When my son was seven and struggling to read, I enrolled him in a summer reading intensive.
It was taught by reading specialists at our local college and I honestly thought it would be perfect. The program included parents with the idea that the parent could also learn how to help their struggling child.
The first day of the program, we walked into the packed classroom, filled with seven to ten-year olds at a bunch of desks, their tired and hot looking parents and a teacher who had just graduated three weeks prior.
My son took one step into the classroom, looked around and bolted.
He literally ran away as fast as he could.
With everyone staring at me, I turned and ran after him.
I found him down a long corridor and, to my shame, grabbed him by the arm and forced him back into the room.
“This is for your own good. You need to learn to read.”
The first class was boring and painful for both of us. An hour later, in tears, I turned to my sweet boy in the backseat of the car and said, “Summer isn’t supposed to be like this. I hated that class and I know you did too. Let’s never go back. I am proud that you at least gave it try before quitting, but if you don’t want to go back, you don’t have to.”
He grinned and said, “I want to play in the sprinklers when we get home.”
Five years later, my approach has certainly changed. I am much more likely to follow my son’s lead, to gently introduce new learning, and to incorporate his strengths when helping him read.
But the truth is, somewhere deep down inside, I still look at summer as a chance to “catch up.”
One summer, I told him we were only going to work on sight words and that by the end of the summer, he would be able to read them all. We worked on them, he made progress, but he hated that summer almost as much as I did.
Another summer, I decided we were going to have an increased reading practice time every day. After all, it’s summer – all the other subjects can wait. It lasted about a week and half before I gave up in frustration and decided to turn on an audio book.
Last year, we did our Summer At Hogwarts. Guess what? It worked. It was fun. My kids were engaged. My little guy actually even made a little bit of progress in reading. Why? Because Harry Potter is such a huge fascination for him, my son felt almost no anxiety around the learning.
It’s been a tough school year for this child. Physically and mentally, he needs a break. He needs the summer I remember from my youth. He needs to play in the sprinklers and relax.
He also needs a bit of structure and routine. The main reason we homeschool year round because it helps him stay regulated.
With all of this in mind, this year our summer learning plan has one goal and one goal alone – decrease anxiety while having fun.
Helping My Anxious Child: Our Summer Learning Plan
Our plan for summer includes a few new ideas and programs, but all of them incorporate natural anxiety reducers for my son.
My son and I have just started working through the NaturExplorers Hard As A Rock study. He has naturally been interested in rocks and gemstones for as long as I can remember and the program is awesome. It provides some structured learning, but is mostly about observations in nature. We plan to study rocks on our hikes to a local water fall and also on a trip to the beach later this month.
Nature is a natural anxiety reducer for many of us. For my son, it is one of the best ways to relax so this is a great choice for our summer learning.
The Big Life Journal
How did I only just now find out about this resource???
The Big Life Journal teaches kids all about having a growth mindset. It guides them through activities that teach self-awareness and coping skills. It is like a years worth of my son’s cognitive behavioral training in one book.
We started the journal a few weeks ago and I have been so pleased with the results. He love the stories about people who have overcome great obstacles, and he is happy to answer deep questions (as long as I scribe in the journal for him).
This addition to our summer not only reduces anxiety in the moment, it teaches him coping skills for future struggles. I love it, y’all.
Art has been therapeutic for my boy for years. As he has gotten older, his talent has grown to the point where I can no longer really teach him anything at home. For the summer, he is taking a one on one art class twice a week. He LOVES it and I get an hour to myself every Tuesday and Thursday.
Honestly, I am not sure how we would live without audio books. We turn one on every single time we are in the car and we use the stories to fuel so many conversations at home. We have a list of favorites that we are listening to again (or for the third time in the case of Harry Potter) this summer. I drive around every afternoon, even if we have nowhere to go, and we listen. Sometimes, we stop for a treat. Sometimes, we bring lunch in the car. But we always feel a little more relaxed and little more equipped after listening.
That’s it for us. This is our plan for summer.
A little bit of learning and a whole lot of fun – just what my anxious child has asked for and needs.
For more ideas on ways to make summer learning fun, please join me at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers. I am sharing five ways to make reading practice something for our kids to look forward to this summer!
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.