It is late August—Day 1 of school for your Challenge kids. You, the tutor, ask the question, “What sort of cool things did you learn over the summer that challenged your thinking? What did you learn that made you defend your beliefs?” Hands shoot up all over the classroom, each student yearning to be the one called upon. You hear the grunts of the eager students, craving the chance to impart wisdom to the rest of the class.
Sound familiar? I did not think so.
So then, what is the typical response from the kids on the first day of class? Answer: [insert sound of crickets here]. Perhaps you have experienced this?
What Happens to Your Children’s Brains Over the Summer?
While summer is a great chance for the kids (and the tutors) to take a much-needed break from the grueling routine of the Challenge program, what is it that happens to these kiddos over the summer that makes it so difficult to get reengaged in the fall? One word—atrophy.
Dictionary.com defines ‘atrophy’ as “a wasting away of the body or of an organ or part… degeneration, decline, or decrease, as from disuse.” For you musicians out there, what happens when you neglect to practice your piano for three months? Atrophy. For you athletes out there, what happens when you do not throw the ball, or run your sprints, or shoot your hoops for three months? Atrophy. And what do you think happens when you neglect to use your brain over the summer months? You guessed it—atrophy. As with any other skill, loving God with your mind requires practice.
“But wait!” you say. “Summer is the time when we can relax and enjoy life rather than crunching loads of schoolwork into each and every day!” I agree. Take some time off. Relax. Have fun.
But do not let your brain waste away. Do not let your ability to tackle hard concepts atrophy during the “off” months. Many kids—yes, even CC kids—love to replace school with mindlessness (video games, TV, etc.) once school is out. It is interesting that the word “muse” (which means “to think”) is replaced by “amusement” (which literally means “to not think”) as our number one objective during the summer months!
“Summer Socrates”: A Cure for Atrophy
“OK. So we should keep our brains engaged over the summer. Got it. But how?” Great question. Glad you asked. Here is one way we do it here in Enid, America. It is called “Summer Socrates.” Before I explain, I must acknowledge that this was not my idea. It was, in fact, the idea of one of our Challenge moms—Allison Davis. Isn’t it great to have smart, creative parents in your group?
Once every two weeks, all of our Challenge kids meet at Allison’s house. For one or two hours, the kids and I (the tutor) discuss relevant current events. I ask questions—challenging questions—Socratic questions.
“Here are the arguments Obama used to support his recent change in stance on gay marriage. Are his arguments valid? Are they biblical? Why or why not?” Or perhaps I will ask, “Why do you think a recent survey showed that 96.4% of committed Christian youths feel less than prepared to defend their faith? Are you part of that majority?” Or maybe, “Explain your position on the recent victory of Wisconsin’s recalled governor. Do you agree with his policy on Public Unions?”
The goal is to challenge their brains, to keep them thinking rationally and logically, to help them practice defending their position, to take the “a” out of “amusement”!
After their brains have been wrung out, we partake in perhaps the oldest of American traditions—the sack lunch. Swimming typically follows lunch, which usually degrades into general frivolity and jocularity. We do not mind putting the “a” back in from time to time!
Even though this is our first year of Summer Socrates sessions, it has already been well received and seems to be helping to keep the kids’ brains from turning into mush. However, there are many other ways to combat atrophy over the summer and keep your children’s minds active. This one just seems to work well during those times when Challenge is not in session. As I tell my students, “Learning should not end just because school is out!”
Docendō discimus (“by teaching, we learn”).
Brian Tonnell originally wrote this post as “Summer Socrates” in 2015.