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Eclectic homeschoolers, who use a variety of resources and varying curricula to cover traditional school subjects as well as children’s particular interests, may follow a typical school calendar or may “just keep going” as a child completes learning goals or finishes using a certain resource. Those using unit studies may plan a certain number of weeks to cover “poetry,” “Gettysburg,” or “edible plants,” or they may plan a backbone of reading and activities around a unit and allow interest in the topic to have its own life.
This will mean that any attempt at creating a precise “academic calendar” will be difficult for some families using unit studies, because a mom can’t be sure whether “edible plants” will be a passing interest where she’ll get her own botany agenda met in a week, or whether the kids will really want to dig in and spend weeks exploring a topic.
I’ll never forget the year we were going to study a multitude of ancient civilizations and ended up getting stuck on Egypt for the better part of a year. It was a good kind of “stuck,” and the kids and I learned a lot from the depth of that study that could be applied in future years of homeschooling. One impact of our Year of Egypt, though, was that reading and learning about Egypt became really integral to our daily life–we didn’t just turn it off because the kids down the road were on spring break.
“Academic year” is pretty much a non-starting concept for homeschoolers who emphasize living a learning lifestyle rather than use of a curriculum. You may identify as an interest-based homeschooler, a relaxed homeschooler, an autodidact, or an unschooler. You’ll find that learning doesn’t stop during summer months or winter breaks. Unless you have paperwork to provide to stay legal, the idea of a “school year” may not even be noticed in your family. There is no neat “starting” with a “back to school” season, and no “school’s out forever” feeling in May or June. Unless. . .
. . . unless, that is, your unschooled child seeks more structured learning that follows a more specific calendar. Many unschooling kids decide at some point that they do indeed want to participate in a homeschool co-op whose calendar happens to be the same as the calendar for the local schools. Many decide to participate in extracurricular activities or, when they are teens, to take community college classes. While they have been brought up to live a learning lifestyle, they find that learning more about their interests or preparing for a future goal (attending university, learning a trade) means homeschooling on a traditional, public school-like calendar after all.
Homeschoolers’ approach to the idea of a “school year” frequently changes over the duration of homeschooling. What’s funny about this is that it changes in both directions. The young idealistic curriculum-using homeschool mom is sure she’ll keep her chapters and her weeks aligned. The young idealistic unschooling mom is sure she’ll never prescribe a school calendar for her natural learners. But reality intervenes.
The curriculum-using mom finds that her new baby really throws a kink into the schedule, so she takes a break in February and then uses the summer to catch back up. She finds that one child takes much longer than expected to learn long division–and so she first tries doing extra work which extends the school year–and then tries letting this area of her child’s learning to lie fallow, so he can develop further.
The unschooling mom finds that one of her natural learners loves structure and requests a very systematic approach to learning something. This morphs into taking classes at a local science museum, which, you guessed it, operates in coordination with the calendar used by the local schools.
When my kids were little, I found that I almost intuitively operated on a seasonal schedule more than a school calendar. Summer was a time for visiting the beach, swimming, and staying up late to enjoy the long evening twilight. Fall was a cool crisp time for nature walks and a beginning of turning inward with books and notebooks. Winter was hot tea and candles (even during the day-time), reading and writing. The traditions I did with my young boys — apple picking, pumpkin gathering, mantle decorating, egg dyeing, beach combing — seemed writ larger on our lives than arbitrary school start dates, and they somehow provided the rhythm for our learning, too.
As the boys grew older (I’m down to one at home now), society’s school year had more impact, partly because we just live in society, and partly because our kids’ specific choices of activities and experiences were set up that way.
Homeschooling families don’t need to follow the traditional school year — or they can. One family might use a three-week on, one-week off rotation through all 56 weeks of the year. Another family might work like crazy to get through all the bookwork by April 30 in order to enjoy the beautiful month of May unencumbered. Another might eschew all thoughts of learning at prescribed times.
The homeschool year is just that — a year of homeschooling. Reflecting the individuality of the families who choose homeschooling, the homeschool year will look different as it plays out in homes around the world.
Homeschoolers can do what works, regardless of what month it is.
If you’re reading about “The Homeschool Year,” you might like to read The Homeschool Mom’s page on Homeschool Organization.
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