The kids and I are doing a new summer activity this year, and I really like it and so do the kids, so I thought I would mention it in case it’s a good fit at your house as well.
I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but I think it started when Rob and I were talking about how there were things we WANTED to do but somehow it was hard to make ourselves do them—and yet if we were SUPPOSED to do them, we’d enjoy it. …This needs an example. So, like, let’s say you would really like to practice sketching/drawing. But every time you think of it, you’re kind of like “Mehhhhhhhh, but then I’d have to stop playing Candy Crush.” But you think that in the LONG run you’d rather you did the drawing. And you think that if you HAD to do it, like if you were back in school and they made you, you’d enjoy it.
Or let’s say you keep thinking you’d kind of like to freshen up your high school French, because you enjoyed that class back when you took it. But you just never seem to get around to actually logging onto the computer to find one of those language sites. Maybe your library has even subscribed to a language program so you could take a cool online course for free, but….well. I mean. Somehow you don’t do it. And yet if you were suddenly back in high school, you’d be looking forward to French class.
Or maybe you feel as if you ought to have read A Brief History of Time, but it drifts right down to the bottom of the book pile underneath all the lighter fiction books. You kind of wish a teacher was MAKING you read it.
So, that’s what Rob and I were talking about, and it was during the first week of summer vacation so I ALREADY had on my list to do some Enriching Activities: like, let’s not just sit around playing Minecraft all summer. (…again.) And so that’s how we came up with the idea.
Here is what we do. Each day, we spend two 30-minute periods all working quietly, plus we have two short (approximately 5-minute-long) talking/reporting times. For the first 30 minute chunk, each person chooses if they want to work on something “academic” or “creative.” You can see how sometimes a category might be difficult to assign (or the same activity might fit into both categories, depending on how you’re doing it), but here are some of our examples so far:
• learning/practicing a language (we’re using DuoLingo.com)
• doing multiplication facts flashcards or Brain Quest Q&As
• doing online quizzes (FreeRice.com)
• playing an educational game
• watching YouTube CNA/LNA-skill videos
• watching videos on art history or biology or brain chemistry or history or whatever (KhanAcademy.com or YouTube.com)
• reading an educational book such as The Selfish Gene or A Cartoon History of the Universe
• reading about a subject on Wikipedia
• writing a computer program
• writing a poem
• writing a story
• drawing a picture
• doing a craft project
• coloring in coloring books
• writing a blog post
• writing a computer program
• working through Lynda Barry’s drawing/writing book Syllabus
• doing perler beads
• making a stop-motion animation
The goal is to work QUIETLY. If two people want to work together on something (flashcards, for example, or perler beads), they must go as far away as possible from everyone else, ideally behind a closed door, and they must still keep their voices low.
When the timer rings, we gather together in the living room, and we go around the circle: each person says first if they chose to work on academic or creative, and then briefly reports on what they chose to do. If they want to, they can show the picture they drew, or tell an interesting fact they learned about woolly mammoths. It takes about five minutes to go around the whole circle.
We take another few minutes for going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, walking around. Then we launch into the second 30-minute chunk, and each person does the OTHER thing: if they did creative for the first 30 minutes they do academic for the second 30 minutes, and vice versa. Then we gather in the living room to report on THAT.
It’s been QUITE satisfying. Henry (age 8) has the hardest time thinking of what he wants to do; everyone else (age 10 and up) seems to find it relatively easy—and it gets easier as we do it longer, because we get ideas from each other (“OH! I could use perler beads!”) and because we’re starting to notice ideas and file them away for the next session. If more of my kids were the younger age, I might do 15-minute chunks of time, and I might make Idea Lists, or have ideas written on pieces of paper that could be chosen out of a jar, or maybe we would all work on the SAME thing together.
While it’s NICE to work on one thing for the entire 30 minutes, we don’t make that a requirement at all: if for your creative time you want to draw a picture and then write a poem, that’s just fine; if for your academic time you want to watch one video on clouds and another on art history and another on Bach, that’s just fine too.
Or if you start reading The Selfish Gene and then discover you are only 8 years old, you can put it down and pick up a book on Mongol Warriors instead.