Navy Pier swing and Ferris wheel

Summertime = Time to Relax While Learning and Having Fun

While summer of 2021 isn’t, thank God, like summer 2020, it still isn’t the “normal” summer that I’m used to.  And, this summer, schools around the country are focused on finding ways to re-engage families and students and addressing learning losses many children have sustained after nearly two school years of remote learning.

For me, as a teacher and a parent, these issues hit close to home. My daughter will transition to high school in the fall, and we are faced with the realization that she spent her entire eighth-grade year learning remotely. Now, she will be entering a new space. The four years she will start this fall could be critical for the following stage in her educational journey: college.

But is that where to focus right now?

I recall a conversation I once had with a teacher I was mentoring. She grew up outside the United States, in a country at war. Her reflection on her own life and how it related to what students are now experiencing forever changed my perspective on the current state of education and learning for our students.

“I’ve lived through war and famine and didn’t have any schooling during that time,” she told me. “No books. No teacher. Nothing. But it didn’t stop my learning. I just learned about life in a different way.”

Her words changed my approach to this summer. Rest is important, and there are many ways to enhance a child’s experience with education and learning that don’t involve a heavy  grind. The next four years will be full of goal-setting, dedication and hard work. The most important thing this summer is to rest, relax and recharge. But that doesn’t preclude learning.

This summer, I have committed to infusing learning into our experiences, while enjoying the time spent with my daughter. Here are a couple of the many ways we are learning, loving and staying safe(r).

Summer Eats and History

With many local restaurants now open, what better way to support those who made it to the other side of the pandemic than to patronize them with your business. Chicago, like many cities, is full of vibrant neighborhoods with authentic cuisine – so choose a neighborhood and explore cultures and history through food. Chicago is full of rich history and delicious eateries. We ate gyros in Greektown, pizza on Taylor Street, authentic dishes in Chinatown and of course, debated on which fried chicken was better, Harold’s or Uncle Remus

Local road-tripping and stay-cations

For families who are looking to enjoy things more locally, one thing we have done this year is explore our neighboring towns and cities. While others are planning trips to popular vacation locations such as Disney World and Las Vegas, we have set out this summer to explore towns and cities within a 4 – hour driving radius. We’ve visited Indianapolis, Detroit and St. Louis, spending no more than 2 nights but being sure to be intentional of visiting the landmarks and attractions that each city is known for. We marveled at the St. Louis arch, saw dolphins and angelfish at the Indianapolis Zoo, took pictures outside of Hitsville U.S.A. at MoTown and are looking forward to exploring the Kentucky Science Center later this month.  

Allowing children to map out a destination, route and attractions in smaller towns and cities provides them the opportunity to learn more about the world outside their window, while teaching map skills and geography. Before we would decide on a destination, I’d task my daughter with researching as many cities as she could in the prescribed radius and finding at least three attractions to visit.  Children have the world at their fingertips with Google, and many are anxious to search and research almost anything.

I allowed my daughter to create an itinerary and choose our hotel based on where we stayed. While it seems like this may be a lot for a child, soft skills such as creative thinking and problem solving for efficiency and maximum fun are at the forefront of this exercise. And for families like me who are still working this summer, these have been great bi-weekly weekend trips that give us something to look forward to, while leaving some of the planning to our children!

While many states have lessened COVID-19 restrictions such as mask mandates and increased capacities for businesses, we aren’t officially out of the woods as it relates to the pandemic. The new Delta variant has many families, including myself, continuing mask wearing at all times in public places, even though we are fully vaccinated. 

Since last year, people all around the world have had to reimagine a new normal – a new way to live and celebrate the life that we have. And while we don’t have to Zoom party/celebrate as much as we did last year, my daughter and I have reimagined our summer, while infusing learning. 

Whether you travel this summer or stay close to home, one thing that must be acknowledged: you made it! Make sure your celebrations, family time and fun create other ways of expressing your thanks and gratitude for being alive and able to reimagine summers for this year and the years to come! And be OK with recharging with fun and rest this summer – because the months ahead will be full of hard work and dedication!

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash.

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Marlena Little

Born and raised in Chicago, Marlena Little is a mother, educator and advocate.

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