Column: We all have a chance to practice ‘delight-directed’ learning

  • Margaret Drye. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 5/30/2020 10:20:13 PM
Modified: 5/30/2020 10:20:11 PM

I spent all of my teen summers as a counselor and canoeing instructor at Girl Scout camps. One of my counselor training manuals had a page titled “Things to do when it’s raining.” The next page was “More Things to do when it’s raining.” The last page was “Things to do when it’s still raining.” The challenge was trying to keep campers engaged when they couldn’t go out and do their regular camp activities. There were many summers that had weeks like that.

In March, when all the schools were thrown into virtual learning in an instant, I wrote a column called “Suddenly, We’re All Homeschoolers.” No one knew how long that would be for. Now it’s the end of May, and we’re all still homeschoolers.

It has been interesting to watch families, teachers, school boards and even businesses adapt and refine techniques and technology to keep students engaged and educated this spring. Communities like Cornish have been having call-in meetings for families to give feedback on how things are going. Some schools have cut their screen-time requirements. Some have adopted workbook and textbook learning in areas with limited or unreliable internet access. Some have adopted a pass/fail grading system. Businesses like Comcast and AT&T have modified data plans and set up funds to help students, schools and families stay connected.

Soon, the “regular” school year will end, and then what?

This summer isn’t going to be a normal summer. Parents are going to have free rein over what their kids do, but there may not be that much going on. No organized sports. Limited beach or water time. Guidelines for summer camps and day camps. Cancelled holiday celebrations, fairs and Old Home Days. There is even uncertainty about how schooling will take place after the summer break.

May was national Homeschool Awareness Month. After three months of virtual learning, everyone around the world is certainly aware of schooling at home, but may not be so aware of what homeschooling is actually like.

Schooling at home, as we have seen, is directed by the school system, which sets the schedule, distributes the schoolwork and keeps teachers and students in contact. Homeschooling families set their own schedules, pick their own curriculum, and cater to individual learning skills and interests.

Think of this summer as a chance to practice what home educator and author Gregg Harris calls “delight-directed” learning, which incorporates children’s natural interests and aptitudes into their learning.

The past few months may have left some students behind in some things, on track with others, or ahead of the class in some topics — or any combination of these. This summer, with fewer distractions and fewer available organized activities, you can use the freedom that homeschooling provides to catch up on anything that your student(s) fell behind on, review things they struggled with, and pursue with enthusiasm anything they have an outside interest in — just keep it relaxed.

Set your own schedule. Summertime is easy. Play during the day and do some reviewing at night.

Pick your own curriculum. Or make one up, based on what your student likes to do or wants to learn about.

Change things up. If a student has some catching up to do, change things up by switching to a different mode of learning, like a workbook instead of screen work, or board games or flash cards instead of tests. Review skills or facts by putting together a (10 person or less) spelling bee or geography bee. Since there is no time pressure during the summer, feel free to pursue any outside interest in depth.

Take a cue from some of the things the Cornish Colony artists did with their children during the summer: masques and theatricals, recitations, nature study and reading out loud. Our family has artist Maxfield Parrish’s personal copy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under The Sea, which his granddaughter says he read to his children, Dillwyn and Max Jr. (ages 12 and 10) in 1916. Our two youngest daughters and I read the epic Uncle Tom’s Cabin out loud together when they were in high school. It made the book come alive!

Food blogger and New Hampshire native Stephanie Melchione, of the blog Cozy Cook, says this is the perfect time to bring children into the kitchen. King Arthur Flour has a “Baking with Kids” video series on its website. The Co-op Food Stores have a resource list of cooking classes, including Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Online Cooking School, which is offering all of its online classes free through the end of this month.

The world is your classroom. When circumstances change enough that small museums can re-open, try investigating places that school field trips probably won’t go to, like the Telephone Museum in Warner, N.H., or America’s Stonehenge in Salem, N.H., or Hildene (the Lincoln family home) in Manchester, Vt. Trips like these are what homeschoolers do all year long, pandemics notwithstanding. Older students can take advantage of summer online courses, like those available at River Valley Community College. The Teaching Co., of Virginia, which produces The Great Course series of college-level lectures on many subjects, is now working to offer students six months of free access to more than 100 of its courses.

Learning happens everywhere, all the time. The end of this year’s school year will be different, and this summer will be different, but different can be OK. Trying homeschooling in the summer can be different, too, but don’t think of it as “school.” Just think of it as making memories while learning lessons that will last a lifetime.

Margaret Drye lives in Plainfield.

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