Thursday, May 31, 2012

Deciding on the School Calendar is the 3rd Step

I have read many things regarding the issue of schooling year round verses following a more traditional schedule.  We tend toward the traditional, although I always say I would like to change to year round.  It might not matter that much what sort of calendar we follow though.  I believe the kids are learning year round, even though we aren't officially doing school work.  The learning does change, so I don't think the kids consider it learning at all.  We go from math and history books to doing more hiking, camping, enjoying nature and vacationing.  Where else would my kids learn so much about the ocean except by visiting the ocean in the summer?  What better way to learn about the stars and constellations then by gazing up at them on a warm summer night?  Taking the canoes and kayaks down the river can be very educational, whether you are learning about the physics of not tipping the canoe, or whether you are learning about the wildlife you see while gazing lazily into the water as you row past.  So, regardless of the actual "School Calendar" I think we are year round learners, just don't tell the kids!

With that in mind, my 3rd step in the planning process is to decide on our school calendar.  In my state, we are to do school for 36 weeks, or 150 days.  Before I sit down to plan the calendar I jot some notes about times we will want to take a break from formal schooling.  I  know we will want to take off a week in the fall in order to visit our favorite family field trip location - Williamsburg, VA.  I also know, from experience, that I need the entire week of Thanksgiving since there is so much to do to prepare, and we need two weeks as Christmas.  I also like to take two weeks at Easter, one for Holy Week and one to really celebrate Easter.  Since it is the holiest time of the year, I feel it deserves more than a long weekend.  Finally, I like to schedule two weeks for testing.  These aren't breaks from the school year, they are counted as school days, but it is important that I actually schedule them in.

Next I print a form from Donna Young.  This site has quite a few calendar printables to choose from,
but I like to use a form like this or this form designed to keep track of attendance.  I like that I can jot little notes about what week number it is and the reason for various breaks, etc.

So, I know the times we want to take off for little breaks, I know we want to end our year by the end of May because, once we pass Easter, the nice weather comes and it gets more and more difficult for my kids to get their end of the year work done.  I also like the idea of dividing the year into 6 week terms.  This will work nicely for subjects like science where we can do a different unit per term. 

I discovered, after plugging in various start and stop times that if we want to end by May 31st, we will need to start by August 6th.  That is early compared to the school calendar, but my kids usually don't mind starting school early if they know they will be done earlier than the school kids.  ;)  They actually tend to be a bit bored by then and it is usually quite hot and humid outside.  Since they tend to want to be inside anyway, at least in the afternoons, it makes sense to be academically productive. :)

I also discovered that it will be difficult to plan my 6 week terms so that every one of them falls at a natural break point.  The first term works great.  Six weeks from Aug. 6 will be right about the time we want to go to Williamsburg.  But, the next term will actually be 7 weeks until we reach the natural break time of Thanksgiving.  Then we only have 5 weeks until Christmas break.  I think it will work out okay though. I will be sure to plan the more difficult units of study for those longer terms, and keep things a little lighter for the short terms.

This step in the planning process takes much less time than the others.  Since we have been homeschooling for 10 years now, (gasp!) I am aware of our tendencies and rhythms.  It takes only an evening to sit down with a calendar and a blank form and jot down the dates.  Getting the calendar figured out and down on paper gives me a settled feeling.  Now I get to move on to my all time favorite part of homeschool planning - choosing curriculum!

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