Summer School: Simple Ways to Create a Content-Rich Environment (and Why You Should Care)

Summer School: Simple Ways to Create a Content-Rich Environment (and Why You Should Care)

For most of the country school’s out for summer. Unless you’re a mean homeschooling parent who makes your kids do school all year.  Uh, which we are.  Though we don’t call it “school.” We don’t even tell our kids what we’re doing.

Instead we just make our home a content-rich environment (which works even if you’re not a homeschooler, and even if you don’t have kids).

If you’re single or childless you should still surround yourself with great stories and ideas. It’ll fill in the gaps in your liberal arts education. Or at least make you more interesting at company picnics and family reunions.

Here’s how to fill your home with great content:

Build your personal collection.

If you want your kids (or yourself!) to read more, make it easy. Stock the bookshelves with good books, and put some magazines on the coffee table.

If your personal collection needs a boost, keep a list of what interests you (and your kids) and request books and magazine subscriptions for Christmas and birthday gifts.

Hit the library.

We’re lucky to live near a public library, and hit it frequently year-round.

This summer, I’m borrowing a great idea from Susan Wise Bauer. When she was young, the Wise family went to the library every week. Mrs. Wise required the kids to check out at least one book in these 4 categories each visit:

  • a story
  • a book of poetry
  • a biography
  • a book about how to do something.

They checked out so many books that Mrs. Wise needed a laundry basket to carry them home.

The kids weren’t required to read all the books they brought home, but  Susan said that by the end of the week, after you’d read the rest of your books, you might actually read the poetry book just because it was there.

Listen to the good stuff.

Not all content has to be visual. At my house, we’ve found audiobooks to be perfect for lazy summer afternoons. (They’re also perfect for me when I’m making dinner or folding laundry.)

Recently we’ve been listening to The Little House series and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona collection. We especially love the way Neil Patrick Harris narrates the Henry Huggins stories.

We’ve also been listening to storytelling recordings from Jim Weiss about the Lewis and Clark exploration, Greek mythology, masters of the Renaissance, and Thomas Jefferson’s America. Later this summer we’ll start Story of the World, also narrated by Jim Weiss.

I love how my pre-reading 4-year-old can still enjoy great stories–and that I don’t have to read her each 200-page book myself.

Read out loud.

I love audiobooks, but I also read out loud to my kids (almost) everyday. In the summers, reading out loud usually happens when my kids are in their pajamas. We’ll do 20 minutes right after breakfast or right before bed (or both).

Pick up The Read-Aloud Handbook if you want to get fired-up about reading to your kids. It explains the whys and hows of reading out loud to kids (and teens!) and suggests a lot of good titles.

Be a great model.

I’m very deliberate about creating a content-rich environment for our kids, but filling my home with content I’m interested in comes naturally. I love to read, and my kids often catch me crashed on the couch with a good book–or listening to an audiobook while making dinner. I think this is a good thing.

Let your kids catch you reading. Show them you value learning. And if you don’t know where to start, choose a classic or a personal growth book from the Ultimate Beach Reading guide.

And hey–if it’s just you at home, or if you don’t have kids–surround yourself with good stuff, for your own sake.

What kinds of content do you like to have in your own home? Share your favorites in comments.

photo credit


  1. Heather Gentry says:

    Thanks for this great reminder to provide a content-rich environment! This is challenging for us in Central Asia, but we have several friends and family members who strive to provide us with books for my 10 and 12 year-old avid readers. Kindle gift cards are the best! We also frequent the yard sales of other English-speaking families who are moving away. 😉

    Gladys Hunt’s “Honey for a Child’s Heart” is a great resource for parents who want to immerse their kids in the world of great books. I often go to it to decide what to ask others to send us, or what to order on Amazon. I’m about to order “Honey for a Teen’s Heart”.

    Even though both my boys are re-reading LOTR (my 12 yo, for the 6th time!!), they keep going back to simpler books they enjoy, too. My mom picked up a series of 30 pg. hard-cover books called “Cornerstones of Freedom” from 1965 at a yard sale (stories on the Star-spangled Banner, Mt. Rushmore, etc.). They keep going back to these books, and I love that they’re learning history as they read. They also love good biographies at a range of reading levels.

    Summer break starts tomorrow for us, and I can’t wait to read aloud together again! Whether it’s Harry Potter or The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, we love the shared memories of having read a book (or listened to an audiobook) together.

    Happy summer reading!

    • Anne says:

      Wow, what a list! Those LOTR books aren’t easy–he’s reading it for the 6th time? I’m impressed.

      I think Jack would like that “Cornerstones of Freedom” series if I can track it down. And The Mixed Up Files is on his summer reading list.

      I’d be interested in your thoughts on Honey for a Teen’s Heart. We’re not there yet, as you know, but it won’t be long.

  2. We have been done with school for 3 weeks, but we have a huge emphasis on reading throughout the summer. I am reading Harry Potter to my kids this summer. We just finished number 1 and embarked on number 2. My oldest is reading the Little House books to his siblings. On top of that, we go to the library each week, and I make the kids pick out their own “reading” (i.e.-chapter) book, and a picture book. My 8 year old is into army books right now. They also like getting lego books. I like the idea of poetry books. That is not my thing, but it would be good to give them a taste for it now. We do a lot of history, and fact books. I myself read tons during the summer. I have 4 books going right now. 2 bios, 2 fiction. I love summer!

    • Anne says:

      Those all sound fantastic! Summer’s a great time for kids to get to dive deeply into a subject–mine are reading about the titanic and baseball, and horses and ballet, respectively. And my 4yo is determined to read every Maisy book that’s ever been written before August!

      Oh, and we love Lego books. I’ll be talking about that here soon 🙂

  3. Joanna says:

    Good books (preferably lots of them) are a must for any household.

    For adults, iTunes U is an incredible resource for expanding your knowledge. The quality and variety of courses you can get for free is astounding. I listen in while I’m doing crafts or more mindless chores around the house.It lets me redeem the time by learning about some of the things I didn’t get to learn about at university but wish I did. I’m almost done with Stanford’s geography of world cultures course which has been really interesting. I’ve got courses on anthropology, social theory, Australian Aboriginal history, psychology and theology queued up to listen to when I’m done with that one.

    • Anne says:

      I love listening to geeky podcasts, but I didn’t know about itunes U. Those courses sound impressive. Thanks for the tip, Joanna!

  4. We have checked out the Little House series read by Cherry Jones from our public library so many times that I finally purchased the boxed audio sets for Christmas gifts. They never get old! They are good for listening to after lights-out b/c there is nothing too scary in them.

    My favorite? Farmer Boy! I never would have expected that. EVERY little boy needs to listen to Farmer Boy at least once.

    My children have also enjoyed listening to The Box Car Children, by Gertrude Warner and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald.

    Thanks for the tips Anne!

    • Anne says:

      Adriana, I’m so glad you mentioned The Boxcar Children and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. My oldest two loved reading both those series, but I hadn’t thought to see if they were on audiobook. We’ll definitely put those in rotation at my house!

      I didn’t read The Little House books until a few years ago, when my son was assigned Little House in the Big Wood for school. I thought Farmer Boy sounded pretty boring–but I loved it, too!

      We may end up investing in this series, too.

  5. Sarah Ronk says:

    Excellent post! Love and agree with all you say!

    I’ll second Gladys Hunt’s “Honey for a Child’s Heart” -it’s one of my standby baby shower gifts! (As well as her Honey for a Woman’s Heart! My book club constantly is referencing that when choosing new books.)

    My two are 2.5 and 4.5 so we are just getting into read aloud chapter books!! We are working on Farmer Boy and Ramona and Beezes is up next!

    I’m also constantly building our home library with quality books. I’ve been using the Simply Charlotte Mason read aloud list, FIAR reading lists and Sonlight’s book lists. It’s turning out to be a great combination of great classics and new/recently written quality books!

    I keep those lists printed in my purse incase we stop by the used book store and I’ve added them to my PaperBackSwap wish list. I love getting used books that have a history and have already been loved on!

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, I’ve given lots of board books as baby shower gifts, but I never thought to give Honey for a Child’s Heart to go with them. What a great idea and thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Annie says:

    My 14 month old is starting to “get” reading. The other day, as my husband and I were looking at the take out menu, she started pointing at the words and moved her fingers across the page and jabbered. It was so cute!

  7. Heatherly says:

    Our library has these great, well-chosen kits that include a poetry book with an audio recording of the poems. My 5 y.o. is enjoying poetry and is absorbing the rhythm and structure of poetry.

    I especially love Jack Prelutsky’s Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant. He uses fabulous, rich vocabulary and even sings some of his poems.

    Thank you for the great tips, Anne-girl.

    • Anne says:

      Those kits sound fabulous! I’m going to ask my librarian if they have any of those laying around that I hadn’t found yet.

      And we love Jack Prelutsky, but I haven’t seen that title yet. I’m going to hunt it down now, though. Thanks Het!

  8. deborah says:

    I love bookshelves full of books! Old favorites that greet you like old friends, books that inspire, books with humor, books, books, books!!

    My kids really like to listen to audiobooks and have some that they could come close to reciting as they have listened to them countless times!!

    We like to go to the library and my kids have been signing up for the summer reading program at our library every summer since they were very small.

    Happy reading and happy summer!

  9. Pingback: Scheduled Day=Less Screen Time | Caffeinated Catholic Mama
  10. I love the idea of creating a “content rich” home! That is the perfect phrase.

    I need to get on board the audio book train. Do you check them out from the library? I’ve wondered about getting an membership. I should see if they have youth/kids books!

    Anyway, thanks for making me think!

  11. Anne says:

    Yep, the library is my favorite place to get audio books. The local branch doesn’t always have a great selection, so I usually plan ahead and request books from other branches around the county.

    We also really like the Playaway audio books.

  12. Hannah says:

    We’re not a ‘summer school’ family per se, but we do enjoy some of the same things. I’d just hate to lose all the momentum we built during the school year. I’ve found that actually I need the mental break from school, rather than the kids!

    We love hitting the library and joining the summer reading program. We also focus on nature studies and art projects that get a little more neglected during the school months.

Comments are closed.