Practical ideas for a summer of learning

practical ideas for a summer of learning Written by contributor Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane

First confession: I haven’t “done school” in three months.

Second confession: It was during these three months that Jamie asked me to be a regular contributor here at Simple Homeschool.

Final confession: My kids have learned more and I’ve learned more about them learning more (got that?) in these three months than ever before.

So the timing felt right, and that’s what I’m learning:

About feeling right and summer education.

See, during the three months we weren’t “doing school,” I was in the throes of my busiest season. I speak at women’s events and these are heavily concentrated in the fall and spring. At first this felt like a handicap for homeschooling.

The regular school times were my busiest seasons, which meant Mama’s brain was just plain tired. Sure, we spent time together each day adventuring and discovering, reading and exploring, but I just wasn’t up for cracking open the curriculum for concentrated school-time.

But then it dawned on me: We can set our own school schedule! And further, we can learn year-round without worrying about breaks or calendars at all. And more than that, I was amazed at how much my kids learned despite our lack of formal school. Could I really be this relaxed about it all?

At first I was a little scared about sliding into slacker-zone, but after learning more about unschooling and diving into Educating the WholeHearted Child, this made more and more sense. This wasn’t slacking, this wasn’t selfishness, this was embracing the timing, seasons, flow, and feel of what worked best for our family.

Summer education is at the core.

Social media posts everywhere are singing the same song, “Summer vacation is almost here!” Moms are army-crawling across the finish line, packing lunches and juggling schedules and anticipating the freedom of less structured days.

Kids are eager for afternoons outdoors and all the exploration and adventure ahead. Everyone’s ready for relaxation, recreation, and some space to breathe.

Sounds like the perfect recipe for top-notch education.

There’s a lot of concern about “summer learning loss.” Apparently, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer, as compared to the beginning of summer, and most lose about two months of grade level equivalency during the summer. Some suggest the answer is summer camps or year-round school.

But the truth is, for homeschoolers and public-schoolers alike, summer is the perfect time to learn.In fact, as a homeschooled child myself, my clearest memories are all of learning outdoors.

So whether your kids are home for the summer or home all the time, the idea is the same:

Seize the summer!

Instead of thinking Summer Vacation think Summer Education and practice turning each day’s activities into teachable moments. This is a great opportunity to dabble in the unschool/interest-led learning method without tossing your traditional curriculum to the curb. A few ideas:

reading Photo by Lacey Meyers

  • Make a FUN summer reading list. Try to incorporate a style, time-period, author, or genre you’ve never read before. Offer rewards and celebrate often. (See Sarah’s Top 25 read-alouds here)
  • Make a must-see museum list and plan to visit a few each month.
  • Take at least one fabulous family vacation. “Fabulous” can apply to touring the world or touring your city–just get outside your backyard and see what you find. Wherever you go, find books, videos, and articles, researching all you can about your destination. Take photographs, journal, color, draw pictures, document, conduct interviews, and film short “documentaries” of what you discover.
  • Garden. Summer is the perfect time to learn and re-learn about the fascinating world of plant-life. If possible, give each child her own small plot (or pot) to tend and care for. Be sure to celebrate your first harvest!
  • Experiment in the kitchen. Visit the farmer’s market often and give kids a chance to try new foods. Include them in harvesting, freezing, prepping, cooking, canning.
  • Re-think DIY. Summer is the house-project season for most of us, but instead of only doing it yourself, think of doing it with your kids. This is a prime opportunity to teach about budgets, project planning, and hard work!

All of these things require planning and preparation. A relaxed approach doesn’t mean we don’t plan ahead, set goals or have structure. When we are thoughtful and intentional about seizing summer education opportunities, we’ll actually enjoy the summer months even more.

The joy of education is seeing in each day endless possibilities for growth, learning, adventure, risk, and exploration. Instead of fretting about summer learning loss, let’s seize the summer and see it as it truly is–the perfect environment for a stellar education.

{Thanks for reading.}

What are your favorite summer education activities? Help us by sharing your ideas!

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. Sensing some boredom sinking in, I handed my 11 1/2 year old daughter our map bin and said, “You know that road trip we’re taking to Pennsylvania (from Georgia)…why don’t you see if there are any interesting routes we can take or other places near enough to add onto the trip. Incorporate at least one national historic site into the mix.”.
    With maps spread across the floor, she’s been on that project off an on for a few days. She’s learned features of the map I didn’t know were there. She asked if we could add some geocaches into the mix. Sure! I’m excited to see where the trip takes us, but so far we’ll be adding on 3 hours to get up to Niagra Falls, then will come down through Canada, adding check marks to a few more states and a country on our travel map. Before we go, we’ll research the places we’ll see and some people too. This is turing into a BIG (shhhh) school project.
    I work from home and April is a busy month where “school” doesn’t happen. Summer is more relaxed for me, so I always get excited about summer learning. So far that has meant spreading a blanket on the grass each day where we can gather between play for a read aloud, starting 2 mile daily family walks (and talks), and lots of quiet reading time. A couple of small home repair projects are coming up, so rather than hiring them out, my husband is going to turn those into research/work projects with the kids.
    Summer and homeschooling offer so many opportunities. I can’t imagine my kids would drop points on a standardized test at any time of the year and I’m lucky I don’t have to worry about it. These “summer” days are ending before we can fit all our plans in each day. We’ve got more important things to do than worry about test scores.

  2. What great ideas. Thank you!

  3. Catherine says:

    My daughter (4 last summer) got excited to pay the vendors at the Farmer’s Market. Since most things are even dollars and there is no tax it will be just the right level math lesson for her this year.

    • Kari Patterson says:

      Perfect! Our Farmer’s Market is today–going to put your idea into practice right away! Thanks.

  4. Love this! And totally agree; we’ve got plans for all sorts of fun—I mean, learning. 😉
    Tsh Oxenreider’s latest post: Warm weather family workouts

    • Kari Patterson says:

      Thank you, Tsh! Confession: I sort of did a happy dance when I saw your comment. Thanks for taking the time to read. SO blessed by you!

  5. I’m a full time college student during the fall and spring, so I’ve discovered summer is the best time for me to really delve into homeschooling wholeheartedly. I have so many plans for engaging my kids in learning this summer.
    One of my more devious plans involves getting my 7 year old son reading. He loves getting read to, but he doesn’t like actually doing the work. He doesn’t think he is very good at it. To boost his confidence and spark his interest, this summer, I made a deal with him: every time he reads a book and completes a one-page book review, he gets a dollar. He can earn a maximum of $100 this summer. It works. It might seem like bribery (okay, yeah, its bribery), but it works, he has been reading a book and completing a report nearly every day. It also had an unexpected benefit: math. Every time we go to the store he thinks about how much money he has earned and how many more books he has to read to buy certain toys or treats.
    Erin Josln’s latest post: Thrifty Summer with Kids

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Absolutely – you’re so right about this! I know *I*can barely keep still right now with the outside world blossoming with newness. There’s a different sort of energy that comes around this time year perfect for a new stage of learning experiences for all of us – kids and adults.

  7. Great thoughts! I have all the books for Five in a Row, Vol 1 planned for the summer, reserved for the right week at the library already. We start Monday. We take breaks whenever we need them and then just keep going.

  8. You’re so right. Our children just learn naturally. Especially if they have a love for reading and learning. It just happens. I’ve been homeschooling for 12 years. Only recently have I started reading about unschooling. It makes so much sense. We also school year-round and take several breaks throughout the year, especially from Thanksgiving to the new year.
    You had so much good stuff to share with us. Can I just add a site we’ve used for book lists…they also have books written by homeshoolers and with homeschooled characters! Oh, and they have book clubs with study guides.

    Thanks again for all the great tips and information.

  9. I think of us as semi-eclectic unschoolers because we do use some DVD\’s and online resources like time4learning, drive thru history, and vocabulary spelling city. It took me quite a long time to comes to terms with unschooling because I thought I was shortchanging my daughter, but it’s simply not true.

    Glad you stumbled across something that made life easier for you all.

    Joyfully, Jackie
    Jackie’s latest post: Summer Fun and Homeschool Reading

  10. Our teens just participated in the “Baby Think It Over” project for our Spring break. It was awesome! I now feel comfortable having our girls babysit after their 7 day baby care training project. We recommend that all homeschooled teens participate in this program. A truly one-of-a-kind program for teens. Electronic babies that look very real, required care 24/7 and recorded all of the care our girls provided the babies. The company sent us an email with their results when they got the rental babies back from us. Two thumbs up from the Hines Family!

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