By: Alex Chiu
Summer is the time of year when schedules are a bit more relaxed, bedtimes push back a little later, and vacations and staycations abound. Some parents worry about what to do with their children during the summer and about ‘summer learning loss’ (where students, not immersed in daily learning at school, lose a portion of what they gained during the school year). However, this doesn’t need to happen at all. Instead of summer being a vacation from learning, it can instead be an opportunity for your children to find new ways of channeling their curiosity and practicing and refining the skills that they have obtained throughout the school year.
To help maintain a ‘Montessori mindset” throughout the summer, there are a few things that parents can do. A good place to start is by following the example of Montessori teachers who take great care in preparing their classroom environments, upholding expectations for everyone in the classroom community, and following the children’s lead as their interests and needs come into focus. With a little planning before summer vacation begins, you can create a bridge between your child’s school-year Montessori learning environment and your own home during the summer months.
First, prepare your environment.
Keep an assortment of activities available for your child to use during the ‘down times’ of the day when chores are finished and outings are not planned. Items should be placed where the children can reach them, and a child-sized work area should be established. This allows your child to make decisions about what to do with his or her free time and to be able to do things independently, without mom or dad having to participate at all times. To help you begin, think about the places where you and your child spend the most time during the summer days.
In the Kitchen
You might consider designating a shelf in your kitchen to hold activities such as:
- An art box with child-safe scissors, scrap paper, colored pencils, leaves, ribbons, buttons, glue sticks, and a tablemat encourages children to create imaginative collages.
- Small pitchers and a collection of cups provide opportunities for practice with pouring dry ingredients (like beans and rice) or liquids.
- A large, deep tray or dish filled with sand or salt along with seashells, a small rake, and pretty stones invites your child to design ever-changing paths in his or her own miniature Zen garden.
In the Family Room
- A basket of books in a cozy corner with pillows and good lighting invites children to spend some time each day in the company of good books.
- Recycled items in a basket become building materials where children construct rockets, sculptures, or skyscrapers. Save tissue boxes, oatmeal containers, paper towel tubes, empty water bottles and other ‘trash’ items for inventive uses
- A collection of objects (marbles, coins, cotton balls) and number cards offer practice in matching quantities to the numbers.
Also, rotating puzzles, matching cards, counting activities, and favorite toys every few weeks keeps things interesting and fresh through the summer months, as children choose which activities they would like to do.
In the Backyard
Don’t forget to prepare things in a space outside, too!
- A bucket with fresh water alongside sponges and paintbrushes might inspire your child to wash the deck or outdoor furniture.
- A tray with bubble-making supplies and unusual bubble blowers such as funnels, rope tied into a circle, and a slotted spoon put a new twist on an old favorite activity.
- A container garden with a watering can and weeding gloves helps your child take responsibility for the care of plants. Consider a variety of herbs that smell good and that may be used in cooking!
- A butterfly net and bug viewer might be kept together for children to investigate how animals behave in your backyard.
It may take a little time and creativity to collect household items to use for the activities, but this preparation of your home environment is worth the effort. And it needn’t be expensive. You can easily use items you already have available around the house. After you have your prepared environment set up, show your children what activities are available, where they may do their work, and what to do when they are finished using the materials, just like their teachers do at school. Then, let them enjoy the freedom to choose their work and play!
Second, uphold your expectations that your children are contributing members of daily family life.
In a Montessori classroom, children learn to respect themselves, others, and the environment. They know that everyone has responsibilities and that the classroom community relies on everyone contributing and doing his or her job. Parents are fully aware that just because it is summertime doesn’t mean that families are on a vacation from the usual day to day responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. So, while your children are at home this summer, be sure to include them in these necessary daily chores. They will be happy to show off the Practical Life skills that they have been developing all school year! Have your children help with age-appropriate tasks such as:
- Setting the table
- Sorting laundry
- Sweeping the front walkway
- Assisting with mealtime food preparation
- Scrubbing the back deck with sponges and soapy water
Not only does upholding your expectations allow them to practice their skills, but it also confirms that your children (and the work that they do) are important. That is a very motivating feeling! Patience on the part of the parent is essential for helping your child to grow in his or her mastery of these skills, but summer is a season to give your children time to complete their work to the best of their ability, resulting in a great sense of accomplishment (and in all likelihood, a much more willing little household helper!).
Finally, challenge yourself to “follow the child”:
In Montessori classrooms, teachers learn to ‘follow the child’, and summer is an opportune time for parents to try to do the same.
But first, what does it mean to “follow the child”? At its essence, it means to observe your child and to open the doors that your child is knocking on with his or her questions, interests, and behaviors. As your child chooses activities around the house, you might pay attention to which ones he or she chooses over and over again and which ones are left to collect dust. The toys and games being used most often are certainly drawing your child’s attention, and you can try to uncover just what it is about these things that intrigue your child. Maybe he or she is drawn to everything decorated with bugs and dinosaurs. Well, there’s the door waiting to be opened—summer can be the time to collect books on those subjects or to visit local museums where together you can learn more about them. Or maybe you observe that the most repeated activities are those where your child feels most challenged or most relaxed, and that is what keeps him or her coming back again and again. Stand back as your child works and plays. What do you notice?
Equally important are those children’s items around the house that are collecting dust. Is your child-size easel always clean and bare? Maybe your child doesn’t know what to do with it. Perhaps a fresh supply of watercolors or different sizes of paper or brushes might inspire a new or renewed interest in art. Or a visit to a local gallery might open up a new door to artistic expression for your child. By quietly observing your child, you can get some great insights into his or her interests and as well as his or her needs.
Following the child doesn’t mean that you can’t also offer suggestions for activities you might do together this summer. And if you have a special interest, share it with your children. Astronomy? Gaze at the summer nighttime sky and try to identify different constellations. Read the myths behind their names, and visit a planetarium to learn even more. These experiences nurture your children’s natural curiosity and provide them with ways to extend their learning beyond books and into the ‘real world’.
Other ideas for following your child’s interests and expanding your child’s summer experiences include:
- Exploring the outdoors–look for animal tracks, build fairy houses, and learn what types of trees and plants are growing in your backyard.
- Going on local ‘field trips’ in your neighboring towns. This area is rich in culture, art, nature, and so much more!
- Using public transportation (trains and buses) and having your child try to map your routes or log how many miles you travel.
- Inviting your children to brainstorm what charitable acts they could do this summer—a used toy or book sale on your front lawn or a lemonade stand with the proceeds going to a local charity?
Together you can choose do-able options from this list. Then let your child outline a plan and put it into action. But remember to stand back and observe all of your children’s efforts—you will be amazed by what they think and at what they can do when you trust yourself to follow their lead!
With a little preparation, patience, and a “Montessori mindset”, you can provide your child with fulfilling activities that reinforce the skills he or she has gained during the school year. You will find yourselves sailing smoothly through the summer months and right back into the new school year when it begins again before you know it in September!