Instill a Love of Learning
I’m writing this in June, about a third of the way through a lovely, relaxing summer. We homeschool year round, but we only complete math during the summer, plus we have a break from orchestra, debate, co-op and other extracurricular classes, so we have a much more relaxed routine and entire days completely free.
Whether you think of yourself as a year-round homeschooler or not, you are. If you’ve homeschooled for very long, you know that homeschooling and life are beautifully, inseparably intertwined.
Homeschooling isn’t just the two or three hours each morning when you drag out the textbooks and gather around the kitchen table. It’s also the time you spend in an airport lounge waiting for a flight, when your child asks you (completely panicked) why your upcoming flight will take 29 hours and you explain the concept of the International Date Line, which leads into a conversation about time zones and eventually the Earth’s rotation around the sun.
And don’t forget cooking together, working together, playing together, dinnertime conversations about the economic policies of our current political leaders and explaining how all the things work in response to all the incessant questions all day long every day.
Mom, you are an information machine.
You are always teaching.
I’m not saying our way of summer homeschooling is perfect or that it would work for everyone. But after 18 years of homeschooling, I’ve tweaked it sufficiently so it’s perfect for us.
I just want to share a few ideas you can choose to take or leave, or modify and tweak to best suit your own family. The main objective of summer learning (in my opinion) is not learning at all, but rather a love of learning!
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3 Ideas for Building a Love of Learning:
First on my list is summer reading because it is so critical AND because it’s so magical. We hit the read-alouds especially hard during the summer, and this is where I lean into the hard classics and the things my kids don’t choose for themselves during weekly library visits.
My kids regularly devour thousand-page Brandon Sanderson books, but wrinkle their noses when I offer them exciting classics like A Tale of Two Cities or Huck Finn, even though I know they would love them. So I sneak them into our read-aloud stack and just give my kids a little taste, then when we arrive at a particularly exciting part, I announce “Bed time!”, close the book and leave it on then end table where I know it will disappear.
I also love to use summer time to read tough books aloud together — the ones that dredge up hard questions and require discussion. We sobbed together over The Hiding Place, were appalled by Dr. Price in the Poisonwood Bible, waded wide-eyed through To Kill A Mockingbird and exulted over Les Miserables.
My children would probably not have picked any of those books up on their own. Next up on my list are Animal Farm and 1984, which should supply plenty of discussion fodder. I can hardly wait!
One favorite read-aloud, summer tradition is watermelon. I slice up a watermelon onto a baking sheet and head to the backyard, tray and current book in hand. The kids magically follow like little ducklings — even my big kids.
Of course, we continue our weekly library habit because my kids will never let me forget. We summer-ize our library visits by packing snacks and a blanket going straight to the park afterward with our books to lie in the sun and read. Reading is a truly delicious, enjoyable way to instill a humongous love of learning!
My kids each play a couple of instruments seriously, which requires a hefty amount of practicing. They want to learn other instruments for fun, but it’s hard to find the time when their mean mother makes them practice their serious instruments daily.
Summer is that time!
Last week, my son ran into my office, all excited that he had found a free pdf of one of his favorite AJR songs online. He was going to learn the cello part while his little sisters learned the viola, guitar and ukelele parts and vocals. They spent the entire afternoon (and several subsequent afternoons) doing just that.
We don’t have a violist, so my violin-wielding daughter transposed the viola part. She also re-strung and tuned our two ukeleles, then taught her little sister the string names and the chords she would need. This impromptu group is definitely not ready for the stage, but my mother-heart was thrilled to listen to them working together, completely independent of coercion.
My youngest wants to be a singer when she grows up. Instead of telling her that it’s impractical or that it would be a heavy, difficult burden (just look at how many public personalities lead happy lives v. the number of them that end up addicts with multiple, tragic divorces, broken families and heartache) I choose to encourage her in hard work toward her dream.
So I told her she should learn all the music theory she can, plus learn several instruments so she can accompany her own voice, plus she should play the violin, viola or cello to develop her aural skills. I’m going to milk this thing for all it’s worth!
One of my favorite parts of every day is when we head outside to practice our guitars together. We sit in the sun on the back patio and our dog and several cats gather around while we practice. We joke that they like to hear us play, although they’re probably just there for the belly rubs.
Music is magical all on its own, but when you add in the vitamin D, the fresh air and the great company, it just doesn’t get any better. Guess who doesn’t fight me about practicing?
The environment in which learning happens can make or break a love of learning.
Sometimes the school year feels so hectic, it’s hard to even get to everything we need to, much less the things we want to. I love the idea of project-based learning and I see such fantastic results when I allow it in our homeschool, but boy is it messy!
It can also be time consuming. I really hate to make my kids clean off the table and put all of the tools and supplies away in the middle of a big project, but the alternative is for me to feel like a nutcase. Messes plague me.
Summer time, with fewer responsibilities and great swaths of unstructured time is perfect for projects. This summer my one son really wanted to take a Mark Rober engineering class, but it was $250 and also had a long, expensive parts list (not included) to boot.
I don’t mind paying for great classes, but I like to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth, so I read the class description carefully and looked up reviews and concluded that most of his project tutorials are already online for free and that all we needed parts-wise was the arduino. After purchasing the arduino, I realized I needed a few tutorials on how to use it.
The kit I purchased came with a CD of tutorials. How weird. I think it’s Chinese — does anyone even have CD-ROM drives on their machines anymore? I don’t, so I searched for tutorials on YouTube and stumbled across this seriously incredible arduino course (completely free) taught by Paul McWhorter.
He spends alternate lessons teaching the assembly and programming of the arduino with lessons about the scientific principles behind the components of the arduino. For example, before adding LED’s to the circuit you build, he taught a physics lesson about how Light Emitting Diode’s work. Before working much with circuits, he taught about Ohm’s Law, current, voltage and resistance.
He is a clear, concise, simple and profound teacher. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and am finishing up a degree in Computer Science, and I am learning a ton right alongside my kiddos. The true magic, though, is that as appealing as the course is to me, it is just as appealing to all of my children, right down to my seven-year-old daughter.
All you need to take the course is an arduino set. The arduino brand is actually more expensive and not any better. I just purchased this Elegoo Super Starter Kit from Amazon for only $35. It comes with a ton of resistors, LED’s, wires, a motherboard, a motor, a variety of output pieces, and more — basically everything you need to build all of the projects in the course.
Once we complete the arduino course (my kids love the classes so much we complete 3 or 4 of them per day, every day) we’ll be ready to build projects a la Mark Rober. Woohoo!
I love building things and DIY, so I have lots of tools, scrap lumber, pvc and other supplies in my garage. If you don’t already have things like that lying around, you might have to plan ahead.
If you have younger kids or want simpler projects you could sign up for one of the Kiwi Crate lines (Save 30% On Your First Month’s Box) or Creation Crate or Mel STEM subscription kit. My kids are subscribed to Kiwi, Tinker and Eureka crates (all part of the Kiwi Crate line) and they jump for joy every month when their packages come.
Subscription boxes make it easy on YOU. They come with everything needed to build the project and instructions to do so, and they are typically things your children can build with zero supervision, depending on their ages. Mark Rober projects require a whole lot more from me, but they are also far more educational and rewarding.
Of course, there is a whole world of project-based learning beyond STEM, too. Look to your children’s interests to find the perfect projects. I keep a running list of ideas in my phone, to which I refer at the library or whenever I’m looking for an educational project.
Have a great time building your kiddos love of learning this summer!
The best thing about this list of ideas for summer learning is that they are all child-led, interest-driven and hands-on. Each of them contribute to a love of learning in a way that textbooks can’t. If you’ve got reluctant learners on your hands, this is the best way to convert them to the idea that learning is enjoyable.
William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Go forth and light un-extinguishable fires of learning, my fellow homeschool moms (and dads)!
P.S. I’m sure this article will be read during seasons other than summer, so I just wanted to add that these ideas can be easily translated to other seasons as well. Instead of reading aloud on the lawn while eating watermelon, read together while cuddled under a blanket in front of a roaring fire. Projects are a little more difficult to fit in, but you could undertake them intentionally on a long weekend or whenever you have a break in the schedule. There are a million ways to instill a love of learning in your kiddos!
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