When I was a child, my two favourite schooldays were the first day of the year, when everything was new and shiny, and the last day of the year, when we were about to be set FREE for summer holidays! In between those two days, it certainly wasn’t all bad, but there sure was a lot of jumping through hoops (which can get very tiring, I have to say!) and going through the motions that had been chosen for me. And those motions and routines did not serve to switch on my brain any more than their cessation would serve to switch it off. The learning didn’t begin upon entering the school gate and cease upon departure.
In fact, inside the classroom I was mostly focused on getting good marks, pleasing the teacher, and being “the best.” Outside the classroom, life was free of such distractions, enabling me to read a book of my own choosing, whiling away day after day in the dreamland within its pages, or enjoy long holidays at my Nanna’s beach house, or ride my horse or swim in our pool. And throughout none of that was my brain switched off!
I am so thankful that my children are able to enjoy the freedom of life outside of school every day of the year! I am so thankful that they don’t have to bide their time jumping through hoops all term long, waiting for the last day of term to reawaken their wonder about the amazing world around them. I am glad my children are not so busy with extra-curricular activities on top of school work that they no longer have time for some fun in the sun!
For our family, summer is simply a continuation of a life lived freely, in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons, and the ebb and flow of activities we choose to participate in. We live and learn naturally every day, regardless of whether we’re snuggled up under blankets on a cool winter’s day, or sheltering from the heat in our air-conditioned lounge room during a summer scorcher! It makes no difference whether it is “school term” or “holidays,” a weekends or a weekday. Whatever we do, there is fun to be had, and learning is intrinsically woven into the fabric of our days. There is no separation between learning times and non-learning times, between school days and holidays.
Unschoolers are often heard to say that they don’t adhere to “school holidays” because they’re learning all the time, and this is sometimes incorrectly interpreted to mean that everything in life gets turned into a “lesson.” Schooled people who are “lessoned out” must surely groan with sorrow for the poor children, wishing they’d be allowed to have a break during school holidays at least! But the truth is, learning is such a natural part of everything we do that it doesn’t need to be separated out from the life in which it occurs. It isn’t in any way a chore, or something that “has to be done”. It is as natural as breathing, so why is there a need to take a break from it? It would be strange to say to an inquisitive, questioning child, “No, it’s holiday time. Run outside and play”. We respond with the same attentiveness and engagement that we would on any other day. And they learn as much during “summer holidays” as they do when school children are back in the classroom, because learning happens all the time, and learning is as natural to them as breathing, and therefore not in any way burdensome. In fact, they are often blissfully unaware of all the incidental learning that is going on!
I still remember a day during “school holidays” when my unschooled children were playing a maths game on the computer, just because they wanted to. A boy from next door came to visit and I suggested that he might like to join them. They immediately said, “Mum, he’s not going to want to do THAT! It’ll feel like school to him!” But to them it was just another cool thing to do in the midst of all the other options.
At the end of one “summer holiday” when my youngest child was five, a homeschooling mother asked when we were “starting school.” I silently chuckled to myself (hopefully without visibly rolling my eyes), thinking how crazy it is to assume that life should suddenly change simply because a child turns five. That a child who won’t be going to school should suddenly start “doing school”, that learning times need to be artificially set apart from normal life. My daughter’s life just continued as it always had. Nothing had changed, and in much the same way that she had learned to walk and talk, she would learn to read and count.
It’s not that “learning activities” are extended into summer holidays.
It’s that summer holidays (and all the learning that naturally occurs) are extended into the rest of life.
Ahhhh … summer days … swimming pools and beaches at anytime on any day, exploring rock pools for hidden treasures (once we even found an octopus!), midday movies in the cool of the air-conditioner, enjoying the shade trees planted last year, wearing swimmers all day if we feel like it, ice blocks melting before they can be licked, sun protection experiments, icy cold refreshing drinks, water fights, ice sculptures, sizzling BBQs with friends in the cool of the evening, home-made sorbet … Oh, and don’t forget the FLIES! And the mosquitoes. And the sunburn.
Now what could possibly be learned from any of that!?