Warmer days and longer light mean that summer has nearly found us once again. For most of us, the advent of summer brings a slower pace and freer schedule. This combination provides parents with a unique opportunity to promote learning and engage their children’s minds outside of the classroom. Regardless of the season, however, the thought of “education at home” can be intimidating. Planning and preparation are daunting tasks—especially when considering multiple children of various ages. These responsibilities cost time and thought even when attempting to supplement a child’s classical Christian education.
Perhaps we should take a cue from summer and simplify. Many traditional summer activities lend themselves to learning, and others only require simple modification to be exploited for educational growth. Consider these four practical ways to supplement your child’s classical Christian education this summer:
Summer offers children the opportunity to read extensively. Encourage your child to set personal goals, but don’t neglect the opportunity to read as a family as well! Consider choosing a favorite series, or let each child in the family choose a title. If you need help, consult one of the many recommended reading lists available online. The method isn’t as important as the act of reading together as a family. Reading together exposes little ones to new vocabulary, captivates all ages with good stories, and encourages imagination. You might even find yourselves laughing out loud together! Our family has found that these times of family reading often lead to meaningful discussions about character, identity, and the God of our own stories as well.
When encouraging your child to read, keep a healthy “diet” of literature in mind. Strive to evaluate the books in consideration, and choose those which attempt to communicate truth, beauty, and goodness. We choose to limit our children’s intake of graphic novels, for example, because they are like “book candy”—okay as an occasional treat but not a healthy staple. As your children set goals for personal reading and you choose texts to read as a family, keep this principle in mind.
To enlarge a child’s view of the world and his place in it, there is perhaps no greater tool than travel. Mark Twain suggested that “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” Summer vacations provide opportunity for this work of “view-broadening” to be done. Whether bringing children along on a “working vacation”, visiting family in another town or state, or setting out for a week by the sea, there is much room for education and personal growth through travel.
Encourage your children to research your destination beforehand—send them to the library or help them find information on the internet. Enlist their help in planning and preparing—are there famous places to stop along the route? Children love learning history from stories and experiences; summer travel provides the opportunity for both. During your trip, encourage younger children to draw pictures of interesting sights, and ask older children to keep a journal detailing the events of each day. Be as creative as you like! Conduct interviews, collect maps and brochures, encourage a child’s interest in photography, or create a family video. The possibilities for educational growth are endless, and your children will return from their adventures with a broader view of the world around them.
Most families will travel outside of their hometowns at some point over the summer, but even if this is not the case, summer provides time to learn about other places and cultures in a more intentional way. Consider focusing on a particular country or people group. You could “travel” together by reading, studying, watching films, trying traditional foods, and exploring other facets of another culture. I highly recommend Jamie C. Martin’s Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time for help with this endeavor. Martin’s text provides well-organized lists of suggested reading for countries and cultures all over the world. In it you will find recommended titles, brief summaries, and targeted age groups for each book. Of course, children can journal, photograph, illustrate, and video this type of “journey” as well!
Summer’s long, well-lit days are amongst the best for exploring the outdoors. Nature serves as a laboratory for experiment, an inspiration for artistic expression, and a catalyst for imaginative pursuits. Your child won’t merely experience the exercise of his body; exploration will nurture the growth of his mind. Take a walk in the woods, drink in a sunset from a mountaintop, kayak a river, or dip your toes into the ocean tide. Catch fireflies at night, grow a backyard garden, choose dry flies for a fishing expedition, or volunteer to do trail maintenance at a nearby park. Your child will emerge with a greater understanding of the created world—and, by God’s grace, a deeper knowledge of the Creator.
C. S. Lewis once wrote of nature’s lessons: “Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience.” Free your child to explore the created world this summer, and when possible, join with him in this endeavor.
Perhaps the only logical response to the previous three suggestions—reading, traveling, and exploring—is to create. We are souls made in the image of God; we are created to create. The limited structure of summer provides ample opportunity for our children to grow in creativity. More formal avenues for creative expression abound—art classes and theater workshops, for example. However, these need not be the only conduits for creativity in our children.
Consider giving your child access to the recycling pile, let him try his hand at watercoloring, set up a “mud pottery” workshop in the backyard, or help him write poetry. Encourage your child to set up a culinary experiment, build a castle out of Legos, dig a water system in the sand, or make a log cabin out of sticks. Simple to complex, opportunities for your child to create abound year-round, but summer offers more time to actually engage them. Take advantage of this, and watch your child grow.
As you celebrate the close of another school year and begin to taste the freedom of summer, consider these four simple ways to encourage your child’s personal and educational growth: read, travel, explore, and create. You don’t have to be a professional educator to tend your child’s mind—and you might just make a few memories in the process.
Note: We have a summer “Create!” contest for School of the Ozarks students. You can read the details here.
 There are many recommended reading lists available online. For a brief list of suggested titles for grades 1-8, visit: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/03/04/a-complete-classical-christian-school-reading-list-grades-1-8/ .
 Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 243. accessed May 8, 2017, http://mark-twain.classic-literature.co.uk/the-innocents-abroad/.
 Jamie C. Martin. Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.
 C.S. Lewis. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, San Diego: Mariner, 2002.