We just finished school last Friday. Normally, I’d be posting our summer bucket list and sharing a list of places we planned to visit as well as lists of activities we planned to accomplish. I would have done this in early May but this year is going to look very different. Our governor extended the stay at home order for our area until June 12. Whether or not we agree with that choice, it has a major impact on our plans. Museums, zoos, etc., may not be open so this year there is no point in adding them to a bucket list. Many of these places offer virtual tours, but we haven’t been able to embrace those in the same way we can get excited about visiting in person.
In past years we’ve had the Summer of Go and Grow, the Summer of Adventure, the Summer of Exploring, and so on. How do I create a summer bucket list when there is no chance of adventure, exploring, or going? Well, after listening to our pastor’s sermon about Psalm 34 I decided to plan the Summer of Radiance. Psalm 34:5 says that those who look to the Lord are radiant. Radiant is defined as “(1) emitting rays of light; shining; bright: (2) bright with joy, hope, etc.: Jesus said he is the light of the world. When I try to be the light of the world I fail miserably. My lights power source quickly grows dim and I burn out quickly. But Jesus IS the light of the world. When I radiate His light I don’t grow weary because I’m no longer responsible to be the source of the light.
This summer our goal will be to radiate God’s love to the world. It feels like now more than ever we need to be a light in the darkness. Murder, violence, hatred are all too common. Although we all need a break now and then, the culture of entertainment is not healthy. Our days are not just about entertaining ourselves but we were created to fulfill a beautiful purpose. That purpose, what we call God’s will for our lives, cannot be accomplished if we focus on making ourselves happy. This summer we want Logan to see that there is satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy to be found in serving God by learning to care for the things God has provided for us and by learning to care for others.
So here’s our list:
Study logical fallacies critical thinking skills
Write letters to family and friends
Learn to plan and cook a dinner
Watch the Cosby Show
Build a river in the yard
Read the 100 Cupboards series
Learn how to wash the car by hand
Go for a hike
Build a bat house
Ride bikes to Rochester
Build a squirrel picnic table
Perform 5 random acts of kindness
Build a stand for Mikhail Gorbachev (the betta fish)
Finish Big Life Journal
Go (alone) to Ace Hardware
Learn to tie a tie
Plant a forest garden
"Hacks" are all the rage these days. The internet allows us to share tips and tricks for how to make life easier. Some of the life hacks I've seen are pretty sketchy, but some have proved quite useful. The parenting hack I'm sharing today is one that Jason and I stumbled upon long before becoming parents.
Let me set the scene. We were at Greenfield Village. It was Thomas the Tank Engine day. We didn't know that it was Thomas day when we had decided to attend and we didn't even have any small children with us. The crowds were oppressive, but we made it in and since we had come a distance to visit we stayed. For the most part we avoided the large creepy train (sorry - I've never been a fan), but we were surrounded by children wearing all sorts of Thomas gear. At the end of the day we sat watching the Sir John Bennett clock chime 5:00. Behind us sat a little boy wearing all sorts of Thomas the Tank Engine apparel, holding a Thomas the Tank Engine balloon, and eating an ice cream cone. We overheard his parents talking about how fun it had been to ride on Thomas and see him in action. Including Village admission and swag these parents had probably spent at least $200 on Thomas themed activities that day. Then it happened. The dad asked his little guy this question, "So, what was your favorite part of the day?" Waiting to hear something that including the word "Thomas" the parents were flabbergasted to hear their child say, "Ice cream!" "Ice cream?!" the dad exclaimed in a high and slightly frantic voice, "We could have stayed home and had ice cream!"
At that moment I thought, "Note to self. Skip the expensive day out and get ice cream."
Because of that experience we opted to embrace the little moments and opted out of the stress of big events that parents feel pressured to participate in when Logan was very young.
I don't mean to contradict all the other stuff that I've said about experiencing things, but when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers, save your money for future trips. This doesn't mean they shouldn't go places, just that you shouldn't spend time and money on expensive places they won't truly appreciate. Little ones need to get out and see the world, but they also need naps. This can make activities difficult and exhausting for parents. Below is a list of activities that are toddler or preschool friendly versions of more extensive activities.
This morning I have one quick question for you. WHERE DID THE SUMMER GO? Can you believe it? Logan's first day of school is August 19! I've already got his 2019-2020 school calendar and have entered all the dates in my Google Calendar app. I've filled out out forms galore and our new school uniforms should be arriving this week.
All this school prep makes reminds me that we have so far to go on our bucket list. As I said during an earlier post, I don't ever intend to get the entire list complete, but we still have a LONG way to go this year. As I look at all the things we haven't done, I try to remember what we have done. Well, so far this summer has been full of a lot of family activities. We went up north to a family wedding, my sisters came in to visit for a week, and we spent a few days up in the Thumb of Michigan during the week of the 4th of July. Once I realized that we've been busy just not busy doing the things on my list, I relaxed knowing that time spent with family is time well spent. We've listened to old stories, made new memories, and shared many a meal together.
We also have several things that are "in progress" like reading books which we've attacked with renewed vigor after seeing all those back to school forms. I've been working on all kinds of craft projects including how to use my new Cricut Maker. I'll talk more about my favorite craft projects at a different time though.
This summer has been a good one. I strongly believe in making the list and pushing myself and my family to do things, but sometimes, other things come up and we do those instead. That's okay. The time with family, making the most of spontaneous opportunities, and embracing the time we have is what makes for a memorable summer. Time is a fleeting and fragile commodity. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. How we use it demonstrates what we believe about God and what is important to us. There's only a few weeks left! How will you spend the rest of your summer?
Last week in my post about summer break, I emphasized that school does not have a monopoly on learning. Summer can be all about the best kind of learning. The kind of learning that expands the mind. The kind of learning that leads to interesting places and people. The kind of learning I hope Logan will continue with for the rest of his life.
There are two parts of our summer bucket list this year. I want to visit some interesting places and try some fun things with Logan, but I also want to work organizing some areas in the house, improving math skills, and strengthening language skills. When considering academic work over summer break, I like to think of it as bonus time. We had too much homework for me to add on more during the school year so summer is the perfect time to learn a few things that will help with next year. I also want to play some fun games that teach as we play such as the periodic table battleship and the Pringles ring.
The second part of the list is all about the go. I'm currently obsessed with my National Park Passport book and I want to collect several stamps available in our area. Detroit is part of the Motor Cities National Historic Area so several museums offer the National Park Passport stamp. On the list below, the areas with the available stamp have the green letters next to them identifying what they are. (Key below). Will we make it to all these places? Absolutely not, but we will have fun trying and often we get to them during days off school and weekends.
Without further ado, here is the Gies 2019 Summer Bucket List.
Visit Niagara Falls
Visit Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS
Take piano lessons
Visit Whiting Forest
Clean out guest room closet
Visit River Raisin NBP
Study Men and Women in the Word with She/He Reads Truth
Learn about the law of diminishing returns with ice cream
Visit Cranbrook Gardens
Go to a baseball game
Host a class party
Day camp at the Henry Ford
Visit Stahls Automotive Foundation NHA
Ride bikes to downtown Rochester
Family game night
Visit the Edsel Ford House and Gardens NHA
Play the license plate game
Visit Cambridge Junction Historic State Park NHA
Build an egg drop
Visit the Detroit Zoo
Read and complete Big Life Journal
Visit the Toledo Zoo with Fougeres
Family movie night
Memorize the definitions for the parts of speech
Visit Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes NL
Jackson Pollock Painting
Visit Yankee Air Museum NHA
Play periodic table battleship
Visit the GM Renaissance Center NHA
Build a LEGO fortress
Visit Meadowbrook Hall NHA
Visit Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society NHA
Make a Pringles Ring
Plant giant sunflowers
Read a biography of Bob Ross
Finish London puzzle
Visit the Detroit Historical Museum NHA
Finish toy puzzle
Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts NHA
Memorize times tables
Read Treasure Island
We're ready to grow and go!
NHA - National Historic Area, NBP - National Battlefield Park, NHS - National Historic Site, NL - National Lakeshore
Are you excited about summer break being right around the corner? I am. (Notice my excessive use of exclamation points.) I love summer. I'm not just talking about the season itself, although I do love that - I'm talking about the long break from school.
Summer is time to take a break from school. Summer is not the time to take a break from learning. Summer is the perfect time to learn without the pressure of tests and the responsibility of homework. It's the perfect time to visit museums and parks. These experiences are extremely important because by exploring and experiencing, children lay the groundwork for their classroom experience.
Here’s an example. At some point in their science education, your child will learn about the life cycle of a frog. I remember learning about this as a student, but I didn’t have to memorize it as a student. Why? Because there was a ditch in the front yard of the house I grew up in. Every year frogs would lay eggs. Once the tadpoles emerged we would scoop them into buckets and check their progress. It was play. Gloriously messy, sometimes muddy play. But then when I got to science class the life cycle was something I knew. I had watched. I had observed. The teacher had new information that I didn’t already know, but she had a shelf to place new information onto. My existing knowledge allowed my understanding to be deeper and more lasting than the student who had never seen a tadpole.
Often our school system becomes adversarial. Students work hard NOT to learn the information the teachers are tasked with the responsibility of forcing the materials into them. This push back doesn’t usually happen until middle and high school, but the mindset begins as early as elementary.
We make a critical mistake when we equate school with learning. Why? School does not have a monopoly on learning. It CANNOT have a monopoly on learning. This is NOT to say that students don't learn in school but when we limit learning to school we limit our children’s mindset and limit their growth. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit. Adults calling themselves a life long learner has become popular. Why can't we let kids embrace that too? Oddly enough when I say stuff like this is it is usually the adults who tell me that kids don't want to learn, NOT their kids. This disturbs me. Learning is awesome. It is fun. It is something that the mind embraces and takes pleasure in. The brain releases a dopamine response when a new fact snaps into place. (Imagine that feeling when a puzzle piece clicks into place.) When your brain has an “ah-ha” moment your brain releases pleasure hormones. When kids make a connection between something they learned in school and something they already know, their brain releases a “reward” for their effort.
Not interested in "teaching" your children this summer? Afraid that you will get stuck or not know what to say? Here’s an example of the type of learning and teaching I am talking about. Many kids have had the experience of trying to connect toy trains. Sometimes the trains won’t connect. They may get frustrated, but they usually figure out that the key to success is to turn the train around. It works! Cool now they can play. When they get to science class and learn that magnets have a north and south pole and connect it with their memory, their brain rewards them for that connection. Those students who have been trained to recognize the moment a connection happens can gain an even greater response. Training to recognize this is as simple as noting when it happens and cheering.
Older students who are interested in Greek Mythology will love making connections about their secular reading and the experience of Paul in the book of Acts. Read Acts 17:16-34 (Paul’s sermon from the Aeropagus.) Those Paul is speaking to believe in and worship the gods we read about in stories. In verses 24-25 Paul makes specific reference to the stories of mythology. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” The Greek gods constantly needed help from heroes who were demi-gods. Without Heracles, Jason, and Theseus the gods would be in desperate straights. Paul is remarking that the one Creator God who is over ALL, not just the wind, seas, seasons, medicine, etc., doesn’t need human heroes to save him. He is omnipotent. When students connect these two things (the Bible and Greek mythology) they get very excited and the discussion is usually a lively one.
Even students who say they “hate” learning take pleasure in learning about things that they are interested in. Summer and other breaks from school are the perfect time to leisurely explore their own pursuits. I recommend exposure to a wide range of activities that will eventually coincide with their classroom learning. Some areas are richer in learning opportunities than others. I have been working on my Southeastern Michigan page and hope to add several more places this summer. Check it out and comment with places you would add. There is no way that you will be able to experience everything that your child is going to be learning about, but you can participate in a variety of things that will set them up for future success.
Next week I will release our full summer bucket list. We are planning on visiting several places that are recognized by the National Park Service as the Motor Cities National Heritage Area as well as River Raisin, a National Historic Battlefield. (All within an hour or so of our house.) Subscribe using the form below to follow our adventures and learn more about fun activities that will help your child's summer be both fun and constructive.
A Note About Video Games: Learning isn’t the only way to receive a dopamine response from the brain. Video games flood the brain with a dopamine response, but rarely are real skills gained and often the cost/benefit ratio is out of proportion. Alarmists love to report that kids are addicted and scare parents with statistics about the dangers of gaming. This sells stories and gets people to click, but it isn’t necessarily true. Video games aren’t all bad and can be a good way for families to have fun together (Wii) or kids to learn about the challenges of running a city (Sim City). Think of it this way - taking the family out for ice cream can be a fun way to bond and have fun. It’s a good thing. Eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is excessive and detrimental to your health.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."