3 ways to maximize summer learning without doing school

Written by Kari Patterson.

“Note to self: By mid-May you are just so done.”

This is a memo I left to myself, last year around this time, when I was army-crawling across the finish-line of school, joylessly trudging through the final obligatory lessons.

See, when the sun comes out and the natural world awakes, there are a thousand outdoor adventures to be had, and quite frankly no one wants to stay inside to study. Most of all me.

So while I respect the year-round homeschooling mentality, I’ve found for our family, we need summer. And this year, by a little better planning ahead, we were able to indeed finish our formal lessons by mid-May, and can I just tell you: It has been glorious!

But a summer break doesn’t mean we do nothing for three months.

Remember, a change is as good as a rest. Summer is one of the best times for learning, but not in the traditional sit-down-and-study sort of way. I’m finding that the best way for us to maximize summer learning isn’t by trudging through or quitting altogether, it’s through taking advantage of the unique opportunities summer affords and capitalizing on those. There are lots of ways, but here are three of my favorites:

1. Life Skills


In her book, Life Skills for Kids, author Christine M. Field writes,

“Summer is a good time to learn new responsibilities. Taking out trash or doing yard-work can be taught sequentially on a slow summer day. A school break might be the perfect time to organize your child’s room to make it easier for him to maintain. If new routines are established over break periods, they will be in place when school resumes.”

Just as you make lesson plans for school-year curriculum, consider making “life skills lesson plans” to tackle over the summer.

One week might be making simple meals each evening. Evenings could easily be devoted to learning to doing dishes thoroughly (even better if Dad does the teaching!).

A sunny day is a great time to give a pressure-washer to an older child and teach him to clean the deck or patio. Take a kid along as you tackle house-repairs, YouTube-ing solutions and learning along the way. Research any gardening woes you may have, learning about pests and other potential problems, together.

Focus on finances for a few weeks, teaching everything from budgeting, saving, investing, banking.

It might even be as simple as finally teaching the child how to really clean his room – providing a step-by-step guide and practicing it all summer until he’s got it down pat. Or, it might be a good season to allow a responsible child to finally get a pet.

We’re adding a dog and a baby to our family this summer, so there’s a lot of learning ahead for us all!

Summer is a great opportunity to teach our kids all those life lessons that often slip through the cracks of academia during the school year. Don’t let these summer days go to waste: Let’s equip our kids for the real world.

2. Your Education

A month or so ago, I was reading A Thomas Jefferson Education for some fresh inspiration (I love gleaning wisdom from a variety of educational methods).

I loved what I read, and eagerly turned to Appendix F titled: “Putting Thomas Jefferson Education to Work.” The heading read, “How to Get Started: Months 1-2.” Awesome, I thought. I can take the couple months of summer to learn more about this method.

I kept reading, “If you are going to follow this system, follow it closely. Do one step at the time.” I was ready for a detailed plan, so I braced myself and turned the page.

This is all it said:

Ha! Ok, ok. I turned the next page:

Really?! I can get behind this. I chose one, devoured it. Then turned the page and saw:

Haha. Ok. I get it. The most important way I can improve our homeschool is to invest in my own mind as well. I checked out all the books from the library, curled up on the couch, and happily began my “homework.”

There are more steps ahead, but at 3 books in I can see the shift in my mindset, the new outlook, the fresh inspiration I needed.

I’m learning, enjoying, growing. I’m also 8-months pregnant so this is a welcomed way to spend my afternoons!

The point is this: Summer is the perfect opportunity for you to invest in you. Homeschool your own heart. Maybe it’s adding in an exercise routine, daily Bible-reading, or an online class you’ve always wanted to take.

Whatever it is, take some time to consider how cultivating your heart and mind this summer might make a big difference come fall.

3. Nature Study

It probably goes without saying, but summer is the time to invest in the natural world outside. Opportunities abound – there are bees and birds and blossoms, camping trips and swimming days.

Sketch, study, soak up every square inch of your yard, forest, park, whatever nature you have near you. And don’t forget, this isn’t “doing nothing.” As Richard Louv says in Last Child in the Woods,

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”

While some direction and discipline may be appropriate, resist the urge to “quantify” the learning your littles are doing outdoors. When it comes to wonder and exploration, often unstructured time really is best.

And, of course, the best way to infuse a love of nature in our children, is to head out there ourselves and join them. Get in the lake. Crawl in the grass. Watch the ants. Look through the magnifying glass. Hold the fishing pole.

Of course, there are more formal opportunities as well: Sports camps, swimming lessons, summer camps, Vacation Bible Schools, summer reading competitions.

But don’t limit your kids’ learning to only these – seize the summer with all its potential for training, learning, and growth.

What are your favorite ways to maximize learning all summer? 

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About Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson and her family live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. As a 2nd-generation homeschooler she espouses the same philosophy her own mom did in the 80s: Cultivate a love for learning and one's education will never end. She bakes bread, brews kombucha, speaks at conferences & writes at Sacred Mundane. Her new book Sacred Mundane is available now.


  1. Great advice! I also focus on my own learning in the summer as well as lots of time in nature. The other thing that works for me (and is very similar to life skills) is working on developing good habits like piano practice, good attitudes when doing chores, and daily nature journaling, as well as getting the kids physically stronger through lots of swimming, playing, and walking/hiking.

  2. Angie Hearn says:

    Love it! Summer gets me so excited about not be tied to a schedule and just playing. We like to make a summer bucket list. This helps me stay motivated, because I like checking things off a list. Last year we had catch a frog on our list. The girl searched and searched. We had seen a few but had not caught any by the end of August. It looked like it wasn’t going to happen. We were at the river, and my two big girls found and caught one! They were SO proud! They were screaming and celebrating. They already love creatures, but putting it on the list gave them a huge sense of accomplishment! Now that they understand these lists, it’s fun to let them direct our list and ideas.

  3. Summer’s a great time to visit historic locations in your area. There are more crowds than in the school year but usually more reenactors, too.

  4. This is such a great reminder, Kari! Summer seems to be the time we, in our family, really seem to bloom. This summer the boys are working 2 days a week with Matt’s mom around the property and the life lessons in that are endless. 🙂 My heart and soul revel in all the extra time to watercolor, read aloud and play baseball together, garden and just finally be.out.side. Ironically though, Cooper just told me tonight that he kinda misses school and wondered if he could do a reading comprehension lesson. Hah!

  5. These are all great reminder. Definitely, summer is one of the best seasons to do great activities while learning with your kids. An amazing way to bond with them as they gain those skills and knowledge. Anyways, thank you for sharing this and worth the read. Cheers!

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