It’s summer! Hip, hip, hooray! Break out the ice tea, the sunscreen, and the books. Every summer, as my kids are soaking up the sunshine, hours of free play, and extra time with friends, I focus on three things I can’t find time to do during the school year. I renew, rest, and reassess.
First, I renew my commitment to giving my children a classical, Christian home education. This means that I must read books each summer that will nurture my teaching skills and my soul. After all, I can’t give them what I don’t have.
Because I’m trying to give my children an education different from my own, I need to learn and re-learn the classical model. Next year, I will have two children in the Challenge program and will be tutoring Challenge III for the fourth time. (I took a two-year hiatus to tutor Challenge II.) All of this working with high school students means that I need to fine-tune my understanding of the five canons of rhetoric and of rhetorical devices. So, this summer, I’m reading Leigh Bortins’ most recent book The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education.
I had the privilege of working on this book with Leigh a couple of summers ago, so I am most excited to see it in the flesh and to revisit the wonderful tools inside. I’m excited to have great conversations around the dinner table, with the parents in my community, and in my Challenge seminars. I am especially excited to practice the games in Appendix One “Conversation Games.” It was great to talk about them in the abstract, but I can’t wait to play them with a group of bright young folks. If you want to see these games in action, check out our YouTube channel.
Besides adding to my teacher toolkit, I need to enlarge my own soul each summer by reading great classics—some that are new to me and some that are old friends. In the classical world, one goal of education was to become magnanimous. The word comes from two Latin roots: magnus, a, um (an adjective meaning “large”) and animus (a noun meaning “soul”). A classical, liberal arts education was designed to make one “large-souled.” Isn’t that a delightful thought?
In order to become large-souled as classical, Christian educators, we must fill our souls with timeless ideals and then act upon them. So, part of my summer renewal is to read Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and City of God by Saint Augustine. We all benefit from accountability and conversation, so I’m reading these books with two different sets of friends and discussing them via Facebook and weekly calls.
In addition, I’ve been tremendously blessed by leading the Cultivating Classical Parents Summer Book Club series. We’ve already had hundreds of parents join us for discussions of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and The Hiding Place. It’s not too late to join us. You can watch the first three in the Classical Learning Center of CC Connected in a playlist titled “Cultivating Classical Parents.” You can also make plans to join us for the remaining three:
July 13 The Scarlet Letter
July 20 The Iliad
July 27 A Tale of Two Cities
It is my hope that these discussions will enable us all to be large-souled educators who are worthy of being imitated by our students.
We all work hard during the school year, so summer should be a time of rest for us as well as for our students. It’s important for home-educating parents to find the restful activities that will refresh us and prepare us for the year ahead.
For me, this means reading a few fluffy or lighthearted books. So far this summer, I’ve read two humorous and heartwarming memoirs: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap and The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less. The first tells how a couple managed to start and maintain a used bookstore in an old house in a small town. It demonstrates the true meaning of community. The second relates the story of a large, poor, Midwestern family in the 1950s. The mother managed to keep the family financially afloat by continually entering and winning contests offered by different consumer brands.
Besides light reading, I’ve made time for family activities: kayaking with my family on our neighborhood “lake” (it’s really a glorified pond), swimming, and traveling. I’ve also occasionally managed to squeeze in some old hobbies like embroidery and playing the piano. Find time to do something that gives you rest this summer.
Finally, after I’ve taken time to renew and to rest, I’m ready to reassess. First, I take time to reflect on the previous school year, to assess what went well and what needs work. Then, I sit down with my husband, and we plan together. We set goals for our children in three areas: academic, spiritual, and responsibility. The academic goals are a set of skills we want each child to master for the year (not a list of books to complete). The spiritual goals include identifying one or two character traits that need to be encouraged or bad habits that need to be broken. The responsibility goals identify new chores for each child from age 6 to 16.
Take some time this summer to renew, rest, and reassess.