As homeschoolers, we have the freedom of structuring our year and planning our homeschool calendar any way we want to. In my state, so long as I provide 172 days of instruction, I am free to choose any 172 days I wish. Which means if I want to take a whole month off at Christmas I can. It’s totally up to me.
For the last several years, I’ve simply followed the local public school calendar. I didn’t do this blindly, but rather because my kids are good friends with the neighbor kids and I wanted them to have freedom when their friends were free. Also, having lived according to the traditional school calendar for much of the first two decades of my life, thinking in terms of two semesters felt natural to me.
The fly in the ointment for me was that it seems that public school kids around here have a lot of random days off – especially in the first half of the year. I found it really hard to get into a rhythm and to get my kids on board with a regular routine. Also, I hated letting someone else dictate my family’s schedule.
More recently, I’ve been noticing how other homeschoolers, mostly bloggers I respect, plan their homeschool calendar. This brought to my attention a number of intriguing possibilities for organizing our school year.
Sarah Mackenzie (I know, I I’m always talking about Sarah, but she really is that great) at Amongst Lovely Things organizes her year into two month terms. Her goal is to school for six weeks out of every two months leaving 2-3 weeks of break every term. She can take these breaks in a chunk, or simply take days off as wanted or needed.
Mystie Winckler at Simply Convivial does something similar using six-week terms. She schools for six weeks and then takes a week off. She takes longer breaks at Christmas and in February (because February blues) and takes off the entire month of June. This differs from Sarah’s approach because Mystie pre-plans the weeks she will take off rather than using the days as she needs/wants them.
I know others who are less formal in their approach and just school year round without any need to break up the year into any official terms. These people tend to create their own curriculum or maybe lean toward unschooling, but for these families a school day is not all that different from a “day off.” They are always schooling and never schooling and truly integrate living with learning in a seamless sort of way. These people are probably not reading my planning posts.
Then there’s Melissa Wiley who coined the term “Tidal Home Schooling” to describe how her family tends “to ebb and flow between periods of ‘high tide’ times of structured learning . . . and ‘low tide,’ which looks a lot like unschooling.” Her words are beautiful and inspiring and worth a read.
Personally, I’m loving the idea of two-month terms with a focus for each term. We’ll start in August. August/September will be our easing in back-to-school term. October/November is our fall term with a full week off for Thanksgiving. December/January is our Advent/Christmas term. February/March is our Lent term with a full week off for Holy Week. April/May is our Easter/Spring term. June/July will be our summer term.
I’ll keep a simple calendar to mark off the days we do school and make sure we get in 6 weeks every two months. Our kids do an enrichment program one day a week making me responsible for 4 days a week of homeschooling. So I’ll need to make sure we do 24 days of school every two months. There are 43 weekdays in August/September. Taking out the Fridays (when the kids are in the enrichment program) leaves me with 35 days. Schooling for 24 out of 35 days. That seems doable.
Thinking of things this way gives me a lot of freedom to CHILL OUT when thinking of planning. Most homeschool curricula are based on a 36 week calendar. Many are based on 4 days a week leaving day 5 for co-ops and such. So this schedule allows me to finish any curriculum should I choose that route, while also allowing lots of freedom for field trips, play dates, movie days, sick days, snow days, and I-was-up-all-night-with-a-teething-baby days.
I’m the kind of person that functions best within a well-defined structure. But I also need lots of margin or I feel like I’m always behind, always failing. I am hoping that this approach to planning our year will help me feel simultaneously organized and relaxed.
So tell me. How do you organize your year?