Confession: We skipped summer reading for gardening and adventures

I’m like a lot of parents I know. We started the summer with great intentions. I was going to read to Soph everyday. We signed up for the summer reading program and story time at the library. We were going to read the 5 books a week needed to earn a prize.

Albert Einstein Memorial
Albert Einstein Memorial

We were going to do the days of the week in English, French and Spanish every morning. We were going to drill on anchor words, letters and numbers. We were going to correct that backward “S” that Soph writes before kindergarten.

Didn’t happen.

Instead, we focused on growing and eating strawberries and cucumbers and tomatoes and fitting adventures around my work schedule. Walking the Hershey Gardens, learning about butterflies, and then getting hot cocoa and cookies at the Sweetest Place on Earth is way better than letter flashcards.

Feeding the elk at Lake Tobias
Feeding the elk at Lake Tobias

Getting licked by an elk at Lake Tobias did not correct our letter “S” issue, but taught us a lot about animals…and how to not fall out of the topless bus. Sitting on Albert’s lap at D.C.’s Einstein memorial can teach a girl a lot about science.

Every morning we walked around our yard and looked at the flowers, herbs and veggies. My dear friend and next door neighbor, Johnny, and I often talked over the fence about how gardening and child-rearing require patience. We plan, and plant, and wait. We water. We weed. But the plants and kids mature in their own time. They know when to bloom and blossom. The harvest is always worth the wait.

Gardening is a lot like learning. Except we forget the part about our kids’ brains and bodies know just when to blossom. Every communication we have had from our school, teachers, office and administrators has been warm and welcoming. But, in modern parenting and education, there is an underlying message: “URGENT! YOUR KIDS WILL FAIL THE STANDARDIZED TESTS UNLESS YOU ARE CONSTANTLY VIGILANT!”

We live in a time when putting babies on their bellies to develop basic movements and body functions is terrifying but we have no problem giving them “My Baby Can Read” before they have teeth. Doctors, educators and researchers are all still pretty clear that children learn to read once they have met physical development milestones. Yet, we modern parents keep forcing our kids’ blooms earlier and earlier.

This summer, I decided I just couldn’t buy into the hysteria. Patiently waiting for cucumbers, making pickles, cucumber-tuna cups

Sophie's cucumber cups
Sophie’s cucumber cups

and putting cuke slices over our eyes for homemade facials was just more important than forcing the word “the” with flashcards.

Tomatoes are in. I had a moment of panic that I really need to get that backward “S” corrected this week. But, sauce is calling. The lavender needs cut back. The sunflower seeds need dried. Soph wants to cut the cosmos and zinnias and pass them out to our neighbors. And, there is work, back-to-school haircuts, and extra dishes because the dishwasher died.

Soph is like most of the sweet kiddos we know. She counts the grape tomatoes while she picks them. She and her friends measured ingredients for Rice Krispie treats and chocolate chip cookies this summer. They found recipes and crafts on the Pinterest app on my phone and proudly created their own concoctions.

Sophie and Piper making Rice Krispie treats
Sophie and Piper making Rice Krispie treats

I override the letter “S” panic knowing that she has learned so much this summer through gardening, cooking, adventure and playing with her friends. They did count without workbooks and flashcards. The kids in my car read signs and played the alphabet game on every road trip and adventure. (and, sang a lot of Jackson 5 and “Shut Up and Dance With Me.”) Soph mastered surfing and conquered her fear of jumping in the pool. She called herself “brave.”

The planning, planting, watering and weeding of these kiddos was worth the wait. No need to force reading early. The confidence and creativity Soph developed with her friends this summer will get her through that first day at a new, big school.

And, delicious things will be waiting for her when she gets home.