Friday, June 9, 2006

Summer Learning

Official school ended a few weeks ago. Yet, Summer is perfect for learning. The slower pace, fewer organized activities, and the longer days stimulate learning. Children are drawn outdoors and left to their own devices and amazing truths of nature are observed, the laws of physics are tested, muscles are developed, art is created, stories recounted, and mysteries solved. By letting children play and get bored you open the door to creative problem solving and learning.

I've heard, "Mama, I'm bored," at least a hundred times this summer, already. I respond in a similar way each time, "Go outside and play." I know that time spent wandering around on the farm is never wasted. Day-dreaming, scheming, exploring and testing are great activities that are best done when bored. While bored, my children dug a canal and built a dam. They made boats of paper and wood and floated them on the waterway. Experimenting with the water, dirt and miscellaneous pipe, wood, and other collected junk is certainly educational, but it is also fun. Yes, I could go stand out there with a book and direct the activities and bark out why those sticks won't work that way, but all that teaching would ruin it. Instead, my children have spent days experimenting and finally came up with a sturdy dam while I kept my mouth shut. I, as always, keep a watchful eye and ear pealed to the laboratory of the day, but try hard to stay out of it. I did overhear my son say, "How do the beavers do this so well with just dirt and sticks?" I think I overheard them discussing building a lock, next.

On another boring day, my children took a long walk to the spring. They found a fairy village in the moss and spent time "helping" the fairies by building some structure for their town. My sister and I used to pretend fairies in moss, with acorn cups, and rock tables. I told my children the story long ago. My children have now made their own stories and memories. I was told on my last walk to the spring, that I had stepped on a fairy garden. Oops! I have to be more careful.

Last week, my daughter folded a "nest" of paper, filled it with sunflower seeds, and climbed a tree. She placed the "nest" in an enticing place and waited. And waited. And waited.

Other days, I hear hammers banging. Construction has commenced. Or, they just ride their bikes, shoot targets with BB guns or bow, pick flowers, look for frogs or birds. I know that the unstructured learning is just as important as the more structured learning of the school year. I have to be patient with the messes created both inside and out. I have to remember that it is better for them to find out for themselves, rather than for me to tell them. I have to be available to help and rescue when needed but otherwise stay out of the way. I am rewarded with children who entertain themselves.

The children do go to the pool, participate in some organized activities, watch a few movies, and help build fences and other home and farm work, but Summer is all about roaming freely outside. I know roaming freely is not practical for city dweller children, but backyards, city and state parks, and inside the house can lead to similar exploration. Just remember to provide unscheduled time without an agenda. Let the child invent, while you watch.

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