered with joy. Not just because these years pass quickly, and someday you’ll love hearing them reminisce over the crazy, fun things they did over summer break, but also because academic learning isn’t the only thing they need to live a full, wholesome, balanced life.

May you have the best summer ever!

P.S. And here are two final thoughts:

  • If screen-usage is keeping anyone (including you) from doing creative, constructive things, banish phones and other screens to an inconvenient place for most of the day.
  • Remember, screens can be wonderful for learning, working, and communication, but moderation is the key. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

3 Responses

  1. Ruth Scott says:

    This was our first year of homeschooling (which was the best decision I ever made and truly wish I had started years ago). I have been torn on whether we should be working through the summer, with just a brief break. I just wanted to thank you for your reassuring article regarding the benefits of taking time off. I’m so afraid of “falling behind” but my conscience told me my boys just need a summer break to just be kids and play and explore. Thank you for putting this out there and giving a new home school mom some reassurance on a decision to just take that break and enjoy the time together.

  1. June 24, 2014

    […] keeping with the idea of making summer different and special for your whole family (see Why You (Probably) Need a Summer Break), my reading suggestions focus on books for life, rather than just for homeschooling. We are not […]

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