Venture Into Creative Learning This Summer
By Christine Danielewicz
When school is out, your children don’t have to stop learning. Over summer vacation the world can be your classroom as you venture into creative learning experiences together.
Your school may send home a summer reading list, but your children don’t have to tackle it alone. Bob and Kathie deFilippo of Mechanicsburg, Pa., gather their four children ranging in age from 15 years to two months old in the living room, outside under a tree, or anyplace that’s comfortable for regular enjoyment of literature. Kathie is usually the one to read aloud, and Bob sits right down with Mia, Mason, Marco and Max to enjoy the adventure, historical fiction, fantasy, or whatever type of selection is chosen.
“I don’t want them to just get through school,” Kathie says of her children. “I want them to enjoy learning.”
Don’t limit yourself to school assigned books either. Take time this summer to read things on topics in which your children are especially interested. Just listening to you read will help boost your child’s reading achievement, but it can also be beneficial for them to follow along in the book as you read, or even to read aloud with you to develop speech fluency. You can make this easier by checking out an extra copy or two from the library.
Look for great bargains, too, so you can even purchase extra copies of books. Then your kids can underline or highlight as you read. They might want to mark their favorite parts of the book, interesting or unfamiliar words, or changes in character or plot. You can get Dover Thrift Classics unabridged editions of timeless books for just a few dollars a piece. Catalogs from companies like Christian Book Distributors carry these and other great selections in their homeschool catalog, but you don’t have to be a homeschooler to order them. It’s okay to use Spark Notes to help you understand what you’re reading as long as you’re not using them to avoid reading the entire book.
You can take a break from workbooks to review language. One of the best ways to improve grammar, word usage, and style is to follow great models of language. Poetry is often squeezed into a short unit during the school year, yet it contains some of the richest language you can find, full of beauty, wit, drama, action, mystery, and even masterful nonsense. In her book, A Family of Poems, Caroline Kennedy reminisces about a family tradition instituted by her late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. For a special occasion, Caroline and John would be required to copy a poem and decorate the page for a relative, and these were eventually put into a scrapbook. They didn’t always feel like doing it, Kennedy remembers, but she often thinks of many of the poems and treasures the memories of them kept in the scrapbooks.
Math can be more meaningful for your children if they are using it for real life activities. Help them make up a budget for back to school supplies and clothes. Plan expenses for a vacation. Let them manage a yard sale. In the process, they can be reviewing basic facts, computation, problem solving, decimals, fractions, percents, ratios, and percentages. Whew! That covers about a year’s worth a material. Maybe it will cure them of asking, “Why do I have to know this?”
Science and history can really come to life if you are willing to do a little research and travel. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, though. Check around for the numerous historical and outdoor sites that can offer great educational experiences. In addition to the more famous Liberty Bell and Gettysburg landmarks, places like Fort Hunter Mansion and Park in Harrisburg can take your family back to colonial times, providing hands on activities to help you live out history together.
Many parks have staff members who provide fun educational programs for students. Asbury Woods near Erie, and Wildwood Lake Sanctuary and Nature Center in Harrisburg, provide indoor and outdoor activities, plus lots of information to take home with you. Even if you’re not a hunter, you’ll learn so much from a visit to some state game lands, like Greene Township’s Siegel Marsh in northwest Pennsylvania, which includes 1,343 acres of woodland, open fields, ponds and marshes, along with an indoor education center.
A third grade field trip to Pymatuning State Park in Linesville was so memorable to me that my husband and I took our kids back for a picnic, and we found lots of other interesting sites along the way. A fish hatchery and wildlife viewing area make it unique and contribute to its popularity as the most visited Pennsylvania state park. In turn, I’m sure they’ll take their children to Lake Tobias in Halifax, Pa., after experiencing the fun of having an elk step up into the front of our bus during our Safari tour there.
Pennsylvania author Toni Albert has written great books that help kids learn by doing. My own children enjoyed her spring and summer Ecojournals (fall and winter Ecojournals are available, as well), which showed them just how scientists observe and record information about nature by including Toni’s own day-by-day journals. No dry technological language can be found in these—just a lively look at all of the life that’s waiting to be enjoyed right outside your window. There are terrific projects to do together and space for your children to keep their own notes about their daily observations.
For more science education, you can find science centers and zoos that have reciprocal membership systems. When you get a membership to the Erie, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh Zoo, for example, you can get free or discounted admission to over 100 other zoos in the nation. When you buy a membership to the Whitaker Center For Science and the Arts in Harrisburg, or the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, you can also visit over 250 other science and technology centers.
Don’t forget to include the arts in your summer ventures. Educators have found that these are not frivolous or optional, but essential to child development and learning. Without the stress of homework, summer is a great time to get started on a musical instrument, which can be rented for very affordable rates, depending on the instrument. Turn off the top 40 and give your local jazz or classical radio station a try. Better yet, take in a live concert. Summer is the season for free outdoor concerts at parks, fairs, and other events. Seeing the musicians who love their art in action can make a great impression on your kids. You don’t have to necessarily sit in a chair for the entire program either. Lay a blanket on the ground and play a quiet game, or walk around while you listen.
Art is not just for artists. Stephanie Herr of Camp Hill, Pa., had no special interest or experience in art until she married her husband Dan, whose father is Paul is a professional artist in Lititz, Pa. Now Stephanie teaches art at a Homeschool co-operative for elementary and middle school age students. Art history is never boring in her classroom. When she teaches about Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the boys and girls tape a sheet of paper to the bottom of a chair, lie down underneath it, and paint just like the master.
“Don’t see a house; see a square of red,” she tells the class when studying Monet and the Impressionists. “Don’t see a tree; see a streak of brown.” She encourages the children and their parents to take their watercolor paints outside and paint just like these innovative artists.
Her favorite artist is Georgia O’Keeffe, known for her close up paintings of flowers. “Summer and Georgia O’Keeffe go hand in hand,” she recommends to parents looking for an alternative to summer hours in front of the Xbox. O’Keeffe wanted to make sure people didn’t just walk by the flowers without noticing them, so she painted them big. Often one blossom will take up the entire canvas. Garden centers or your own backyard will provide plenty of petals for you to color or paint. Don’t forget to relay Stephanie’s number one rule to your children: There are no mistakes in art!
Now, with all of these things to do, will your kids have a moment to say, “I’m bored”?
(Originally published in The Pennsylvania Family Institute's Pennsylvania Families and Schools' column "Beyond the Booster Club: Tips for Parental Involvement," Summer 2006.)