No Enclosures: Creating the Environment for Summer Learning

The other morning I walked into my son’s room to wake him up, and I discovered a notebook full of detailed plans and drawings for a small, rudimentary chicken coop. This was not my first time to find my son’s ideas and plans for some creative project lying out in the open for anyone to view. It is quite customary to find my twelve-year-old son’s YouTube-tutorial-led drawings and paintings strewn about the room like some unorganized studio for an up-and-coming new artist, and it is not uncommon to read one of his unfinished short stories inspired by a sleepless night where he wrestled with heavy eyelids and a mind overflowing with imaginative thoughts.
Knowledge and originality seem to pour from him, and inspiration and curiosity are his companions. One is the match and the others the flame, but I have no proof to determine which one first acts as the impetus for such an expression of talent and creativity. Whether he is tweeting, posting to Instagram, practicing a musical instrument, annihilating Rosetta Stone lessons, or teaching himself some new web-based tool, my son represents perpetual learning and inquiry.
And what about my eight-year-old daughter? The same. Although she is soaking up Spanish through Rosetta Stone like a porous sponge dropped into a bucket of fresh water, my daughter’s path to creativity is a tad different than my son’s. In a nutshell, my daughter is an athlete. She is a 57-pound body of fast-twitching muscles and kinesthetic simplicity. She watches a friend work three softball pitching drills and then flawlessly reproduces the tedious skills needed to accomplish the tasks and successfully release a fastball in windmill fashion. Recently, when asked to try switch-hitting, my blonde, curly headed daughter jumped on the left side of the plate and mirrored her accomplished right-handed swing. Not perfectly but quite impressive for the first time.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. My daughter possesses a wide-range of skills, too. Her “teaching” lessons to her classroom of stuffed animals are unquestionably rigorous and authentic. Although I have yet to hear one of her “students” respond to her questions, she definitely runs a classroom that is structured, inspiring, accountable, and tech-integrated with devices like Wi-fi enabled iPads and iPods.
So, as I sat staring at my son’s chicken coop plans that morning and wondering how to make his dream a reality in a covenanted subdivision, I was reminded of a recurring educational topic of discussion this month: “How do we continue students’ learning through the summer break?” I was quickly reminded of a tweet quoting Lao Tzu that said, “To lead the people, walk behind them.”
Since I am blessed to spend so much time with my kids during the summer, I am certainly an educational leader to them. Just like at work, I constantly ask myself, “What learning environment am I creating for my two kids?” I frequently wonder what interests them, while eagerly hoping they will share those passions with me.
Naturally, when my son produces a three-page guidebook on constructing a beginner’s chicken coop, I follow. When my daughter sends me, the self-promoted principal at her make-believe school, out of her classroom as she delivers an engaging lesson to Maximus the horse, Katie the Cabbage Patch doll, a fuzzy lion, a green tiger, and other stuffed animals, I obey. When my son asks question after question during a mature, thought-provoking movie, I stop, listen, and follow his lead through a mesmerizing volley of inquisitive wonderings that ultimately leave most pre-conceived notions in the past. And when my daughter “feels” her way through a strongly executed swing by closing her front side down, spinning on her back foot to drive with her hips, and firing her hands to drop the barrel on the ball, I shut up, ready myself for another soft toss, and listen as she leads me through her learning.
To be quite honest, I struggle with this month’s predominant, educational theme. “How do we continue students’ learning through the summer break?” Perhaps it’s as simple as creating an environment of autonomy that allows students to explore their own interests. Perhaps learning will simply “just happen.” Maybe it is comparable to breathing…effortless and seemingly incessant. Maybe they have waited patiently for ten months to study their personal interests. I really don’t know. However, I do know this: One question I don’t seek the answer for is “How do you stop students’ summer learning?” Beats me. I will be too busy attempting to tear down any enclosures that rob my kids of the freedom to lead their own summer education. After all, I simply want to follow.

John Hardison

John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC).

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