My children had an argument in the car the other day, but I didn’t mind; they were fighting over what our family was going to study this summer. For the past several years, we have focused our summer fun until it has become a time of academic enrichment. We give our summer a theme, research our vacation destination, hone basic skills, and bribe our children to read. Despite the arguing, we think it makes the perfect vacation.
Getting in Shape . Summer is a great time to get in good academic shape. Keep your child’s math skills sharp by giving a few math problems each day. Get a head start on next school year. Check with your school about next year’s reading list, and read the books together. Work on the next set of math concepts. If your child is taking a foreign language, give them an introduction with cassettes, software, or television. Ask a teacher from the next grade level for ideas. Just don’t overdo it! I think thirty minutes of formal study is plenty.
It will be torture, but this summer one of my children will spend 15 minutes per day learning Latin vocabulary, and another will be working in a pre-Algebra book. One will continue to visit his science tutor to get a foundation in Chemistry. Before school was out, our library had posted the reading list for the following year, and we’ll be reading lots of the books and the videos they inspired.
What to Pack. Planning a vacation can be almost as much fun as the travel itself! Make yourselves experts on the place you will be visiting. Study the history of the place, and let the kids make a time line to illustrate the important dates and events. Read books and watch movies that relate to your plans. Map your route. Surf web sites that will give you an idea of what you want to see, and allow your children to pick activities and places to visit. Find out if there will be any special festivals during your visit. Let the kids hunt for coupons and other bargains, and you may save enough money to stay a few extra days.
Our family recently went on an extended vacation to visit family in Paris and Lebanon. (We saved money for ten years to accomplish this.) We spent almost a year learning about the history and culture of the two places. We watched all kinds of videos about Paris, and read about Alexander the Great, Cadmus the phonics guy, and the Crusaders. We learned the Arabic alphabet. Lebanon is thousands of years old, and our time line was made from a very long strip of adding machine paper. It gave the children a vivid illustration of the vast age of some of the sites we visited. We gave them an overview of art and architecture. As a result of our preparation, the boys noticed things like capitals on columns. They asked intelligent questions about government. They begged to revisit archaeological sites. I planned to force them to visit the Louvre for two hours; three of our boys stayed for six hours.
Theme Parks. A great way to focus your summer is to give it a ‘theme’. Choose one or two subjects that interest your children, and center your activities around the idea. Find related crafts, books, movies, and even music. See if there are documentaries on your topic. Visit places that relate to your theme. Get some ideas from your child’s teacher, who probably uses unit study in the classroom.
Our guys are still arguing over our theme for this summer. Two boys want to use Star Wars. If we choose this, we’ll study stars, DNA, and forms of government. The other two boys want to focus on World War II, which will send us to the Holocaust Museum and to look at old photo albums from veteran friends. Last summer we watched the mini-series Roots, and used it as a spring board to discuss American history. The summer before our big trip, we used the vacation as our summer theme. I’ve also capitalized on the boys’ obsessions with dinosaurs or their fascination with space, and we visited museums, planetariums, and even a university telescope.
Paying on Credit. In my article, Livin’ Easy with Your Kids~Summertime the George Gershwin Way, I mentioned a television spread sheet that awards television time for minutes spent reading. I’ll also pay minutes for school work. Educational videos are free. Because electronic devices are the best incentive for our guys, we use them as a reward for time well spent learning.
Without safeguards, our boys would absolutely waste hours and hours each day watching cartoons, playing video games, and surfing the internet. I have always felt that it was my responsibility to ensure that the boys use their time wisely. Since our boys were diagnosed with ADHD, it has become more important to redeem the days when they don’t have the stress of school, and use them as opportunities for growth. I hope our ideas will help you to plan the perfect learning vacation for your family.