By Shari McMinn
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14 ESV).
I love how God created the signs and seasons, days that seem too long while the years fly by too fast. Colorado has such a wonderful outdoor environment with an equal amount of all four seasons across the plains and in the mountains. We have always been an outdoor living family and immensely enjoyed summertime! We also had fun with winter sports like sledding and skiing, spring with landscaping and gardening, and fall with pumpkins and harvest time. But, I remain a summer girl, and my kids are too.
I was always so thankful when the school year ended (May 31st for us). But, unlike I thought it would be, summer was not just one big relaxing vacation because I had kids of all ages, abilities, and personalities! Sibling rivalry, incomplete chores, inappropriate behavior, and just plain old slothful, argumentative attitudes could set-in for three months! Sound familiar? God showed me that after suffering through some difficult years, at least a minimal plan for summer would help. My kids did get bored every summer, and that was good! If they complained, I mentioned I had a list of extra chores they could start on. That got their creative juices flowing with hobbies or creative play and they disappeared for hours!
We did treat the three summer months differently than the nine months of our traditional school year. Maybe you do this with your family’s schedule. Or do you homeschool year round with a week off now and then for a more relaxed time? However a family chooses to homeschool for the minimum required four hours and 172 days a year, there is downtime in between. It can either be relaxing and enjoyable, or just overwhelmingly chaotic! How is your summer going so far? Does it need a bit of rethinking?
During our 28 summers of homeschooling, we established a routine of letting our kids sleep in an hour or two later than usual, then stay up a bit later in the evening to take advantage of daylight until 9pm for outdoor recreation. We still ate three meals a day, but the kids helped cook them, taking turns in teams. We hit our local pool after music lessons each week. (Music was the only “school” we continued through the summer with daily practice.) These adjustments seemed to lighten things up while still having a basic routine.
My husband and I set an example for regular daily reading with morning Bible study. We enforced “quiet time” each afternoon for the older kids while the youngest children took naps. Ahead of summer, I stocked up on art and journaling supplies, audio books, games, and movies for inside activities. We also encouraged a lot of outdoor creative play and just hanging out together. We were fortunate to have a playset with slides and swings, a treehouse with ladder and climbing rope, and lots of acreage to explore (always watching out for rattlesnakes!). On our farm, we had a small backyard seasonal pool — a stock tank — which was emptied and refilled once a week. It was not large enough to swim in, but after lunch it got a lot of screaming and squirming out of toddlers through teens before their afternoon quiet time!
We could never really afford or arrange for a two-week “summer vacation” as my parents had provided for my family growing up. Instead, we planned a few fun adventures, usually during one weekend per month. Our favorites were road trips to some historic landmark that was a 2–4 hour drive away. We would leave early-afternoon on Friday, arrive at our hotel before sunset, then swim and enjoy delivered pizza before lights out. Of course, with our big family, we had to find a hotel that could accommodate 4+ kids in one room and a connecting room with 2+ kids and us parents. One or two of our trustworthy teens would stay home to care for our farm critters. The teens would switch off so they could participate in two of the three summer weekend mini-vacations.
After checking out the historic sights all day Saturday, we would then stay a second night if we had the funds to do so. On Sunday after breakfast devotions, we would explore more local scenery, have a late lunch, then head home before dark. This placated the “When are we ever going to have some real fun and take a vacation like everyone else?” kids. During the drives, everyone was buckled in their respective extended van seats for a few hours coming and going, meaning my hubby and I could converse or listen to the music we liked (can you say Johnny Cash and Motown?)!
In-between trips, we pleasantly passed the at-home summer days with simple things to do. My kids were mostly self-directed, with some supervision by my husband and me. One of us would check on them every 15 minutes (which they now tell me wasn’t often enough to keep them out of mischief!) to manage their progress and ensure safety. Many of these activities were related to their 4H projects (which I always thought of as “summer school” but never told them, so they thought it was just fun).
- Collecting insects or rocks
- Drawing and painting
- Gardening: flowers, fruits, vegetables (usually with me alongside)
- Homemaking: baking, cooking, preserving, sewing
- Mechanics: electricity, home maintenance and remodeling, vehicle maintenance and repair (often together with my husband)
- Raising livestock: calves, chickens, goats, lambs, and rabbits
Another important activity for summer, which was both a learning and money-making experience, was the small businesses that my kids worked in and profited from. This helped them learn that work could be enjoyable and enrich their lives financially. When we lived in Denver, they could provide neighborhood elders, family friends, and traveling or working couples with the following services:
- Child care (after completing a babysitting course)
- House sitting for absent neighbors with lawn and garden watering, mail and newspaper collection, turning lights on/off morning and evening
- Pet sitting that included companionship, feeding, walking, and watering
- Yard maintenance such as mowing, weeding, and spreading dirt, mulch, or gravel
When we moved to our remote farm, all of our children regardless of age and capability could:
- Care for breeding dogs to sell puppies
- Gather eggs to sell to customers at church and in town
- Repair fence for ranching neighbors
- Raise rabbits to sell for pets and meat
Not everything worked out as anticipated, especially for my special needs kids who were paired with their older, more capable siblings (but did not always work together as they should). One of my sons neglected feeding four lambs and they died from starvation before we realized what was happening. A litter of puppies died from Parvo because we failed to attend their vaccination appointment. Children were injured doing things they were not allowed to do but did anyway. Deep cuts needed stitches, broken bones required ER trips, machinery was ruined and expensive to repair or replace (water put in a gas powered lawn mower!), and vegetables rotted from not being picked on time were just some of the hard knocks they learned but will never forget. Those lessons were as important as math and reading.
My children’s summers have come and gone. They speak of them fondly and I enjoyed the experiences with them. My kids are now soaring as adults, not just from what they learned in “school,” but during our summers together. Those long, hot days can be problematic, but the proactive solutions are worth it!
Need more practical tips for living with and homeschooling your unique learner? Check out the Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s webpage, Teaching My Kids With Special Needs.
Do you have a dyslexic student who struggles with reading and/or writing? Be encouraged by this article from Andrew Pudewa, Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), about his son, The Work of a Child.
My next blog, “Lazy Days of Summer Hot Dates”, which involves downtime and refreshment strategies for weary parents of unique learners, will be posted on July 26, 2023 (the 4th Wednesday).
Shari McMinn, your trusted homeschooling friend
P.S. If you have a topic I should write about, please email me with your suggestion(s). This blog is for you!