5 Easy, Fun and Mostly Free Ways to Do Charlotte Mason Summer School (and Get a Jump Start on Next Year)

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In the United States, summer school is a bit of an oxymoron. Summer, of course, is for play, and parties, and long hours out of doors. School, as we generally think, is for indoors and … well, not parties. So we understandably avoid the idea of schooling during these months of “freedom.” But those of us who know Charlotte Mason also know that CM school is far from boring and desk bound. In fact, summer is the perfect time to “school” when using a methods and philosophies developed by a woman who said, “Why would you be indoors when you could be out?”

This is such good news. When you use Charlotte Mason’s methods and philosophies in your school, you don’t have to give up the joy of those warm months if you need to catch up from last year due to unexpected crises. You could also use summer to get a little jump on hours for the next year. All you have to do is integrate the CM joyful feast into your daily or weekly summer routine. It’s that simple.

So here are five easy — and fun, I promise — ways to do that without breaking your budget or ruining a nice day at the beach. As long as you approach it in a relaxed way, in sync with the season — and still take four to six weeks off — you’ll enjoy your summer and enter fall classes with enthusiasm.

1. Sign up for the local summer reading program at your library. Right there you will have plenty of activities and reading time that you may count for school hours. (If you are far from a library, check online for a virtual program. The Illinois Library Association, for example, offers a virtual summer reading program, with prizes, for active duty military families living far from a base.) Most programs have weekly gatherings, often educational, such as a visiting storyteller or animal handler. You can record the time spent in those activities as school hours; just match them to appropriate academic subjects. You’ll want to take a narration, but make it painless by asking your children to tell you about the experience on the way home. (If you’ve been doing narration, hopefully this will come easily.) If a program sparks a particular interest, use that as a jumping off point for checking out good (living) books from the library on that topic.

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For books, make a list (or a partial list; that’s okay!) for your upcoming year (and/or from the past year if you are catching up) and use that for at least some of books you’ll count toward the reading program goal. Encourage the older children to do the same in their age group. It can be VERY tempting for some kids (I speak from experience here) to read fast just to win the prizes. But you want them to maintain an attitude of joy surrounding the written word, that “feast of knowledge.” (And, of course, slowing down is a good life lesson.) Be sure to engage your readers in easy conversation about what they are reading. Again, no formal narration — you are expanding their conversational skills! Don’t forget family reading time. Pack a picnic and head out to the park, then sit under a favorite tree (or on the porch if you are sticking around home) and read a classic summertime novel, such as Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit or the Little House on the Prairie series.

If you are close to a populated area and aren’t doing the library program, consider the all-ages summer reading program at Barnes and Noble. Simply download the journal pages, read the designated number of books, write answers to the short prompts in the journal, then turn them in to your local Barnes and Noble store to get a free book. CM parents will want to take a hard look at the list of free books offered as prizes; most of them are not living books. Each age group appears to have at least one classic available, so if that is important to you, you will want to pre-determine which book your child will accept.

2. Continue your weekly nature walks, but make them part of your normal weekly routine. And definitely take advantage of a summer vacation or family visits. A walk along the ocean, lake, or state park trails will be wonderful change from your usual hike. Even if your destination does not have an obvious, designated nature area, consider the new flora and fauna that may be unfamiliar to your child where you are staying. A investigative stroll in the backyard, or in a new neighborhood, will be full of discoveries if you are visiting an area with fresh topography, climate and wildlife. During the summer weeks when you are not traveling, expand from your usual locations to include places you may not normally have time to go. Find a copy of a Gazetteer atlas, available at your library or some retailers. They are very detailed and will show you the tiny parks that may be nearby, but you’ve never seen, or forgotten. If you have been drawing items from your nature walks, instead of expecting your child to draw for school during the summer months, perhaps create a small space in your home with drawing materials where you can place things you’ve gathered, then let children approach it on their own time. Or you could hide them away until your fall term begins, and bring them out for drawing as a way to fondly remember your summer excursions.

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3. Make rainy, or super hot, days handicraft days. But keep it easy and either purchase kits ahead of time and stash away, or keep some basic supplies handy to pull out when convenient. Consider any books you may be reading, and whether they suggest a particular handicraft. Remember, too, summer is a great time for those activities too messy for indoors: making mud bricks or basic pottery; bubble science or slime play; building waterways and damns. You can draw from your past school year, or look forward to the next for ideas.

4. Garden. Keeping a garden — from seeding indoors to picking and preservation — is the perfect summer science unit. As educator, your job is just to know how to do it, then invite your children to join you, including weeding. Children love to see each stage of growth, and participate in the harvest. Don’t hesitate to show them the work aspect; let them feel the fruits of real labor. Of course you will work ALONGSIDE your child. Kids are much less likely to learn from the garden experience if they feel they are hired hands, rather than children enjoying time with their parents. Don’t forget to include the kids in preparing the food to eat. Yes, it takes more time that way, but, remember, this is “sneaky” school!

Do consider visiting your local farmers market and/or farm producers in your community. Much of our food supply in the U.S. is grown in the months outside the regular school year, so this gives you a chance to address a vital need in human life, and get some science in at the same time.

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5. Enjoy the night. Grab a blanket and lay on the ground as a family to identify constellations and watch for shooting stars. (Let the little ones fall asleep with you, then carry them up to bed.) Take a walk and listen for new sounds. Sing traditional songs around a campfir. Chase fireflies, use a flashlight to observe earthworms during  a rain shower. Jot all of the them down in your school record matched to the proper subject.

Here’s the big thing … your child should never know you are “doing school” during these summer “lessons.” Except for your planned reading, avoid anything that looks like a school book. If you need a reference for yourself, either consult it ahead of time, or bring it along simply as a reference for questions. Make your “narration” light and easy. Your goal, this summer,  is just enjoy and let the children discover on their own. That’s the gentle way to a “no school summer school.”

P.S. Leave your phones inside.

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