- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

My favorite time in the home-schooling year is summer, because we can forget about the textbooks and the portfolios, and do fun learning.

What is fun learning? It’s doing stuff because you like it. For one kid, it might be perfecting basketball skills.

Another might like to shake up bottles of detergent and water and make bubbles.

A third might draw dinosaurs eating alien spaceships.

Whether we realize it or not, kids need to play, they need fun and they need to explore the world in their own unique way. Some youngsters just need a net, a jar, and a terrarium or cage, because they love nothing more than running around outside finding every bug and lizard, squirrel and rabbit. Some will want to drag old clothes out of the attic and create little plays.

Kids may want to learn to ride a bike, skate or climb a tree. Summer is the natural time to learn how to swim, or to do other water sports. And it can allow you the time to do lengthy projects too: a family may decide to make a treehouse, or to build a fish pond, plant a garden or build a deck. You can camp out in the backyard and roast marshmallows, catch fireflies or tell stories.

If the parents have hobbies that involve complex skills, summer is a great time to begin passing them on. Perhaps Dad has done rock climbing, and can teach the family how to rappel down a steep slope. Mom may be a cake-baking expert, and can pass on the secrets of sponge cake and fondant to the kids.

My husband has taught our kids gymnastics skills out in the backyard on a trampoline or mats (while I quaked for their safety). I directed and produced musicals each summer with neighborhood kids, and our kids all learned to sing, dance and act. I took them to the library every week, and we’d borrow armloads of books of whatever kind they wanted; reading for two hours a day was our only “rule” for summer activity.

We are blessed with the kind of neighborhood where kids still play together, and our backyard was in constant use for games and for the imaginative pursuits of the several families that lived nearby. If someone was cutting up a watermelon or scooping ice cream, it was a multifamily operation, not just for one’s own children.

Taking a long trip — to see friends and relatives, or to do volunteer work — is another great project. Kids can do a lot of unintended learning by helping plan what to bring, where to go, calculate the travel time and even keep track of expenditures. And car time is prime learning time! It’s time to sing, do challenge games and just talk as a family.

Another great “non-learning” method is to give each kid their own journal at the start of the summer, and insist that they make an entry every day. I let them do it the way they want: Write something, draw, or take photos and paste them in as a collage.

Moan and groan as they might, at the end of the summer (and for many years to come) they will treasure that as a record of their growing years.

Enjoy each precious day. These moments of our lives fly by and never return. Laugh together, cry together, have interesting experiences together. One day, your children will tell stories of what the family did together at these times, and you’ll be amazed how important “non-schooling” can be!

Kate Tsubata is a freelance writer and home-schooler who lives in Maryland.

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