My daughter finished Kindergarten last week. My goal has been to keep her summer as unstructured as possible. I want her to have downtime after her first year of elementary school. I want her to have the mental space to develop and nurture her own interests. I want her to have fun. Which is not to say that she won't be learning. She's six years old. She is a little sponge, soaking up opportunities for learning every day. Here are the things that I plan to do that I think will support my daughter's learning process without taking away her autonomy or joy of learning:
1. Keep piles of picture books on the kitchen table and by her bed. Rotate these every couple of days to give her choice. Keep the simple reading log that we've been using on the kitchen table, so that we can jot down books as we read them. Read to her while she eats breakfast, before bed, and during whatever other times she requests it throughout the day. Visit the library as needed to keep the piles of books fresh. We are still mostly reading these books to her, but whenever she decides that she wants to read a picture book or early reader aloud, we're happy to listen and help out.
2. Keep a Grade 1 workbook on the kitchen table or the playroom desk, in case she wants to use it. She especially likes the Scholastic workbooks that I get from Costco. She has already asked me to get the Grade 2 workbook, for when she finishes. I am not requiring her to do the workbook at any time, and certainly not to finish it. But I find that if it is her own idea, and she has some downtime, she's happy to use the workbook to practice her writing and math. Last night she was practicing sentences while my husband and I were finishing dinner. I loved workbooks as a kid, and seeing her industrious work does make me smile.
3. Keep her afternoons as open as possible (vs. having structured activities). My daughter ended up deciding at the last minute to sign up for swim team. There is practice every morning, though she is only required to go three times a week. These practices do get her outside exercising and spending time with her friends. They've been staying to play together at the pool for longer than the 45 minute practice time, so I figure this is a reasonable compromise. She also has two 50-minute karate classes a week, but as previously discussed, the karate classes bring her great joy. She's also going to do one week of "spy camp" because I couldn't resist. But otherwise, her schedule during the week is clear.
4. Accept playdates when they are offered, and offer them in return. As I write this, my daughter is at a friend's house picking fruit from the family's garden. Yesterday she and a couple of friends arranged among themselves a playdate after swim practice. I believe there was dancing involved, but I'm not sure. We don't live in neighborhood where she can just spontaneously play with kids who live nearby, but this felt like the next best thing. We are very fortunate to have friends we can do this with, particularly given that my daughter is an only child.
5. Make sure we have plenty of construction paper, colored pencils, markers, and scotch tape. Costco is pretty helpful here, too. Save empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, as well as shoeboxes. I also bought her something called The Big Book of Things to Make as an end-of-school present. While I'm philosophically in favor of her designing her own projects, I figured that a flipping through some ideas couldn't hurt. I also provide blank journals for writing stories.
6. Let her spend limited amounts of time doing hour of code tutorials (with a parent) and dabbling in Minecraft on her Kindle Fire. I do find that screen time can be addictive for my daughter, and I try to keep it quite limited. But I think it's ok in moderation, particularly if she is focused on things that are creative in some way. I also need some time in which she is occupied so that I can exercise, particularly on weekends, when our childcare provider is not with us. I agreed to download Minecraft (pocket edition) because I figured it would be better to have her building things than watching shows.
That's it. Books and craft supplies. Kids to play with. Relatively constructive apps for her screen time. But most of all TIME. I realize that this might not be the right set of summer attributes for all kids. But for my daughter, I think this plan will do the trick.
This post was originally published at Jen Robinson's Book Page.