Confession: I’m Not Teaching My Kids Anything This Summer

by Gigi Ross on July 22, 2013

summer learning

So I’m sitting on Pinterest, marveling at the number of summer learning activities people generate for kids.

There are numbers and grammar lessons and sensory play and times tables and science facts and the list goes on. Heck, two of my best pins are summer reading lists for boys and girls.

Despite being what I consider an Old Pro (emphasis on old) at the whole school thing, I’m always taken aback at how intense some parents get about summer learning. Avoiding the “summer slump.” Making sure there’s no backslide.

I’ll never forget the year after Boy Wonder finished kindergarten. I purchased a 1st grade workbook and a composition book, intending to have him journal our activities every day and do a couple of worksheets a few times each week. And I was feeling damn proud of myself.

Then I heard about all of the other moms who were enrolling Boy Wonder’s peers in double sessions at Kumon.

“Is your kid having trouble with math?” I’d naively ask.

“Well, no. He actually is right at grade level. But I don’t want him to fall behind. And in fact, if we work really hard this summer, he’ll qualify for accelerated math next year.”

I blinked and stared, wide-eyed, trying to hide my confusion.

Then I discovered that many parents had contracted their kid’s kindergarten teacher to come to their house once a week all summer to keep up their schooling.

I couldn’t understand why someone would put a kid in summer tutoring that didn’t need it. Or was doing it just to boost skills to pass a test that’s supposed to measure innate ability (theoretically).

And that’s where my Fear of Missing Out, Screwing My Kid And Forever Destroying His Chances of Going to Harvard, Even Though He Probably Won’t Want To Go There Anyway comes into play.

Boy Wonder had done fantastically well  in kindergarten.  He was above grade level in math and on grade level in reading.

But if Everybody Else was doing things like hiring teachers and going to Kumon, was I putting my kid at an utter disadvantage by NOT doing those things? If Everybody Else was working so that their kid landed in an accelerated math program, would my just-doing-worksheets-but-good-at-math kid’s score even qualify for the program?

Like always, I rushed off to my husband and told him we needed to consider enrolling Boy Wonder in… something. You know, because it’s what people do.

He got that look on his face, that he does when he knows I am running off half-cocked and worrying about shizz that I shouldn’t.

“He’s not struggling, Gigi. I’m not against spending money to help the kid if he needs it. But, the kid’s FINE.”

I started to think about the message putting Boy Wonder in tutoring might send:

You did great, kid. But it wasn’t great enough. And we’re going to steal away part of your summer to BE great enough.

And then I thought back to the summers of my childhood. They were a juicy, full twelve weeks of utter chillax. My mother had no program in place, no worksheets, flashcards, tutoring or structured play. At 8:00 a.m. every day, Wayne Smith, the neighbor boy, would knock on the screen door, yell, “Can Georgann come out to play?” and I’d be outside for the rest of the day, returning only for meals.

Admittedly, I was several grade levels ahead on everything. But could I have used some extra help on fractions or division? Yeah. Maybe. But that didn’t matter.

Summer was for fun. Freedom. Mischief. Food. And a hell of a lot of TV on rainy days.

My kids barely get 8 weeks of summer, not 12. And they are both good students – actually, they’re great students. They’re reading on their own each night, and that’s cool by me. Boy Wonder could be working on his writing and Little CEO could be practicing her atrocious penmanship.

But they’re not.

I’m not teaching my kids anything formal this summer – just like every other summer we’ve had.

Instead, I’m choosing to teach them that breaks are a good thing. That they don’t need to wring their brain cells dry to be good students. That their hard work during the academic year deserves the reward of relaxation.

I’m teaching them that right now, they should experience fun and freedom and mischief and food and yes, a goodly amount of TV and video games. I’m teaching them that they are good enough, and I don’t expect perfection.

I’m teaching them that they’re still kids. And that’s really all they need to learn right now.



Kerry Ann July 22, 2013 at 5:05 am

“Slacker” moms unite! I am right there with you. By then end of the school year, my kiddo is burned out. He has so little time to PLAY during the school year. And playtime imagination time, time to be bored and get dirty and create worlds— is vital to the development process. And for their sanity.

I read a wonderful article (can’t remember where) explaining how as long as kids read over the summer–anything, it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare–they don’t “slide.” We do that anyway.

My kid’s handwriting is going to stink when he goes back in a few weeks, but he’ll remember soon enough. He earns good grades, aces exams, and deserves some time to just be a kid. (As you said, if he was falling behind, things would be different.)

Hope your kids HAVE FUN this summer.

Michelle July 22, 2013 at 5:08 am

Thank you GiGi for saying this!! I’ve always felt the same way but yes, the pressure is always there to get a jump on the next school year. Whew, now I feel so much better about letting them have some breathing room. Now if I could only get the schools to worry less about standardized tests, my life would be complete.


Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson July 22, 2013 at 5:41 am

The research shows that people NEED breaks: times where your brain does something different than it is used to doing so that it is stimulated in new ways — even quiet ways!

That said, it’s easy to feel like we are Screwing Up by not enrolling our kids in Something Important Sounding because that’s what Everyone Else Is Doing.

My kid is at summer camp rubbing toothpaste on his stomach and waterskiing and screaming his head off. He’s meeting new people (even girls) and interacting without any technology.

Don’t doubt yourself. Your kids are going to land in the right places, with or without summer school. Without it? They’ll just like you a little more. 😉

Twingle Mommy July 22, 2013 at 7:55 am

Good for you! It always amazed me when I was a teacher that the parents who’s kids were truly behind in school, never asked me what their kids should be doing in the summer. It was always the kid who was ahead who had overzealous parents who worried about it. Kids need to be outside playing and reading a little and they’ll be fine. I would rather a kid spend the day at the park playing than being tutored. I have 5 weeks left before all three kids head to school this year (yikes!) and we are going to enjoy it!

Debra July 22, 2013 at 8:12 am

My son just finished kindergarten, but he needed a lot of extra help with his reading & writing just to meet the class standards. By the end of the school year he was on par with his classmates. I was afraid though that without the consistency of school that he might lose what he learned and start the school year out behind again. He’s going to tutoring 2xs a week for 90 mins each for help in reading/vocab & writing. He was already at a 1st grade level for math – so he’s good there. I just want for him not be frustrated when he returns to school – playing catch-up. He’s also going to camp 5 days a week – so he’s certainly getting a lot of fun time too!

Jill July 22, 2013 at 8:25 am

Phew, I’m so glad there is someone else that feels like me and my husband. My son just finished Grade 1 and just like Kindergarten, I was told that “he’s where he’s supposed to be” but they were recommending he do summer school. I do keep up some reading, but by no means are we hardcore about even that. I agree! It’s summer! They need the break from the institution. And frankly…so do I.

Anastasia @ eco-babyz July 22, 2013 at 9:07 am

Your kids are fortunate to have you as a mom! I think it is very wrong to constantly schedule every second of the day for the kids and give them no breaks. I feel really bad for children these days, adults ruling their lives and smothering them, not letting them develop their own passions or just play and be free. PLAY IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF LEARNING, my favorite quote :)

Gigi Ross July 22, 2013 at 10:22 am

Thank you Anastasia ..and amen to that quote!!!

Heidi July 22, 2013 at 9:12 am

Who is this “Georgann”? 😉 I love this. I’ve got one kid still sleeping, one watching TV, and two playing video games. Nice lazy summer morning.

All Good in Mommyhood July 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

I dabbled in the “summer schoolwork” thing for a few summers, but i now let them be kids! We do our best to read every day, and the rest will have to wait until the end of August when we go back to school!

Kim@Co-Pilot Mom July 22, 2013 at 10:47 am

I think a little break is a good thing – for everyone. It is nice to take the pressure off and just be. Play. Relax. Enjoy. Summer days are meant for exactly those things.

julie gardner July 22, 2013 at 10:49 am

I think that by letting them have a whole lot of unstructured downtime this summer, you’re actually teaching your children a lot.


Liz July 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I love this- I am also not teaching anything this summer unless it is completely natural (at the grocery store, asking my kindergartener if we get 3 peaches and 4 nectarines, how many pieces of fruit we have…). I want them to play, get dirty at camp and be children. There is plenty of time to be stressed and have to work. Elementary school summers are not those times.

Jennifer July 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Thank you so much for this. Cady is in once a week tutoring for her dyslexia, and I make her do 20 minutes of work three or four times a week (the goal is more, but dude, it’s summer). Her tutor, who is her teacher, says she’s doing great. I’m trying not to worry, but when I see all of the things that everyone else does I get a little freaked that I’m not doing enough.

Happysuz July 22, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Amen, Sistah! I luckily don’t live in a community where people are too uptight about summer academics! We are already avid readers and we’re doing the math packet sent home by the school. All the rest is play, play, play! Too much stress at too young of an age makes unhappy, unimaginative kids.

Alicia @ Naps Happen July 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Amen! I am so with you. Having also sat on the teacher side of the tutoring table at one of those “enrichment” centers, I can tell you I really felt most of the parents were wasting their money, anyway. Kids don’t like to run drills in workbooks all the time. I feel confident that my kids are learning important life skills when they are outside playing. Like you say, they also need time to decompress! There’s plenty of time for high stress in adulthood.

Nina July 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm

of course I loved this! We had some camps throughout the first half of summer but have nothing happening for all of August. I’m happy!

Jeanette Nyberg July 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Good one, Georgann. I have just noticed this strange extra-tutoring phenomenon this summer. I keep wondering where all my daughter’s friends are, and why aren’t they running around in the big open field across the street from us? We’re all about nothing but summer camp and swimming this summer- it’s so nice to not be stressing out about keeping up with everyone…

Jill Frank July 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Thank you!!!! I agree completely. Yes, we keep reading, but that is it. The rest is time to be kids.

Michelle July 22, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Let me just say I cannot stand summer reading packets or any homework type packets that have to be done over the summer. There have been many summers that my kids didn’t complete them, and I could care less. My kids like to read…I figure let them read whenever and whatever they want during the summer. My youngest brought home his summer reading book and showed it to me all bummed out…it is well below his reading level and he doesn’t want to read it. Why does he have to? I’d much rather him read something he enjoys. And whatever happened to just letting them play for a few weeks? I’m so done with all of this!

Arnebya July 23, 2013 at 7:01 am

My oldest daughter damn near failed seventh grade last year. You know what we have her doing to prepare for eighth? Not a damn thing. Laze around, enjoy your summer, read books like normal. Other than that? There is no struture to their DAYS let alone regarding mandatory work. While yes, we read A LOT, I don’t consider that work or teaching. It’s us being normal and if you want to read right now, sure, but if you want to try to beat me in Ruzzle or that sword game on the Wii, I’m good with that too.

We will be pretty hard on my daughter this year because eighth grade can’t be played with. BUT. That’s over a month away. Not doing it to her, not doing it to ME.

Jackie July 23, 2013 at 7:08 am

Good for you! And the kids.

I have never enrolled my kids in a summer program or done any extra school work over the summer. I’ve thought about it and even bought workbooks but that’s about it.

Like you said, it’s a break and they deserve it. Hell, we do too because all this new math is hard!

Hallie Sawyer (@Hallie_Sawyer) July 23, 2013 at 5:45 pm

I am so with you! The only thing I’ve done is bribe my kids to complete their reading list and hope they catch on to this hobby I hold near and dear to my heart. I have unplugged the T.V. and let them head out with friends as soon as chores are done. Winning!

Julia July 23, 2013 at 6:22 pm

I love this! Sounds like you are making a wonderful decision for you and your kids. And you are probably teaching them more than you know. :)

Alison July 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I believe it’s called summer VACATION for a reason.
I like your thinking, Georgann! (love your name!)

Chelle B. July 23, 2013 at 10:52 pm

So happy to read this! What’s sad is so many kids begin to begrudge any kind of learning because it is shoved at them from every direction.

You are a good Momma. :)

Stephanie @ Hugs, Kisses and Snot July 24, 2013 at 9:12 am

I completely agree. Summer should be a break from school. All to soon they will be up to their eyeballs in homework and sports and practice and who knows what else. This time should be able taking it easy.
I will admit that my 8 yr old meets with his teacher one hour a week to work on the areas she knows he needs help in. But here’s the deal…he loves her and he loves spending time with her. If it was torture we wouldn’t do it. That’s also why I don’t try to do worksheets at home. We would BOTH be in tears. It’s just not worth the frustration.

Lollie - The Fortuitous Housewife July 30, 2013 at 4:56 am

Amen, sister!!
Three cheers for good ol’ fashioned summertime fun – getting dirty, getting wet, getting sticky and embracing a bit of sloth!

Bonnie Dani August 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

Totally agree! I have such fond memories of my own childhood and not one summer did it include academic classes. Our children grow up so fast as it is – let them be kids I say.

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