Real summer learning


Contributor Amida writes for Journey into Unschooling.

I had big plans this summer. Big Plans. This summer, I decided, we were going to catch up, tie up a few loose ends, and get ahead.

My preschooler would learn her letters while my grade-schooler memorized her times tables and conquered those reading comprehension exercises. My middle-schooler was going to master Latin, guitar, and algebra. And finally, my high-schooler was going to read volumes of summer reading books, write reviews for them, and complete his geometry requirement at the local community college.

All this (and more!) was to be completed by August. No problem.

When I think back to my summers, I remember totally looking forward to three months of doing a whole lot of nothing. Back then, we kids were free to roam the neighborhood and meet up and make plans and do whatever it was we wanted.

It was during the summer that my best friend and I bought a bunch of plastic tupperware at the local pharmacy and spent hours collecting lady bugs. We were playing by a reservoir one day and noticed a whole bunch of  the critters, so we walked back to the store, picked up our containers, and well, contained them.

Summer was when I learned to ride a bike on a borrowed bicycle in an empty parking lot. I kept walking on it (and falling) and suddenly — I still remember this moment vividly — my feet left the ground and I was coasting.

Shortly after that, I purchased my own (pink) bicycle and met up with friends as we rode around the blocks. None of us had summer camps to go to and only one had worksheets to complete.

There was only one time I took a summer class. It was in high school and I honestly don’t remember what the class was or why I felt the need to take it, except to maybe get it over with.

It has been a month since school has ended. I shared my plan of “summer learning” with my 7-year-old the other day and she looked at me like I was nuts. “But it’s summer,” she informed me, exasperated. “We’re not supposed to do any school work!”

I gave her the ever logical explanation of the necessity to be constantly learning, regardless of the season, and the need to stay on track and ahead. “Don’t you know there’s a test on the first day of school? Don’t you want to do well?” I asked her.

Even as I said it, I felt like such a traitor to everything I want to believe in as far as real learning and unschooling and just letting kids play. I mean seriously, the kid is 7 and I was telling her she should be concerned about a stupid test score on the first day of school.

The root of the matter of course, is that they had had another (stupid) test at the end of the school year and didn’t quite measure up. And by that, I mean they were just average, which was a total blow to my ego as a mother and teacher.

Who wants an average kid? Honestly, I don’t even want an above-average kid. I want an above-advanced kid, and these random test scores were going to confirm that. Nevermind they were tested on stuff they had never learned, like how to complete reading comprehension exercises.

How was I supposed to know second-graders had to do those? I was too busy being the proud mom that my struggling reader finally could read with confidence. But I digress.

The problem is my own ingrained belief that, unless they are doing schoolwork, kids are totally just slacking and not learning. This is not true, by the way, as anyone who has observed children make connections through play will tell you.


Photo by mrhayata
My 8-year-old self could tell you that ladybugs need oxygen and aphids to survive and that tupperware is not the best environment for them. It was a tough lesson but I never again contained a bug.

As soon as school let out, I convinced my high-schooler to sign up for geometry at the local college. After all, it was a required course that could only be taken through an actual classroom. It was even a short course, requiring only six weeks. He would have gotten a whole month off before the start of the course and would get another two whole weeks afterwards before school started again. Then he would never have to worry about it again.

He was not convinced nor happy about it, but begrudgingly agreed. Luckily, I couldn’t convince myself. No matter how I thought about it, I just saw a kid who was miserable for six weeks, trudging off to school in the morning, coming home tired and emotionally drained in the afternoon, staying up late doing homework, and probably hating everything about geometry.

This was no way to spend a summer, even if was just six weeks. A few days before the start of class, I withdrew him.

Even as a total believer in interest-led learning and playing, I have a hard time fighting the idea that workbooks and more school work is the ticket to a successful education.

A trip to our favorite library can guilt-trip me into thinking about all the books my kids should be reading (the majority of which, by the way, I never read as a kid).

I know I will slip, especially in the summer. And maybe my kids will, too. But I will try to remember what matters more to me — the freedom to just be. It’s the one time in the year that we are not legally obliged to report learning. We should totally embrace it.

The other day, I found myself alone waiting for my car to be serviced. I was browsing at a bookstore and almost, almost picked up a workbook or two. You know, the ones that promise a bridge between two grades so kids can continue learning through the summer? Or how about the colorful ones with promises of covering every grade-specific topic?

Instead, I picked up a dolly dressing sticker book that I knew my daughter would spend hours immersed in. There was not an ounce of education in it, and definitely no promise that she would be ready for 3rd grade at the completion of the book.

It was perfect.

How do you plan on learning this summer?

About Amida

Amida is the mom to three darn kids. She used to stress about state standards and test scores but has since come to her senses and enjoys blogging about her family's journey into unschooling.


  1. I loved this! Thank you. We all need to reminder to lighten up, especially in the summer!
    Hannah’s latest post: In Defense of the Copycat

  2. I can totally relate to this one. While my sons haven’t been officially tested, I think they are brilliant. Well, maybe not in every subject, but this is what I believe! I had made a plan at one time a month or so ago of all the learning activities and themes we would study each week. Then I decided we need more play too. If my sons want to read, experiment or discover something new – I am all for it. But, let’s just enjoy the time and each other.

  3. Michele Jeffers says:

    I was just telling my friend the other day how easy it is for me to make an idol out of intelligence. As someone who LOVES formal learning (book reports/workbooks/etc) myself it has been sometimes a hard adjustment for me to understand that my children don’t have to learn like I did to be wonderful, successful humans. Thanks for such a thoughtful and honest post. 🙂

  4. You don’t really know that the dolly dressing book has an ounce of learning in it. She can probably get more out of it than a workbook, especially cause its something she enjoys. There is probably matching, perceptual skills, problem solving etc.

  5. We learn in the summer pretty much the way you described your childhood summers – by doing a whole bunch of nothing and loving every minute of it.
    Kris @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers’s latest post: 14 Resources for Studying the United States

  6. Sandy Krout says:

    I love all of this that I keep reading about home education and unschooling. Geez it’s refreshing but it’s SO HARD to learn how not to continue to do what I was taught in school to do. Not only that, but my two homeschoolers went to public school, one to 5ht and the other to 3rd. We basically just did the same things they do in public school, only at home. It’s taken me two years of that to finally be able to have some freedom in trying something different and FUN for all of us. Thanks for sharing!

  7. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only unschooler with these thoughts 🙂 Thank you for this post!
    Amy’s latest post: Projects with Siblings

  8. I wanted my girls to continue math all summer but I think that it is time to just take a break and sleep in, just like I used to do growing up. They grow up so fast as it is. I always want them to be advanced but why? Is it for me or them. I guess I just answered my own question.

  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So encouraging to know that we can overcome the temptation and simply buy ‘a dolly dressing sticker book’! 🙂

  10. Oh this is a brilliant post… such a nice change from all the “go, go, go”… “study, study, study” … all summer long. I think perhaps if folk decided to just let their kids play and play with all their heart, all summer long… their kids would just fly in the following school year.
    se7en’s latest post: The Amazing Scratch Map for Kids from MapStudio… A Totally Cool GiveAway…

  11. Kimberly says:

    I wish I could find that happy medium without it requiring me to be a referee because they have too much time on their hands. I’ve heard the same phrases from my kids.

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

Travel the world all summer with our
FREE summer book club, starting soon!

anabolic pharma