Szyperski: Summer schoolWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Every summer starts out the same. The kids and I run to the library to sign up for the summer reading club and daydream about the hours on end we are going to spend with our noses in books. We then make a list of all of the other fun things we are going to partake in over the next 11 weeks and vow to make them reality.
I’m not sure at which point our summer strategy usually falls apart, but it inevitably does. Burned out from the constant school-year paperwork, I can’t seem to remember to keep track of the minutes the kids read or write down which books they read (as is required for their school reading program). I then struggle internally about whether to fudge the names and numbers, knowing that they have actually put in the effort. I ultimately decide that it is more important that I not set a manipulate-the-system example than assure them summer reading program prizes.
Thanks to instances like the just-guess-how-many-reading-minutes dilemma, this is the summer I finally came to the conclusion that such nuance is what summer learning is all about in our house. Taking into consideration that my children enjoy learning and do well academically throughout the school year, I finally feel content to just focus on other areas, without guilt, during their break. Anyway, I’m no more a professional educator than I am an electrician or a dentist, so I feel about as comfortable teaching them scholastically as I would rewiring our house or performing a root canal.
What I am trained for and good at is knowing my children’s individual strengths and weaknesses and figuring out what sort of skills and fine-tuning, on the whole, they will each need to succeed in life. That is the job of a mother.
I love my children unconditionally, but I can’t help but notice that not one of them is perfect. I am witness to their shortcomings and it is my duty to help them improve themselves when possible. As proud as I may be when they succeed intellectually, I understand that such seeming advantage will be of little benefit if they do not also build practical social, emotional and other everyday skills to go along with it.
Unfortunately, these skills aren’t mastered by having kids read textbooks or fill out worksheets. They are acquired through daily at-home trial and error, namely in the form of arguing, yelling, crying, ignoring, disobeying and generalized boundary testing. On a good day, such counterproductive pursuits are only conducted by the children. On a bad day, parents may slip and partake in one, two or more negative approaches themselves (not that I’m speaking from personal experience, of course).
I wish I could say that my children and I spend our summers simply cataloging our reading accomplishments, combating summer learning loss and taking on countless other intellectual objectives. However, the truth is that we spend at least some moment of nearly every single day of summer break locked in a fierce, almost constant battle of wits until we’re all at our wits’ end. So, it is almost intellectual, I suppose.
The most frustrating part of social and emotional development is that there is no “Minutes Read” or, rather, “Developmental Skill Level Reached” form to fill out. The accomplishments vary from child to child and there is no definitive finish line. For the most part, I know that I won’t even see the fruits of my summertime labor until years down the road. Still, I’ll take the little encouraging moments when I can.
I will say that I did find my son, Jack, who often lacks the determination to do things himself, fixing his sleepover guest breakfast one morning with zero adult intervention. I also caught Laney, my overly corrective 6-year-old, holding her tongue once or twice. In fact, I think I maybe, maybe even witnessed my 3-year-old, Lucy, actually stop doing something that I asked her not to do. Perhaps they were summer miracles, but I’d like to think that my constant prodding had a little something to do with it.
As much as I feel pressured to make my children read and print out math sheets for them on a daily basis, I also see the summer as an intensive training time for non-intellectual pursuits. As much as I want them to succeed academically, I can’t help but think my greatest personal responsibility lies in making them good, sensible people who can take care of themselves and others as the years go on.
Shannon and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania.