Cash in on Learning: Overcoming the Winter BLAHS by Planning for Summer Hurrahs!

by Richard Cash, Ed.D., Free Spirit Publishing author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century

Well, the excitement of the holidays is behind us and my winter vacation is now a fading tanned memory. Even though the days are getting slightly longer, I’ve caught a severe case of cabin fever. I’ve been a resident of Minnesota for 30 years, but I still can’t get used to being housebound during the winter. If I do venture out in the elements, I get overwhelmed by the multiple layers of outerwear I have to put on just to survive! BLAH!

As a classroom teacher, I saw this same blah feeling come over my students when we couldn’t go out for recess or had to spend half of the recess time getting dressed to brave the cold. I’m sure many of you are feeling the same entrapment of the season as well. So, to assist teachers, parents, and students in overcoming the blahs of winter, I’ve created some tips you can use to set your sights on the hurrahs of what is to come this summer.

Ideas for Teachers Planning for Summer

I always looked forward to those days of summer when I could relax, rejuvenate, and regroup. I also discovered that during my summer days I had the opportunity to become a student again. To that end, here are some tips for teachers planning for those days of summer:

  • Revisit your passions. During the school year, we lose touch with our hobbies or those things we are passionate about, so plan to pick up that hobby again. Get back to making that quilt for your niece or putting together that scrapbook of your graduation from your master’s program. Or set your sights on following all the baseball games of your kids or a local team. Start collecting those fishing lures that your friends have been telling you about. Or get back to that author you’ve loved for so long but whose last book you just haven’t had time to read.
  • Camping_by_Barriere_Lake,_British_Columbia_-_20040801 released to public domainDevelop new passions. As teachers, we get so caught up in teaching our kids that we forget what it is like to learn. When you study something outside your comfort zone, you learn to be a student all over again. I’m not talking about taking another graduate class to fulfill that next degree. I’m talking about taking a course or graduate class in a field of study totally foreign to you, such as a cooking class, a music or singing class, quantum physics (if you’re not a science teacher), another language, or a new sport or activity. Another idea is to plan for either a staycation or out-of-town vacation to learn about a place where you’ve never been.
  • Reconnect with your friends. I know that my school year “free time” was often limited, leaving me little time for my friends. Summer is a great time to reconnect with your family and friends. Plan to host summer picnics or dinner parties, leisurely lunches where you can talk about things other than the classroom, or travel to see family and friends in other locations. Setting up these plans during the winter gives you something to look forward to until the weather starts to cooperate.

Here are some ideas to get the most out of your summer learning:

  • Take notes of your learning to share with your students in the coming school year.
  • Create a blog about your new learning.
  • Make a video journal about what you are learning and the frustrations and joys you encountered.
  • Take pictures to post on your school website or put in that scrapbook you are working on.

Teachers, summer can be more than just getting ready for the next school year. A critical skill we can teach our students that can’t be learned through text is how to learn. It is important to share our learning with our students. Kids love and need to know that their teacher is also a learner.

Ideas for Families Planning for Summer

  • Staycation dreamPlan for a “staycation.” If finances are tight or you just don’t have the amount of time during the summer months to take an extended vacation, try a “staycation.” A staycation is when you don’t go beyond your home, city, or county. This is a great way to get acquainted or re-acquainted with your neighborhood, city, or region. Check with your local Historical Society, Tourist Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Park Board, or local library to come up with locations and ideas for day trips. Find locations that are off the beaten path, such as the original settling locations of different groups of immigrants, local ethnic restaurants, parks or sites dedicated to founding citizens, or significant sites that have changed the culture or economics of your neighborhood, city, or county. For families with older children, have them research sites and then create a simple campaign to “sell” their sites to other family members. Spend an evening sharing the campaigns and then put them all to a vote for the sites most likely to interest all members.
  • Do a staycation scavenger hunt. Have your children research local attractions secretly and build clues about the site. Then, during your staycation, each family member gets a day for their site scavenger hunt. Read through the clues in the morning as a family and try to figure out the location by lunch time. After lunch, head out on the hunt for the location.
  • Try an “Are we there yet?” vacation. If an out-of-town vacation is in the planning, consider the “Are we there yet?” vacation game. This idea is where the parents plan a vacation out of town and create clues that the children can use to figure out where their trip will take them. Use clues such as quotes from books or movies that offer characteristics of the location, math equations that plot longitude and latitude, a list of important events that took place in the location, or significant people who were either born in the area or resided there during their lifetime. After kids have accumulated all the clues, come together as a family to share where each person thinks the trip will take them. This game can get kids involved in the logistics of cost, transportation, and time as well as provide at-home reinforcement of the academics learned in school. Here are other ways to create clues:
      • roadmapGive the distance that will be traveled or the time it will take to travel one-way to the destination. Kids have to figure out (using radius) what might be a likely destination.
      • Give the estimated cost for travel one-way. Have the kids figure out (percentage and ratio) what the charge should be for each family member using a ratio of size or age (the bigger or older you are, the more you pay).
      • Use artifacts of the region or location as clues.
      • Provide your kids with economic, business, geographic, or cultural information that can be used to lead them to the location of the trip.
      • Share music and art that is native to the destination. Or share architectural examples of the area (use close-up photos of building facades or iconic designs of local buildings), sports teams or competitions hosted in the area, or inventions or scientific discoveries from the area.

Additional tips for planning a summer vacation:

  • Plan to document the trip before, during, and after. Use the journaling techniques of video, blogging, handwritten notes, or letters sent to other family members.
  • Go “off the grid.” Turn technology off! When traveling by car, turn off the videos, both overhead and handheld. Instead, play games of counting license plates from various states, the alphabet game using billboards, I spy, 20 questions, or just have conversation among family members. No texting, emailing, Twittering, or Facebooking allowed unless it’s to document the trip and keep other family members informed of your location.
  • Read a book as a family. Spend 30 minutes every day sharing the reading-aloud duties of a family-chosen book. I suggest going back to the classics such as Treasure Island, The Swiss Family Robinson, or Secret Garden.

Parents, use these bleak days of fading winter to set a plan for summer. Get your kids involved in the planning. This demonstrates for them the value of planning and organization. These are critical self-regulation skills that are easily learned at home and oft times more difficult to learn in school.

Ideas for Kids for Planning for Summer

Adult readers can share these ideas with the kids in their lives.

  • Create a presentation to give to your parents to persuade them to:summer-camp
      • Send you to a summer camp or day camp
      • Take a staycation or an out-of-town vacation
      • Involve you in home improvement projects
      • Assign you duties and responsibilities around the home for either an allowance or to “buy” special privileges (such as additional time on the computer or to purchase a book or model you’ve been wanting)
  • Seek out opportunities in your local community that can further your interests (museums, art institutes, sports facilities, schools, libraries—even day camps or overnight camps).
  • Look for options for giving back to the community, such as volunteering at a library or summer school program.
  • Investigate a new passion and find ways to enhance that passion (either through summer camps, summer school programs, or research).
  • Set a plan to try something new at least once a week. Whether it is a new food, a new activity, or a new author, it’s always good to broaden your horizons.
  • Plan to read at least 30 minutes every day to get in touch with what’s happening in the world. You will need to start collecting magazines, books, newspapers, or websites that offer you a wide range of views about the world around us.

Instead of spending your time in front of the computer, TV, or a video game, set your sights on what you can accomplish during the summer. The best learning often happens outside of the four walls of the school. Use the skills you have been learning at school to enrich your own life and possibly create a career pathway for yourself.

Happy summer planning!

Do you use summer planning to help battle the winter blahs? Share your ideas in the comments.

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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