July 13, 2005

Summer School

Our last official day of school was Friday, June 17th, a good 10 days earlier than the local public school, and we celebrated by going to the playground. We'll start up again on Tuesday, September 6th, the day after Labor Day (definitely not a Canadian holiday, even if you stick a "u" in it) and, I believe, a few days after the public school re-opens its doors. I've chosen the dates and they're completely arbitrary, based more or less on the fact that summers, especially this far north, are short and should be enjoyed; I think school should be out before summer really begins, and shouldn't start up again until it's over. It's bad enough that the days have a decidedly fall-ish feel in August most years.

That said, unofficially at least, school here continues through the summer. I suppose that makes me a hypocrite, and a Mean Mom to boot. Though the kids don't think so. Not only was it their idea to keep up with our history -- the favorite subject around here -- and science studies (we can do all sorts of wonderful, messy experiments outside for a change), but they understood and accepted my explanation for doing a bit of math and reading every day: rather than beginning to climb a new huge, steep mountain in September, we're going to continue our current climb and amble along a very gradual incline, which means about an hour a day first thing on the days that we remember or don't have other plans (like the playground, wading pool, or the upcoming country fair). Either way, we have to get to the top, and it's up to the kids to decide whether we take the hard route or the easy one. We have a fairly relaxed school schedule anyway, with Fridays off (a holdover from my egg delivery days), and this past year took a two-week holiday in the autumn to New York to see my parents and in January spent five weeks with them at their house in the West Indies (don't get too excited -- we were there so Tom could build the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room cabinetry for the guesthouse he built on our previous stay, in 2003).

Laura, who will be eight next month, is finishing up Singapore 2A. Not only is she keen to finish the book (a terrific incentive I'm in no hurry to remove) but she's just started learning multiplication and has been having a grand time with the two- and three-times tables. If she were to stop now, she'd have to start from square one in September, and the frustration, for her and for me, would be huge. Ask me how I know. The same with reading -- she's made such great strides, and reading has become so much easier (if not always easy, or fun) for her that I hate the idea of her forgetting so much and starting back at square one. The boys, ages four-and-a-half and six, don't have to bother much with math, though they do a fair amount on their own and are forever counting and noticing number patterns, but I'm continuing their reading lessons as well. Every day they ask more and more questions about the words they hear and see all around them; it's almost like living in Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee Land -- every word they see they spell, then ask what they've spelled. Yesterday afternoon, paying for our groceries, Daniel looked out the window at the store across the street and started spelling S-a-a-n, a nationwide chain of clothing stores. I mentioned offhand that few words in the English language have a double a. "But aardvark does," he said, causing the cashier's head to snap around and Mommy's eyebrow to lift. This, apparently, was a nugget learned between shows at CBC Kids.

I never went to proper summer school, but from about 6th grade on began each summer with a tantalizing summer reading list. The fun really began when my father took me, along with the list, shopping at Coliseum Books, then at Columbus Circle. If the list read Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, off the shelf would come Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey, too. My father's thinking, to my never-ending delight and gratitude, was that someone who enjoyed reading Main Street might well want to read Elmer Gantry and anything else Sinclair Lewis had written. To this day I still have several shelves full of Signet Paperback Classics, some in decent shape but most, old friends, quite dog-eared. Quite a few, including most of Miss Austen's works which I re-read every year (usually in the Spring), have fallen apart. One book I never finished, a rarity I admit, was Winesburg, Ohio, the thought of which to this day makes me shudder; just as well -- would I have moved to rural small town Canada with such eagerness otherwise? Probably not. But with that one exception, I have a memory of glorious, long summers on city buses and the Circle Line, under trees, and on couches with book in hand. I dare you to find a better summer school than that, and I can't wait for my three to reach the age where the phrase "summer reading list" evokes a sense of anticipation and magic as it did -- still does -- for me.

We're off to the playground again this morning (after a wonderful time spent at the wading pool all yesterday afternoon). And no, I'm not taking my book along. Well, I won't take it out of my bag if there are other adults to talk to....

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