What I Did on My Summer Vacation

By David Hyde

When I was a young student, I always looked forward to the last day of school.  As the days got longer, my attention span grew shorter until by about the first of June, I was nothing but a ball of anticipation. I just knew that I wouldn’t have to learn anything between June 10, and August 31st because, after all, school was closed! 

That wasn’t the way it was. I learned over the summer, but differently. I read a lot. I received books through the mail from the library in Portland, Oregon.  Braille books came in plain brown wrappers, and talking books arrived in boxes of LP records. Each record lasted about 30 minutes, so Gone with the Wind took over fifty discs, and arrived in four boxes.  Over the summers I met Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Pippie Longstocking. I got lost in the caves with Tom and Becky. I went through the looking glass with Alice, flew through space to the Mushroom Planet and explored Middle Earth with Bilbo Baggins. My mom read to me after she came home from work. We did Bible stories, Pollyanna (oh, how I wanted that happy little girl to come down off her cloud and find some reality!) met the Bobbsey Twins, and lived the life of Black Beauty. We slid down the mountains with Heidi, and joined the circus with Toby Tyler. Oh the fun I had with books on those long summer nights!

Sometimes, we just went on walks. Mom and I talked about what people were doing: mowing their lawns, sitting on their porches, and just enjoying the warmth of the evening. We talked with our neighbors, with their kids, and their pets. I learned how to mow a lawn, rake up the trimmings, and set out a sprinkler.

Of course there was television, not as much as there is now, but even it showed me things. I learned baseball on Saturday mornings from Kurt Gowdy and Pee Wee Reese. I felt chills of fear and excitement watching the Twilight Zone (there is nothing like the voice of Rod Serling), and rode the range with Hoss, Little Joe and Ben Cartwright. I learned about puns from Rockie and Bullwinkle, and all kinds of things from Captain Kangaroo. 

When I was fifteen, I started attending a public high school. After that, I spent a month each summer at the school for the blind working on cane travel, cooking, clothing and, of all things, manners. This last was, I thought then, the most useless class they could have made me take. Two days a week, Sue Ferguson, who ran, of all things, a modeling agency, came and taught the boys. The girls got her on Monday and Wednesday. We learned about colors, how to eat at a formal dinner, how to hold doors, and what non-verbal behavior was, and how to use it. After the third year, I was really bored, and started working hard to find questions she couldn’t answer. I remember asking when one should use a single Windsor or a double Windsor knot on a tie. After she did some research, she told me that there was no rule. But she took the time to treat my question seriously. That was important.

Later in life, I recognized all I’d learned from Sue. That class has served me well.

During those summers, I also worked. I spent four weeks at a camp for children. They didn’t know what to do with a blind employee, so I got placed in the kitchen, peeling vegetables, washing dishes and serving meals. After that ended, I helped my uncle lay waterlines. I learned the operation of a shovel and a rototiller, and found out how much work digging a ditch can be. The next summer, I worked in a laundry. I can still iron, fold sheets and blankets, and not enjoy it one bit.

I didn’t think of any of these things as a part of school, nor did I think that any of them would impact me when I grew up. I was wrong. Lessons learned in childhood stay with you all your life. Everything can be a learning experience, and it doesn’t need to take place within the four walls of a classroom, or be taught by a teacher. 

When I went back to school in the fall, and had to write that inevitable essay “What I did on my Summer Vacation” for my first English assignment, I had a lot to put down, because I spent my summer doing things, both in the real world, and in the one on paper.

Here are some things that may help your student keep learning. 

Read! If you can, read aloud. Let your child read too, if at all possible. Even in children’s books, there are passages that repeat themselves, and these can be read, or just spoken by your child. Don’t limit yourself to “new” books. One of my favorite children’s books is still Kipling’s Just So Stories, and The Jungle Book has just come out as a movie again. Remember your public library.

Talk about things around you. If your child doesn’t see, make opportunities to touch things. If you have a lawn mower in your garage, help him or her push it around. Look at the grass before it’s mowed and after. When you travel, stop at those markers that tell about places. You might visit some of Wisconsin’s historic sites and landmarks. 

Go to a music store; visit a hardware outlet to look at things you can’t see in your home. Go to a Farmers’ market just to look at plants and vegetables. A lot of them look very different when they newly come off the plant, or out of the ground. This gives an opportunity to shell peas, husk corn, and take the stems off berries.

These are just a few things that come to mind. Everything teaches new skills. Help your student use those they learned during the summer and school year, so they can write that perpetual essay.

David Hyde is a Parent Liaison and the Professional Development Coordinator at WCBVI. You can contact him by email at david.hyde@wcbvi.k12.wi.us or by phone at (608) 758-6152 or toll free 1-866-284-1107 x6152.