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Homeschooling from the Heart: Chasing Away Vacation Blues

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All right. We admit it. Not all summer vacations are created equal.

Perhaps you remember learning this lesson as a child when the neighbor kid returned from a mega theme park. After telling lots of cool stories, he asked where you were vacationing that year. And somehow the idea of a weekend camping trip lost a little of its luster when compared to the excitement of the fast rides and thrills of a theme park.

The hard part for a child to learn is that it doesn’t matter so much where you adventure as much as with whom you adventure! Some of the best childhood memories can spring from times when the family members have little but each other. All it takes is a little imagination, resourcefulness, and creativity.

If your family—like most—just can’t seem to coordinate time and finances long enough for a flashy vacation, don’t give up! For the family determined to have a good time together and make fun memories, there’s no need to even leave town.

Try these fun ideas for an unforgettable summer:

  • Go on a photo scavenger hunt with the whole family. Make a list of cool and wacky items to find around town—a statue of a lion, an ice cream shop, a blue kite, etc.—and take fun family pictures with each item. To provide more of a challenge, set yourselves a time limit or divide the family into two teams. *Note: A scavenger hunt is also a fun way to help Mom with her grocery list when Dad and all the kids are with her at the store. Just make sure to get the exact items she needs!

  • Instead of going to the city pool or recreation center, find out whether there are any natural and manmade lakes or reservoirs in your area and if they’re open to the public. See whether you can find any information on how they were made and then turn that into a summer field trip—with a picnic and an afternoon of swimming to finish up. If there’s more than one, try to visit each lake or reservoir over summer break and have the family rate them as to which ones were the best.

  • If you have very little ones, a summer camping trip may seem like too much of a hassle. But a backyard camping trip is certainly doable! Set up a tent in your backyard (borrow a tent from a friend if you need to) and roll out sleeping bags for the whole family. Then, stoke up a fire for dinner and some storytelling! (Depending on your city’s or county’s fire ordinances, you may need to use a deck fire pit instead of building a fire directly on the ground.) A dinner of roasted hotdogs and toasted marshmallows will fill tummies nicely, and campfire songs and exciting stories told around the fire will make for a wonderful and memorable evening.

  • Have each of your children set a goal for the summer break. It can be any kind of a goal—frivolous (“I’m going to make my brother laugh every day”), practical (“Learn to ride a bicycle”), or slightly outlandish (“I’m going to touch my nose with my tongue”)—just so long as it’s the goal each child wants for himself. Then have them chart their progress—they might have to get creative in how they measure it!—throughout the summer weeks so that they can see how far they’ve come over the summer.

  • Join a summer reading program! But don’t just do it just for the children—get everyone involved and track how many pages the entire family reads over the course of the summer. The program prizes will provide children with motivation to read, but you can spice it up even more by throwing in your own incentives for siblings who help each other reach their goals by reading out loud.

  • Invite friends over for a halfway Christmas party—play Christmas music, drink frozen hot chocolate (you can find great recipes online), do a white elephant gift exchange, go caroling in your neighborhood, and have a contest to see who can perform the best wacky summer skit version of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol.

  • Plan a family Theme Day. As a family, decide on a theme—pirates or a favorite children’s story, like Secret Garden or Alice in Wonderland—and a specific day on which to celebrate it. Then brainstorm about decorations, food (there are lots of themed party recipes online), activities, costumes, and props—even what accents you’ll use. Make sure everyone is involved in the preparation and can contribute to the adventure!

  • Hold game tournaments. Incorporate board games, electronic games, and physical games to challenge the skills of your family members in different arenas. You may even want to purchase a brand new board game (that nobody has had the opportunity to practice playing!) that appeals to the whole family. (This can be tricky if you have a wide range of ages, but older players can double up with younger ones if you choose a more complicated game.) Learn how to play it and then include it in your tournament matches.

  • Choose a skill that interests the whole family—maybe rock-climbing or handling firearms—and take lessons together throughout the summer. Not only will you be equipping your children with another skill but you will also be doing it in a way that provides quality family time.

  • Pile into the family car and TRY to get lost in your city! If you’ve lived there a long time, it might be a little difficult, but there are countless roads that will surprise you with the interesting things they hide. Stop at places that look interesting. Also, this is a great opportunity to help your children learn how to follow a map. Let one child be the navigator and trace your route on the map. Then have him practice giving directions accordingly. Alternatively, each child can chart a route on an individual map before leaving home and then take turns following the route as navigator.

  • And don’t forget—you’ll want to capture all these great memories from the summer! Make sure to collect the mementoes (funny souvenirs, scorecards, drawings) and pictures from all your adventures in an envelope or shoebox. (The children might even want to keep their own memento boxes.) Then, at the end of the summer, get the family together for a final hurrah before the craziness of school starts to make a collage with everything in the box.

The potential for summer fun is practically limitless! Learning can happen in the most surprising places and unexpected times. And wonderful memories can be created without ever leaving town. All you need is a good imagination, a spirit of adventure, and some dedicated family time. So set the cell phones aside, turn off the television set, log off the computer, and go have some summer fun your family will never forget!

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