Summer School for Parents

When the end of May rolls around, home schooling parents and students alike will be looking forward to the lazy, hazy days of summer. Parks, swimming pools, chilly movie theaters and more will be calling. Many parents will take off the instructor hat to go into full-fledged parent mode—planning the family vacation, camping trip or amusement park outing.

When our school year draws to a close, I will be planning summer school . . . for myself.

The school year keeps me so busy making lesson plans, grading and shuttling my students to various lessons and extracurricular activities that I scarcely have time to read anything more substantial than a magazine or incorporate any enriching activities for myself. All work and no play make me feel dull and uninteresting.

Quite a few years ago a dozen or so home schooling mothers met in south Austin as a study group that shared various facets of the Charlotte Mason method of education. We discussed music, art, foreign languages, reading and handicrafts and learned how necessary such pursuits are to developing into a well-rounded, whole person. I miss that wonderful group of ladies who met with such dedication over several school years. As our children grew, their school activities demanded more time, and our little group disbanded.

Thus, I have decided to use the summer months to refresh and invigorate myself. Charlotte Mason called such activities “Mother Culture.” I believe that, in order to interest my students in their education, I should be a person of culture and interests.

I will take the time over the summer to reread classic novels I have not read in a long time or delve into some that I have never read. I may decide to join a book club over the summer to enhance my reading activities. I plan to utilize How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren to assist me in my summer school reading plan.

Another area in which I wish to further develop myself is the area of classical music. I will take the time to listen to the various CDs I have purchased over the years for my students and will finally be able to identify Beethoven from Bach! Many cities and towns have free music concerts on summer evenings that feature the local orchestra playing the works of various composers. I am thankful that I have several choices in the Central Texas area from which to experience live performances of these composers’ timeless offerings.

I am interested in understanding the works of Shakespeare better. I am fortunate that there are opportunities to see his plays each summer in various locations for free or for a nominal admission fee. I am planning to attend as many plays as possible so that “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well” will be more than just a quote I remember from my high school days. I plan to read each play prior to attending a performance and to use study materials, such as Brightest Invention of Heaven by Peter Leithart and Cliff’s Notes to assist me in furthering my understanding of Shakespeare’s plays.

Two other areas I would like to add to my summer school plan are art appreciation/art history and foreign language (French). At the beginning of this school year I was fortunate to purchase a copy of Sister Wendy Beckett’s The Story of Painting, which is a very comprehensive guide to the history of Western art. I am quite fond of the Impressionists, but that is pretty much where my art knowledge begins and ends. I would like to develop my knowledge of artists and art movements by systematically working my way through this book. It may take me a few summers to complete this task since I will be covering 800 years of the developments and movements in painting from the ancient world to the present.

I was extremely fortunate to study French from the fourth grade through college. I fell in love with this beautiful language just about the first time I heard it. Having lived in Texas since 1983, I have not had many opportunities to speak French and have gotten quite rusty. I have a collection of French books that have been gathering dust on my shelves that I will put to good use. I also plan to set the language to “French” on DVDs I watch so that I can regain my ear for the French language. If you have experience with a foreign language that you have not used in a while, think about regaining and sustaining fluency in it this summer.

There are many enrichment opportunities for home educators to pursue their educations each summer: museums often have teacher nights or training sessions that are open to all educators, colleges often have free or reduced-price lectures, bookstores have author readings and movie rental companies have documentaries available in varied subject areas. Of course, the Internet is also a useful tool in an adult summer school plan. Without leaving your home you can watch a Shakespeare play, listen to an orchestra somewhere in the world perform a concerto, view art masterpieces, listen to and practice speaking a foreign language and even read books online.

Parents, I encourage you to think of making this summer a fruitful one for yourself and even inviting your home schooling friends to summer school along with you. A school break spent in worthy pursuits will equip you with fresh enthusiasm and energy for yourself and your students.

Author’s note: As a home educator with only two students of high school age, I find myself with time for self-development. Parents with many young students or those just beginning their home education journey may want to try just one or two of these ideas or wait to implement them until they are under less stress in their home schools.