“Do your kids get the summer off?”
It’s another one of those questions I get when people learn that our kids don’t go to school. I’ve still not mastered the answer. The question they are asking, of course, comes from the realm of traditional public schooling. What they really want to know is: Do your kids get to spend the summer running wild and free? Do they drive you crazy with all their summer-time needs and wants? Do they get a break from all that learning? Do you look forward to your time with them all summer long, or do you long for the structured days of school again? If your summer break isn’t really a break… how do you cope?
This time, the answer came out something like this.
Well, they are teenagers for one. I mean, they are pretty self-sufficient at this point. They “do” in the summer pretty much what they “do” the rest of the year-round. I see my job as staying in touch, trying to keep up, helping them look down the road a bit to make sure they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish now in order to be in a place they want to be down the road. It’s an ongoing conversation, just as it is the rest of the year. Routines may change, but we don’t take a break from eating, drinking, sleeping, or breathing just because a new season is here.
I talked about some of the projects the kids are currently working on. The 4-H fair is right around the corner. I’ve come to think of these summer months as a season of finishing things… or of deciding which of their projects are deserving of a finish. My daughter—my seamstress—has been meeting with a younger club member, helping him on a sewing project. She made a jacket to go with her formal dress last week. She’s tweaking a pattern for an upcoming project. She’s got the old bed sheets out, working on a draft before she tackles the final project. My role in this has been as a brainstorming partner. What if I split the pattern here? Of these two patterns, which do you like best? (I picked, she went with the other one.)
My son has already gone to and returned from his one and only summer camp this year. He’s working on a voting simulation class that he will lead at a local day camp soon; he’s working on ideas for getting 7- to 11 year-olds excited about their future in the democratic process. He took over his oldest sister’s babysitting job this summer, he continues to ride his bike to get around town, and he recently switched from studying Italian to German. He’s making plans to travel to Germany and I’m feeling a bit behind on the news. I’m sometimes tempted to tell him he’s not allowed to leave home without me, but somehow I don’t think he’ll fall for it.
Three of us are reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, joined by a fourth, my oldest, about half the time. Though it is harder to find the time for it, this much has not changed—I love listening to the voices of my children. I enjoy the discussion that springs from our together-reading.
As a family, we are working our way (again) through the Hobbit movies, and we’ve just switched our online viewing service from Hulu to Netflix, so I imagine a few series marathons are in our future.
Both girls are studying near-daily with their dad, in preparation for a math class they plan to take in the fall. The oldest will be entering her second year of college. She is working on an essay today, as part of the application to enter the honors college this fall. For the middle one, it will be her first class on campus, her first traditional classroom experience.
We’ve got a friend’s wedding on the calendar this summer. We are still trying to work in a few road trips to visit with distant friends. All three kids are quick to help me out at the farmers market when I need it.
It’s summertime, and things are much the same as they are any time of year. I don’t think my kids consider themselves “off” for the summer. I don’t think they consider themselves on, either though. They are just living, day-by-day, as we all should be.
TRACY MILLION SIMMONS s somehow never got around to sending her children to school. She now lives and learns with three unschooled teens, two dogs, a cat and her dear hubby in the middle of Kansas where she holds a part-time job as a farmers’ market manager and pursues her lifelong dream of publishing fiction for fun and profit. You can view Tracy’s author page at www.TracyMillionSimmons.com and she occasionally writes more about unschooling at her blogger site, Living and Learning in Oz.