One thing that I absolutely love about summer is that in the absence of school, kids and adults exhale and naturally fall into a life that tends to look a whole lot like Self Directed Education. For someone who has embraced this style of learning year-round, seeing everyone around me embrace the style of learning I love is just so beautiful!
A large part of what we do within this style of learning is based on connection; connection to self, to others, and to nature. In the summer we seem to gravitate towards the things that bring us joy. We get in touch with nature as we camp, cottage, hike, garden, go to the beach, go to community festivals, enjoy the feel of the sun, the rain and the grass between our toes.
Kids who are not in childcare or camps find other pockets of kids to be with. Multi-age groups and the diversity of experience feed their creative play. Parents often take time off from their jobs in the summer, as part of summer vacation or to save money on childcare and take their kids out into the world. They travel, explore, and experience together. Inter-generational learning opportunities are more plentiful for the kids who love to knit, fish, bake, start a fire, and turn an abundant tomato harvest into a year’s worth of sauce. The learning is so natural and fun that people don’t even realize it is happening.
For the kids who are in camps of their choosing, summer is the time for them to pursue their passions with community members who are specialized and excited to geek out with young people who share their curiosity. For the kid who loves art or soccer or engineering, summer camps may feel like their time to excel and really dive into the things that make them feel alive. They feel confident. They feel like themselves.
Now imagine for a moment, that this style of learning happened all year round? Imagine that people were learning together with others who share their passions? Can you imagine the sense of satisfaction that would bring the learner? Can you guess how far they could take their passion and the learning that would come of it if they were granted the freedom to pursue their passion to nth degree? Imagine if this kind of connection was the norm? Imagine if every season was full of connection to our interests, those we love, and nature?
Imagine a learning environment that is free of regular and unsolicitied assessment? What if this snapshot in time, doesn’t matter as much as the sum of the parts? What if these experiences show their worth much later and this early and frequent assessment changes the end result? What if, instead, kids were given the freedom and trust to do their learning without us deciding their worth while they are in the middle of it? What if we just sat back and marveled at the awesome buffet of all the things they can do, in the times they emerge?
Imagine if it doesn’t matter if kids learn to read this year or next. What if we trusted that they will read because their passions will one day bring them to a place where reading will be useful to them in pursuing their passion further? What if the math kids encounter in their pursuits leaves them excited for more exploration in the world?
To take this idea further, if there were no ranking of people and no need for narrowly defined learning paths, perhaps there would be no bell curve, no hurt feelings, no performance anxiety, no box to squish into? What if we were all just out there, learning and contributing in the world, and suddenly all the differences in the way we think and act in the world were just part of the package that makes us unique contributors in the world? Could we shed the idea of neurotypical brains, or at least the way we use it now, in ways that tend to disable people?
Because, really, if you consider all the variances of genetics and experiences, I would hypothesize human brains were meant to deveop in diverse ways. My guess is that the concept of a typical brain probably emerged around the time of industrialization and traditional schooling. As capitalist society was spitting out consistent products for consumption, changing the way we interacted with one another and thought about our fit in the world, we lost our understanding of the value of our diversity. Was Western Science trying to find standardization for the purpose of understanding our humanity to serve us? Or was it for the purpose of “fixing” us thereby convincing us that we are all somehow broken and not worthy of having our needs met? Have we been complicit in creating a world that no longer values diversity and is fearful of the path that is creative and unknown? There are so many ways to be in the world. When it comes to learning, are we implying that it’s one-size fits all?
Big exhale. Suddenly this Endless Summer post got heavy. Let me back it up a bit.
Some kids love school and enjoy the summer as a welcome break to pursue the things they cannot do in traditional school. They happily return to school feeling rested and excited. But some kids actually COME ALIVE in the summer. Moms, you know if that is your kid. They relax and play and do and exert themselves in ways that fill them up. For those kids, August can bring anxiety. They are not done yet! They are not ready to back to the ranking, the box checking and the square-peg-in-a-round-hole fitting. If you have one of those kids that come alive in the summer and struggle on the first cool August day that reminds us all that fall is around the corner, maybe consider what other options are out there?
Consider how can you make your year an endless summer? Is it pursuing extra-curricular passions like they are the real work to be done? Is it working with your classroom teacher to say we are just not doing homework this year? Is it planning an extended vacation in the middle of the winter? Is it exploring alternatives to traditional school such as homeschooling or an alternative education private school? I’m not sure what the right path will be for your family, but having found a path that feels like an endless summer, I want your kids to have it too.
(And maybe one day, you as well?)