Authentic Learning During Academic BreaksAug 01, 2023
Many places in the world take a break from formal academic learning in the summer months. Children often feel the need for and benefit from less structured academic time after a long and challenging school year. Even for homeschoolers, a break in academic routines and rigor is often welcome and necessary for children to feel refreshed and restored.
Still, as parents and educators, we want to ensure that children are continuing to learn and engage their minds, even if they are not studying and practicing formal academics each day. How can we facilitate that authentically when we are not giving them new curricular material?
Yes, children learn constantly – they are wired to soak everything in, like sponges! They learn from play, from trial and error when trying something new, and from things they observe happening in the world around them. Yet, we know that children learn more, and that learning is more long lasting, when they are supported by an adult who can scaffold new skills and content for them. This is known as the zone of proximal development (ZPD), a theory developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky.
In the summer months, or during any break from formal schooling, keeping a child’s ZPD in mind while engaging with them in any and all preferred and fun activities can be hugely beneficial for keeping learning going. For example, if you are planning a garden with them, you might support a child by teaching them or reviewing with them how to find perimeter and/or area to best utilize your space. While a child may not make the connection to find the perimeter and area of a garden on their own, with the support of an adult, they will likely be able to understand how using this concept is beneficial for the project at hand.
Authentic learning can happen throughout the days and weeks of an academic break. Activities as simple as reading a book together and asking questions about the plot, characters, and setting, exploring an outdoor space and incorporating math and science concepts such as measurement or understanding soil and erosion, or writing a postcard to a friend or family member and talking through how to correctly write an address and friendly letter formatting, are all examples of authentic learning. During these authentic, and hopefully fun, tasks, supporting a child through asking leading questions and helping them make connections to previous learning can provide the scaffolding they need to understand and absorb more than they would on their own.
Academic breaks should be focused on slowing down, enjoying people and surroundings, and having fun. Incorporating authentic learning into activities and games that children want to do anyway is an effective and uncomplicated way to ensure that they are making meaningful connections and engaging their minds.
If you are in need of more ideas, Origins’ homeschool curriculum provides authentic learning tasks and lessons each month that are easily integrated into daily activities.