Memorial Day! Summertime! School’s out.
The largely quiet local school now echoes the footsteps of maintenance workers and custodial staff. There’s a radio playing somewhere down the long, newly-polished hall. Office folks are relaxed in going about their work. Lots to do, but no worries about interrupting or interfering with teaching or learning. All the usual players, kids and teachers alike, are off for a change of scenery, a breath of fresh air and a well-deserved break.
Fortunately, there’s always something really cool going on at the public library. In this cornerstone of the community, education is in full swing at all times. Naturally, the usual summer reading incentives are offered. These are for the unfortunate kids who haven’t already figured out that every well-researched and engaging book that they choose to read accelerates and magnifies their personal power. Books joyfully add to the accumulation of information, ideas and impressions about their worlds, adding familiarity and increasing comfort with complex and enriching language. Here in the library, children can be focused upon boosting the depth, breadth and power of their very own personal educations. Exciting!
During schooling, children are assigned things to do, whether they are personally interested in doing them or not. Certainly teachers work hard at ginning up enthusiasm and interest in the children, but the requirements of assignments and projects are going to land on every child, regardless of their existing interest level.
By contrast, summer education for eager learners set loose in their local library to follow their noses is a whole different kettle of fish. Kids read books to extend their knowledge base about topics of their very own interests. They encounter new concepts and experiences that accumulate and blend with prior learning, in turn sparking new interests and investigations. The children immerse themselves in language, emotions and ideas nestled in the story lines of compelling fiction.
If children are lucky enough to spend some of their library time with an adult, they may learn about mechanics, cooking, gardening, fishing or crafts that are not usually offered in school. These obviously appealing topics are then complimented by the abundant books and even three dimensional realia found for their further edification at their local library. There’s so much there!
At a modern library one can observe genuine social interactions about whatever children are interested in. These enthusiastic and often random discussions are encouraged for the shy children and totally ignored for those more outgoing kids. Librarians are fully teaching, not focused upon a regimented curriculum and the ever present clock but rather on issuing challenges, offering advice and resources, and generally encouraging independent exploration, questioning, study, thoughtfulness, blurting, sharing, laughing, and the appreciation of both human and material resources.
Such education and schooling complement each other. School provides disciplined experiences with clear performance standards for all. Summer education requires gentler hand-holding and the standards of excellence are about maximizing success for each self-determined learner.
Kids have 12 summer weeks in their pockets. It’s up to us to help young learners spend them wisely.