I’m seeing it on a lot of the Facebook groups for parents of dyslexic, dysgraphic, ADD/ADHD, insert-your-diagnosis-here children right now: Should I have my child work on any particular skills over the summer, and if so, which ones? Understood.org even has an article addressing the topic, and I’m going to give you a completely different perspective on the question, after I ask some questions.

*For the sake of clarity, I’m going to dispense with trying to get the quotes I want to discuss integrated properly into a grammatically correct sentence and just use a bold font to quote or paraphrase the author’s points, and I will follow with my questions.

 “… it’s very important to find ways to keep working on these skills over the summer.”

My questions: Why is it “very important”?  And, to whom is it “very important”?  Hang on.  Just stay with me while I ask questions, and please – start thinking outside the K-12 classroom model of education that we’ve all been brainwashed to accept as the best method of teaching children and having them learn for some answers.  What you find outside of the box that someone else has created as a one-size-fits-all solution for teaching your children might be liberating and exactly what your child needs in order to uncover and nurture his or her own genius.

“When it comes to certain kinds of knowledge, kids really do have to ‘use it or lose it’.”

My questions: If this “certain kind of knowledge” is so important, then why wouldn’t kids be using it in their daily lives naturally?  Why would we need to be afraid of them losing it?

“Summer learning loss can set kids with learning and attention issues back as much as two or three months.”

My questions: “Back” from what?  According to whom?  And, why is their opinion the most important thing?

“Here are some thoughts on how to put together a summer learning schedule that looks and feels very different than going to school.”

My questions: Why is someone other than the person who’s supposed to be doing the learning putting together a learning schedule?  Why does it need to look and feel “very different than going to school”?  Is it because “going to school” feels like something the child hates?  If that’s the case, why are you doing things that way instead of looking for alternatives?

“Encourage your child to keep a daily journal.  Together you can come up with a minimum length for each entry and other details such as correcting misspelled words.  But give your child the freedom to choose what to write about.  And have her share the journal with you every day so she knows it’s important to keep up with it.”

My questions: Why would you say “encourage” when you actually mean “tell”?  You’re saying that it’s “important to keep up with it”, but important to whom?  Why?  And how does making your child share it with you help her know that it’s important?

“Tapping into your child’s interests is a great way to help your child ‘smell the roses’ and balance having fun with retaining skills.”

My questions: Why does it have to be a one or the other scenario?  Why can’t having fun and retaining skills go together?  And why would you want to leverage your child’s interests in order to get him to do what you want him to do?  Would you like it if someone did that to you?

So, what do you think?  Do we blindly accept someone else’s model of education, or do we ask questions?  As little as three years ago, none of what this author wrote would have done much more than raise an eyebrow for me. Back then, I was still fighting a little against this new paradigm of mine because it was just plain uncomfortable. It

It just didn’t fit with everything I’d been raised to believe about education, but it was still there, nagging at me. And of course if your child is having major difficulties in school during the school year, you work on those weaknesses diligently over the summer to make sure that your child doesn’t lose what she worked so hard to gain inside the classroom.  Right?

Wrong… at least, for me.  Words are powerful things, and over the last few years, the words I use to frame the questions I ask about education have changed profoundly.  The words I’ve learned have indeed been liberating for me.  So, getting back to the question at hand: Should I have my child work on any particular skills over the summer, and if so, which ones?

Will I have the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills over the summer?  Absolutely not.  For several reasons. Reasons that I will share with you in Part Two of this post.  Why “Part Two”?  Because I asked questions that were probably different than the questions you’ve heard before about this topic, and I want to give you some time to reflect on them.

Did you reflect on the questions I asked in Part One?  Did you find the questions I asked running straight into a brick wall in your mind?  Did you mull them over, wondering how it all might work?  Could thinking about these questions and all sorts of different answers to them possibly be liberating and exactly what your child needs in order to uncover and nurture his or her own unique genius?

If your child is in school, and you’re happy with that model of education despite the difficulties your child has in class and you have in IEP committee meetings making sure that your child gets what he needs, then you may as well stop reading and click the little X that closes the tab; there’s nothing here for you.  In that scenario, following the advice in the article that prompted me to write this post is probably your best bet.  Hire a tutor.  Make your child keep a journal and use her personal feelings for fodder for grammar and spelling lessons.  Turn off the sound and the pleasure in watching a TV show, and force your child to read the closed captioning.  Leverage your child’s interests and turn them into “school” during the summer.

But, if like me, you’re left with kind of an icky feeling in your gut when you think about doing that sort of stuff, and you’re even a little bit open to ideas that may sound weird and will totally challenge everything you currently believe about education, keep on reading.

Will I have the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer?

Absolutely not.

And here’s why:

  1. The way that question is worded sets the summer apart from the rest of the year and learning apart from school.  Inmy family, we don’t separate living from learning.  There isn’t a specific season or a specific location for learning to take place.  Learning takes place all year long in all sorts of different locations.  We don’t heave a great sigh of relief that school is over for a while when June rolls around.

My kids don’t have the expectation that they will devote themselves to academic pursuits from September until June, and then veg out for the remainder of June, all of July, and all of August.  They aren’t spending nine months of the year studying what someone else has told them is important for them to learn, whether they want to or not, so they don’t need a big breather.

  1. More importantly, I believe that “Should I have my child work on any particular skills this summer?  And if so, which ones?” are the wrong questions to be asking.  If, instead, someone had asked me, “Will the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer?” the answer would be absolutely yes.  It’s a subtle change in language there, but a huge shift in paradigm.

In the original question, there are several underlying assumptions that I flatly reject.  One, an education is something that someone in a position of authority (a teacher, parent, tutor, etc) does to someone else (usually a child).  Two, the person in the position of authority is the best person to select what, when, where, why, and how the other person will learn and be assessed.  Three, since the person in the position of authority is the best person to make those decisions, the willingness and engagement of the other person aren’t particularly important factors in whether or not the teaching is going to get done.

In my reworded question, I have flipped those assumptions.  I’ve given power and control back to the person doing the learning.  I have recognized that an education is something that someone must want and strive for in order for it to be meaningful and worthwhile.  I’ve validated and supported what the person doing the learning wants to learn, and empowered them to make decisions about what, when, where, why, and how they will learn and be assessed.  I’ve eliminated the adversarial positioning between parent and child that often arises when a parent’s agenda for a child’s education clashes with a child’s desires for his own education.

In the original question, I’m left with all of the questions that I put into words in Part One and no satisfactory answers to any of them.  When someone tries to tell me that there are certain skills or sets of knowledge that must be used or will be lost and so it’s important to keep working on them over the summer whether the child wants to or not, I’m skeptical.  If these certain skills or sets of knowledge are actually so important for the child to know, then the child would either already be actively using those certain skills or sets of knowledge in daily life, or she would be running into roadblocks that not having those certain skills or sets of knowledge throws up in her path.  Running into roadblocks will then force the child to acknowledge a legitimate need for the certain skills or sets of knowledge.  He’d then have to figure out how to go over, under, around, or right through the roadblock.  All four options are valid, and as adults, we use all four depending on the circumstances.  Children need to be taught how to assess which option in different situations is the best course of action, and parents need to be available to advise and guide the decision-making and then help facilitate that best course of action.

“Summer learning loss” is something that is manufactured by an artificial learning environment.  It’s a problem in schools.  It’s a problem when learning is separated from living, and when teachers need all of their students to progress through the same material in the same amount of time at the same pace.  “Summer learning loss” is not a problem when real-world necessity or personal desires dictate what someone learns.

My Squirrel Hunter will indeed work on particular skills this summer… but they’ll be skills of her choosing, that are meaningful for her.  Right now, she’s off with her church youth group serving our community for a week.  Next week, she’ll be helping out with Vacation Bible School for the younger kids.  She’s working steadily through the Basic Military Requirements (BMR) manual and doing the tests at the end of each module so that she can go to Sea Cadet Recruit Training in July.  The BMR is no joke.  It’s 700 pages that she has to read, and each test averages about 60 questions that she must answer.  She’ll continue to work on her art and her ASL.  The Squirrel Hunter has mentioned several times that improving her spelling is something she might be interested in working on.  When she says the word, I’ll be there to help her do just that if she needs me.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with things like tutoring, drilling with flashcards, doing a parent-child book club, watching TV shows without sound while you read the closed captioning, or having a child keep a journal that you use as a fodder for spelling and grammar lessons.  Those are options that may, or may not, help your child shore up weaknesses and/or hold onto academic gains made in the school year during the summer.  The problems as I see them are making the decisions to do those things in the first place without input from your child and then actually doing those things to an unwilling child.

At its core, life learning alongside your child involves a deep mutual respect.  As a parent, you have to do what few people seem to do when we think about educating a child, and that is ask yourself: would I like it if someone else did that to me? Would you like having someone insist that you keep working on the subjects or activities that you hate the most and don’t see a need for right then?  Would you like being drilled over and over and over again? Would you like being hauled off to tutoring against your will while your friends got to go swim at the pool or watch a movie?  Would you like hearing, “because I said so” when you ask why you have to learn something that you weren’t interested in learning? Would you like being forced to work on your weaknesses instead of being allowed to focus on your strengths?  Would you appreciate having your interests leveraged or manipulated by someone else’s agenda for you?

My answers to all of those questions come easily.  No, of course not.  And that is why will not be having the Squirrel Hunter work on any particular skills this summer, but I will be available to guide, advise, encourage, and facilitate what she is interested in working on – this summer and for the rest of her life.

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