In addition to celebrating the end of school, I've been preparing for summer. After all, I will now have all three girls all day, every day of the week. I better have a few things planned. There will be some swim classes and, at their request, I've signed Meg and Clare up for art classes. Meg will also begin piano lessons (she was suppose to begin piano months ago, but her broken finger delayed things a bit).
A major question for me has been how much "school work" do I include in our days. I made a trip to Lakeshore Learning this week to get some workbooks which I thought Meg and Clare would enjoy so we could keep their school skills up. I also found a book of science experiments because they are very intrigued by science right now and Meg wants to form a science club with her friends. Summer is also a great time to consistently practice reading. But I absolutely do not want to go overboard.
There was a time in my life that I would have been a tiger mom of sorts--completely focused on achievement. I would have thought it was wonderful if my child read at two and could do ridiculously complicated math problems by the time they started preschool. Wouldn't it be amazing to have a seven-year-old playing the violin at Lincoln Center. Then it dawned on me that most prodigies aren't particularly happy--in fact, they are usually socially disconnected and miserable. And while I am passionate about giving my girls the love of books, do I care whether they learn to read at two or at four? Yes, I could have pushed harder in the early years and made sure the girls were reading earlier, but I suspect they would have hated the sight of me coming at them with a book. And the only real purpose in doing that would have been so others patted me on the back and told me what a great mom I was for teaching my kids to read at an amazingly early age. Instead we worked on letter sounds in a fun way and when they seemed to get stressed about my expectations, I backed off.
Don't get me wrong. I do believe parents play a huge role in their children's education. I love when my children practice reading with me or work on counting. But I also enjoy being the one providing a supplement to their education. The girls' teachers are very good at teaching them the basics (they have a lot more success with it than I do). I'm pretty good at providing the girls educational experiences that they don't realize are educational experiences. Last year Meg was very interested in marine biology, so we went to the National Aquarium, met a marine biologist on a beach in Rhode Island and watched Jonathan Bird's Blue World. Wow...did I ever learn a lot about marine biology. Meg learned a lot too and she never realized it was "educational." It was all just fun and interesting to her. Both Meg and Clare have always been interested in art, so we go to art museums, read books about artists and constantly paint. During a period of time in which Meg was showing absolutely no interest in practicing reading, I was amused that she could readily identify religious symbols in art and tell you her favorite Van Gogh painting (The Olive Orchard). Some might question the practicality of this, but I absolutely believe she will be a fuller, more interesting person for exploring this interest in depth.
While planning our summer work, I will remind myself of my favorite quote from the old television show Christy: "My job is to give thee a happy childhood." My goal is not that my children earn top grades in each subject and receive great accolades. My goal is that they love reading, science, art and even math. My goal is that they have time and freedom to develop their own imaginations and their own interests. My goal is that they have a happy childhood and they learn to be happy adults.