No School During the Summer!
That’s right—‘school’s out for summer’—including homeschool! (Alice Cooper eat your heart out– I bet most of you are too young to get the reference…sigh…!)
Here in the US we are blessed with the phenomena of a wonderful loooong summer break from school. (Throughout this blog post, when I refer to ‘children’, I mean age 7 and up—school children. Tiny ones do not need a break—their natural state of Oneness means everything around them is life itself—the key is to find a rhythmic way to live with kindie and younger children, day in, day out, week by week).
Although occasionally one reads of some politician or school administrator or educator lamenting the anachronism of a modern society having an agriculturally-based school calendar (we have a long vacation because 100 or 150 years ago all the children in school disappeared during the months between May and harvest to work on their family farms) only those who have not really observed children can say that this very long break from academic work is a not a good thing.
Children change enormously over that 3-month summer break. I can remember the excitement of seeing classmates again after the break—new haircuts, several inches added to height—those were the obvious changes. But as I became an adult and had the privilege of working with children I could also observe far more subtle and important changes—children allowed to have a long break from academic work actually do better at their school work because of that break.
So much for the phenomena of the dread ‘summer loss’. Even before I became a Waldorf teacher and homeschool educator, I was puzzled by this—surely if children are taught properly, they won’t forget everything as soon as they have a break? What’s the use of ever teaching anyone anything if that is what happens! If the information just leaks away as soon as the drip is removed then surely there is something wrong with either what is being taught, or how.
Without going into the intricacies of the Waldorf curriculum here and how it mirrors the developmental stages of children, suffice to say that both the what and the how are generally approached in other forms of schooling in a very hit or miss way in terms of what children need—no matter how skilled and compassionate the teachers. Waldorf education focuses on the development of qualities—focuses on the capacities of each individual child so that their soul needs are addressed and so that capacities such as perseverance, mindfulness, flexibility of thinking, strengthening of the will and so on are cultivated. It is these qualities that are the basis of true and enduring learning—not necessarily in terms of facts and information, but in terms of knowing how to learn.
And a long summer break is part of this. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Waldorf education knows that rhythm is talked about all the time, the great in-and out-breaths of learning, of play, of daily life with children that makes so many parenting and educating challenges simply not even arise. Rhythm strengthens the physical body, that vessel which carries the spiritual sheaths of the child and which needs care and loving attention, especially in the first seven years of childhood. Rushed though those 7 years by precocious intellectual learning, the etheric body withdraws its support. And when the child is not comfortably incarnated into his physical body and manifests symptoms which might be called OCD, hyperactivity, restlessness, inability to focus and even, in extreme circumstances, autism, then real learning, the kind which enables a child to reach her potential, is impaired.
It’s also worth pointing out that the children of European pioneers who lived and farmed or ranched across North America only went to school part of the year. Yet they did not forget their lessons and most became scholarly or at least adequately schooled people. No Waldorf in sight—but plenty of hard, meaningful work in harmony with the seasons and with the land. And—no early learning. Children only went to school somewhere around age 7 or 8 or even older if the walk to school was long.
Many homeschoolers feel that as schooling is part of life, then there should be no break during the summer. This makes a lot of sense—homeschool is about homelife, after all. However, if one is working seriously with the therapeutic aspects of Waldorf education, then taking that long summer break is a necessary out-breath, balanced by the formed school days of the rest of the year. This sort of therapeutic approach becomes part of the healthy rhythm of family life.
And it’s not always easy or pretty. I know what it’s like to be followed around the house by a whinge-ling piteously bleating ‘play with me Mommy!’ And of course, sometimes we will play with our children. But in general, summer time is an especially good opportunity for children to learn to turn inwards and not outwards to face down the pain of boredom.
Unfortunately, for so many children, summer is just another time of adult-organized activities (even if the children enjoy and ask for those oboe and Thai cooking lessons). And of course, like playing with one’s child from time to time, this needs to be put into the context of balance: going to summer camp for 3 weeks or having one afternoon a week through the summer for those Russian lessons which couldn’t be organized during school time is great—but ensure that for most of the summer your child has to figure out how to organize his own activities and find things to do—without an adult providing classes, field trips or entertainment. Boredom can turn into day dreaming, a wonderful meditative inward-turning from which many fruits can arise.
One major caveat: some of you live in places (like Texas or Florida) where it is too hot to go outside much in the summer. School might better take places during the summer, indoors, with the out-breath taking place in your so-called winter time. This breathing in and out is, obviously, related to the seasons, so one needs to find a way to live harmoniously with the cycles of the seasons where one lives and not with what is written on a calendar.
May your child’s summer be filled with long days of play, adventure, reading and day-dreaming!