It seems like the public school system is almost constantly under fire, and I am amazed at how with each new Presidential administration comes a new and markedly different solution to identified problems. I cannot help but think that some part of the problem is the insistence of making our most precious resource—the next generation—the spot of choice for leaving each Presidential stamp. Oy vey.
There are some areas where traditional schools have it right; one of those areas is understanding the need for a break. Though summer breaks might have originally been based on an agrarian lifestyle that demanded children be home for harvest time, the concept of resting the brain for the greater good is not antiquated at all. Around our home, we shut it down formally at the following times:
- Fall break (generally after the 1st nine weeks of school)
- Christmas break (we take a 3-week break)
- Spring break (in line with whatever our school district designates as its break)
When we first began homeschooling, I think that, like many homeschooling parents, I subconsciously took on that need to be sure we measured up. Having a rigorous academic program that lasted for about the same length of time that the public school kids were away from home was the mark of a “good” homeschool—at least in my head. So was having an entire year planned out such that I knew daily lesson plans in May even though it was only September. To be sure, academic rigor and planning are still critical aspects of how we homeschool, but it didn’t take long to find flaws in my earliest attempts at creating this environment: I was quickly frustrated, and found myself burning out. Not like a lit candle, but like an outdoor gasoline fire. The biggest issue was that I didn’t give myself enough of a break. Please note: I didn’t say that “the kids were not getting enough of a break,” though that part might have been true, too. I suspect, though, that because the kids were already acclimated to a Monday-Friday 8-3 (or thereabouts) schedule, they were perhaps faring better than I was.
So, as we learned together, I began to trust the process of homeschooling. More importantly, I matured spiritually (homeschooling has a way of doing that), trusting God a bit more, and consequently realizing that a day off would not ruin their chances of getting into Harvard. So now, in addition to the more formal breaks I listed above, I have also added in an occasional reading day. It looks and feels like a teacher’s planning day, in which the only thing the kids are responsible for is a certain amount of reading time while Mom plans, or catches up around the house, or just rests (mentally, if not physically).
For those who think totally laying the books down is a bit too much of a stretch, a break might also look like a reduced course load. There are times, whether because of travel, or transporting a family member to the doctor, or some other adventure that turns a normal day into the abnormal, when we focus solely on the basic 3 R’s: reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Once math, reading, and/or history are done, we are done. After all, there are days where as much learning can take place outside–like on a non-academic field trip, or in a raised bed garden.
This year, we have not had a reading day since we implemented discovery day, reducing a 5-day school week essentially down to a 4-day school week. (Yes, we are still going strong with that one). And though we have added at least one activity to what was a free day, this is still an opportunity for Mom to recalibrate, to run after that forgotten link or “common household item,” or just to breathe.
A mom recently shared how concerned she was about how to continue her normal school day with her older children once her newborn entered the fold. I thought so much about where we began, with a rising 3rd grader, a kindergartner, and a 3-week old. And it felt good to respond to her from the heart and say that it has been almost 15 years, but I can just about safely say that I don’t think a day or week here and there held our children back at all.