Either your summer learning style is structured, relaxed, or somewhere in between, just about every homeschool parent sees summer vacation as a special learning time. For my family, a trip to Ontario, Canada, provided an abundance of learning opportunities. My daughters helped plan the route and became adept map-readers. The long journey was more enjoyable as the girls charted our progress and announced the next town or city along the way.
To maintain our budget -- and sharpen their math skills -- the girls estimated the cost of the trip, figuring in gas, tolls, food, and hotels, both in Canadian and U.S. dollars. They were each given a small vacation allowance, and endlessly calculated the U.S./Canadian exchange rate for each purchase they made. The history of Niagara Falls and surrounding areas was especially interesting; several books purchased from a local bookstore satisfied their curiosity. Daily postcards to friends and family confirmed that my daughters retained most of what they heard and read (and helped provide a little writing practice as well).
Vacations can also give homeschooling families the opportunity to try a different learning style. While putting away the textbooks and workbooks might seem like a frightening proposition in the middle of the school year, summer is the perfect time to sample a little child-led learning (unschooling). Visit a good museum or attend a summer concert. Meeting a female electric fiddle-player at a local concert inspired my eight-year-old daughter to take up the instrument.
Parents are often surprised by how inquisitive kids can be when presented with interesting learning opportunities. Try a ranger-led walk or campfire talks at a beach or park. Or perhaps visit a historic area like Williamsburg, Va., or Jamestown, Va.. My personal favorite is Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum of 17th-century Plymouth, Mass. All are sure bets to jump-start your learning adventure.
Resources for the Road
Rand McNally publishes great travel books for kids. See the U.S.A. and Travel Time! (ages 3-7) use games, puzzles, and coloring fun to teach about the 50 states. For older kids, try Kids' Road Atlas and Coast-to-Coast Games (ages 6-12). State birds, flowers, nicknames, and capitals are part of the fun and games in these books, which also include Canada and Mexico.
Homeschoolers know that long drives can provide valuable learning opportunities. To make classical literature come alive, listen to storyteller Jim Weiss (www.greathall.com) as he paints a picture of ancient Greece (Greek Myths) or Egypt (Egyptian Treasures: Mummies & Myths). When my two girls asked to hear Shakespeare for Children for the third time, I knew we had a winner. There are currently 25 recordings available with selections ranging from Arabian Nights to Rip Van Winkle.
Don't forget to visit your library and borrow some interesting new music tapes or CDs before your trip. You can also pick up a few books on tape to help the miles pass. If the selection in your library is lacking, Books on Tape (www.booksontape.com) has hundreds of titles to rent or buy. You'll find almost 400 children's books to choose from and something to interest everyone in your family.
So whether you hit the road or the hammock in your backyard, homeschooling gives you the opportunity to include learning as part of your summer fun. The experiences that inspire your kids today may shape who they become tomorrow.
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