As of this upcoming Friday, school’s out for summer and I couldn’t be more ready for it. It’s been a YEAR, that’s for sure, and I’m so excited for a break from it all. You won’t necessarily see us doing major thematic studies or methodically practicing academics. You’ll find us at the beach, by the lake, crafting and creating, and enjoying our yard.
One of the most common questions I get asked by parents, friends, and family is, “What can I do over the summer to make sure my kid is ready for ____ grade next year?” And I think a lot of people outside the field of education are surprised by my answer: Play (and read). The district I work in is often so driven by competitive academics that sometimes it leads us down the road of progress for progress’ sake rather than progress for the actual child. I always have to gently remind parents that child development is rarely just about who can read the best or who can do math the best. In fact, I’d argue that in today’s day and age those other qualities (engaging in discourse and dialogue, empathizing with others who do not hold the same beliefs as your own, problem solving, critical thinking, and questioning…etc.) far outweigh the academics (which remember, our public institutions are historically set up to nourish). So ditch the store bought workbooks and flashcards and worksheets, and get your kids back to playing.
Albert Einstein once said, “Play is the highest form of research.”
Through play, kids practice it all, and they practice it all in meaningful and authentic ways. They question, observe, investigate, research, problem solve, empathize, sympathize, and learn during play. Over the summer, we strive to ensure our kids are having opportunities for both structured and unstructured play, both immediately supervised and distantly supervised play, outdoor and indoor play. I try to let them be bored – to help them navigate what it means to become “unbored”, and how expectations usually dictate boredom. I encourage a balance of busy-ness and quiet time, as both experiences provide different opportunities for different skill development.
And we read. We promote a summer reading experience, rather than solely instituting an independent reading expectation. Even kids in the higher elementary grades benefit and often significantly enjoy being read to. (Remember, once reading becomes an assignment, the joy is often gone.) We tell stories, and keep a family journal with pictures and drawings and photos and notes and memories. And we do it naturally – not on a schedule and not as an assignment – when the motivation is there, we do it. We do have our nightly bedtime story routine, and that is something I rarely ever break. It’s a lot more than a routine, it’s special parent/child time, a sacred place to ensure we are together in the moment enjoying good books. Whenever I’m tired or exhausted and think about maybe skipping our bedtime storytime, I always think about that statistic…
If a child reads 20 minutes per day, they will hear 1,800,000 words per year, and will have read for 851 hours by 8th grade.
So, you probably won’t see me doing a whole ton of academics with the kids over the summer. My blog posts will probably be few and far between. We’ll do it as it comes up authentically, or if the kids ask for it (sometimes they love to play school and in that case we pull it all out!), but other than that we focus on play and exercise, and spending time together, and of course, reading good books. We’ll make more things out of cardboard, explore the world around us, get dirty and messy, and clean ourselves up again just to do it all over again the next day. And that, in my opinion, is all you really need to “get your kid ready for ____ grade”.