My eighteen year old son received a box via UPS this week. Mail, especially boxes, especially delivered by UPS, has always excited me. This probably stems from my childhood on the farm where the mail served as an outside connection to a much bigger world. Mail was an important commodity. I remember racing family members down the lane to the mailbox in order for me to be the first to retrieve the mail. Even in times of solitude I remember racing myself to the mailbox! So needless to say I was quite excited when I saw my son’s box! The box was from Amazon and contained the books he had ordered to complete his summer reading assignment for his upcoming high school senior year. My son excitedly and meticulously explained each book as he carefully handled them.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot he explained was for his Biology class. I was a little confused and perplexed, mainly because of my own unfamiliarity of a reading list for Biology. But I was quickly calmed by information as he read from the back cover that this New York Times Bestseller would provide a real life connection and awareness. Intriguingly he shared that Henrietta, know by scientists as HeLa, was a unknowing yet vital tool for gene mapping. This book definitely appeared to peak his interest and provide a great match with his yearning for a possible career in science.
How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, Bulfinch’s Mythology, and the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison were all for his English class. As he glanced over the anthology he explained his summer assignment was to read passages from each, along with passages from the Bible, analyze and answer questions. While I thought Bulfinch’s Mythology looked very thick, my son seemed very excited about tackling additional Greek mythology! Maturely looking beyond volume, he further explained how these readings were important in providing a foundation of references needed for understanding future readings! I was impressed by the potential of this summer learning experience especially because this exercise is in preparation of future classes! I am thankful for my son’s thoughtful and purposeful teachers who had provided a great catalyst for his courses!
My sixteen year old son headed to the bookstore this week on his own! Keeping in mind the normal behaviors of sixteen year old males, I found myself questioning him “Why?” Puzzlingly, based on his tone and body language, he responded slowly and questionably with what he thought should be an obvious answer, “Because I wanted a new book?” This premeditated act, centered on his thirst for literacy, was made possible by loving and insightful grandparents who had provided him with a bookstore gift certificate as his Christmas present which he had held at bay for such a time of need!
His purchase, Encyclopedia Paranoiaca: The Indispensable Guide to Everyone and Everything You Should Be Afraid of or Worried About by Beard and Cerf, was carefully selected, as he explained, based on the potential for humor! Maturely, son #2 shared it is nice to read after work (lifeguarding at the YMCA and city pool) to clear the mind! He also explained that the book was satire based on research taken from the perils of everyday life! Son #2 was reading solely for pleasure, enjoyment and relaxation!
Toward the end of the week I found myself once again excited by the mail. Although my wife, with similar passion, had already retrieved the mail, I engaged in my daily conditioned action of sorting through the mail. I became very excited in when coming across a letter from my eleven year old daughter. The significance of this article was founded in the fact that it was the first communication in two weeks. She is participating in a Children’s International Summer Camp in Sweden. My excitement and anticipation of updated news from my child was quickly turned to frustration and dismay! My eyes and brain were met and challenged by words in four different languages. I had to remind myself that she was at an international camp and what I longed as a personal letter was instead probably a camp assignment of some sort. I once again tried to gain insight of my daughter’s happenings by reading and deciphering the first four sentences written in mostly unrecognizable Swedish, Finnish, German, and Spanish words. Luckily, thanks to my studies many years ago and a very patient teacher, the Spanish looked somewhat familiar! As I reflected, once again I was reminded of the importance of summer learning opportunities which were being molded and modeled by my daughter and the other participants at the camp and now extended to me through the letter!
For years I have shared with many people the importance of summer learning. I have discussed the simple things we can do as parents and family members to promote reading, writing and math during the summer months to help foster and enforce critical life foundation skills. Looking back on the week I have come to the realization that all three of my children had provided great examples of the importance of summer learning in their own meaningful way. They were all engaged in making choices to expand on their knowledge base and skill set. They were all, in their own individual way, making an effort to extend their learning. But interestingly, instead of me helping to provide learning for them this time, our roles had been reversed and they were providing a wonderful summer learning experience for dad! Yes we are all learners and my children were providing an opportunity for me to keep my summer learning gap as small as possible!
Rick Hanes is the superintendent of the Piqua City School District. Rick continues to ensure that the Piqua City Schools show residents the “Good Schools, Good Value” that they are each day. You can follow him directly on Twitter @raheducator.