Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Summer Break Revelation

The school year is nearly over. We have our AP English Lit. test tomorrow, final SoLs are next week, then we have a week before exams hit. My 8th year in this public school is done and I am officially past the statistical "I-am-burned-out-&-must-leave-this-career-for-something-else" point. The first few summers, I tried to find summer jobs to help out. But let's be honest - I was teaching and coaching a spring sport and barely even saw my own bed much less had time to look for a job before all the returning college kids snatched them up. 

Then, I got burned out on coaching the same year we became pregnant. Very convenient combination to use as a reason to resign from coaching. That summer, I enjoyed myself tremendously and I took advantage of every spare minute I had for myself, knowing that would all change.

The first summer I was home with baby was nice. I got a lot of reading done, but not much else. Syd was crawling and I was still nursing. I wrangled baby.

The second summer was better - we could go outside and play more. He could go swimming and we were involved in more activities. He was in swim lessons. We still did a lot of playing with blocks, but we started having play dates and music classes.

Last year, I was prepping him for preschool. We discovered Play-Doh and all it's awesome possibilities. We had swim lessons and play dates and visited Daddy at work. And I downloaded coloring sheets that focused on letters of the alphabet. We colored these and practiced the sounds, and I decorated the walls with our motley-colored crayon alphabet. We reviewed these regularly. We sang, we danced, we grew.

My son will be nearly 4 this summer. After paying for preschool this year as well as replacing our HVAC over spring break, I thought a part-time job would help with a few other repairs that needed to be done, plus offer a little wiggle-room for some entertainment. However, my summer search for a job fell to the wayside weeks ago. I pursued it for about two weeks before deciding not to worry. Then I had a revelation.

Allow me to digress for a moment - I said our AP test is tomorrow morning. 7 am sharp. My seniors have been working diligently towards this moment and I have the utmost faith that if they are able to calm their nerves and focus, they will do well and surpass their own expectations. I am in awe of some of my students' abilities. I want to ask them, and their parents, what they did to ensure not only the basic understanding of concepts but also the depth of focus, analysis, etc. that allowed these students to reach this level of success and achieve their potential. How do I raise a child who will make use of what has been given him? How do I make sure he grows to appreciate his potential and not waste it in teenage angst?

I was downloading worksheets for Syd to work on this summer. I still have some alphabet ones from last year, but what I was more focused on as I looked through the hundreds offered here was the expansion of his knowledge. Yes, I want him to remember what I and his wonderful teachers have worked with him on this past year. However, I want to push him, too. I want him to stretch so that even if he isn't ready for the level of work, he is still striving for that level - but not to the point of frustration.

And then it hit me. No longer was my summer schedule just made up of play dates and music lessons (translation - bang on a bunch of drums and dance in bubbles), movies and parks. I had already built in consistent library dates. I was searching Pinterest for fun science ideas and basic math. I found printable worksheets for cutting and tracing and connecting alphabetical as well as numerical dots. I downloaded flashcards for sight words and cue cards for rhyming and alliteration as well as worksheets for blending sounds. I had activities that discussed weather and seasons and comprehension. I even found simple math - addition and subtraction, and started planning in my head how to use M & Ms to accomplish this.

I was, in fact, developing a curriculum for my toddler.

I am, after all, a teacher. And I know I know I know he is not ready for some of these - I had accidentally found myself in 1st grade-level activities a few times. But I also know he's a smart cookie. And I know, too, that we won't have the constant stimuli that a school room with 17 three and four year olds will have. I wanted to be prepared. And isn't the first rule - in fact, the cardinal rule of teaching to be over-prepared so the students don't have time to get into trouble? 

Ever since my first summer with baby, I have developed a "plan" for the summer. I allot time to work on my own classes; I plot milestones for us; I plan activities. But my job this summer, rather than working in retail or keeping on top of parks and Sesame Street and keeping house, is to keep son. To raise my son. To stay focused on his character and his education and to help make memories that he will cherish later. And to establish a basic understanding that education, in any form, is necessary and required and enjoyed. 

We will not complete all that I have downloaded. I will be surprised if we make our way even halfway through. But I have it here in case he shows an aptitude for any of it, and I have a ready stock of crayons, toddler scissors, and tape. I'm looking forward to trading in my SoLs and AP tests and deep, analytical novels and essays for Little Critter, Berenstein Bears, and lots of crayons and Play-Doh.

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