Year-Round Schooling & Individualized Learning

Jack gluing leavesThe more I think about why we school year-round, the more I realize just how much it benefits us. After writing my last post, it occurred to me that schooling year-round is the reason I have been able to educate my children at their own pace, which was once of my initial priorities when we decided to homeschool.

Having the whole year at my disposal makes it much easier for me to teach at each child’s pace for each individual subject. If we schooled on a more traditional calendar, I would really struggle with this. I know my personality; I would be pressuring myself to complete all of our books by whatever date we had designated as the end of the year. This would likely result in me rushing through material and getting frustrated when we had to slow down to facilitate understanding. I would be a slave to the lesson plans to ensure we finished everything on time. As it stands now, we work through each book until we’re done without arbitrary deadlines dictating our pace. Some books we finish much quicker than anticipated, others take longer.

Let me give you an example of how this has played out for us. With Andy, who is currently a second grader, we started homeschooling kindergarten in September 2011. He had completed kindergarten by March 2012. We took several weeks off and jumped right into first grade in April. (This is how we initially fell into the pattern of schooling year-round. I had to decide what to do with the extra time we had inadvertently incurred, so I decided to make the most of it.) With his first grade books, I gave him complete freedom to move at his own pace. He completed some material in only a couple months, most took the “standard” amount of time (about 36 weeks), but a couple books took several months longer. Because he completes different subjects at different times, at one point this year he was simultaneously working on 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade material, depending on the subject.

Andy with abacus This works out really well for us because it eliminates so much frustration. He’s not stuck doing work that is too easy for him for a designated number of days, nor am I getting frustrated trying to force him to master a concept in an assigned amount of days. More often than not, we find ourselves to be ahead of where he would be if I were to enroll him in school. Right now, he’s working on second and third grade material, but by mid-summer it will all be third grade. By utilizing the whole year, he can move more slowly on some subjects yet still come out either ahead of or on track with a more traditional schedule.

Just to be clear, I don’t allow him to move forward in one subject while ignoring another more difficult subject. He has to complete all assigned work for the day before he can do extra work in any other book. He usually gets ahead because he loves the subjects that are considered extra at this age. For example, science and geography are two of his current favorites, but they’re only designed to teach 2-3 times each week. He often choses to work on these every day. Sometimes he’ll choose to work on one of the subjects he really enjoys during our afternoon quiet time. With all of these extra lessons, he completes the content of the curriculum much more quickly than it is intended to be completed. Once he completes a book, he gets to choose how to move forward: progress to the next grade level in that subject, go back and explore something in more depth, or take a small break from that subject to lighten his overall course load. If we were trying to make our learning fit into a more traditional 36 week timeframe, we would miss out on this freedom.

I can’t tell you how elated was when I realized that Andy was working on material spanning three different grades. It’s really important to me to educate my kids at their own pace, and this was a giant affirmation that I was doing something right. I really believe that the individualized education I am providing is only possible because we school year-round. If I were schooling on a more traditional calendar, I know I would also trap myself into material that corresponded to the grade level we were “supposed” to be working on. Year-round schooling allows us to progress at a natural pace for each topic, for each child. I really, really love that!



I <3 Year-Round Schooling

calendarThe ladies on my homeschool listserve are discussing the benefits of schooling year round. I am a huge fan of schooling year-round, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you here.

I don’t think I initially intended to homeschool year-round, we just sort of fell into it. I’m so glad we did because I love it. It is a perfect fit for our family.

I really enjoy being able to dictate our schedule with the degree of flexibility that comes from having the whole year at my disposal. I can schedule ample breaks for the birth of a child, first trimester yuckiness, family visiting, trips/vacations, or whatever else is important to our family at the time. Yet, even with many breaks sprinkled throughout the year, we still end up “doing school” more than the standard 36 weeks.

Most curriculum is designed to take about 36 weeks to complete. Because we typically have class more often than that, I can work in entire extra units apart from their regular school work. For example, last Advent we put away all of our regular books and spent the entire season studying salvation history by way of the Jesse Tree. We really enjoyed this little detour, and we had time to take it without pressure from that which we were putting on hold.

In addition to the scheduling benefits, schooling year-round really helps keep my boys’ behavior in check. They behave so much better on school days than they do on non-school days. I don’t schedule my days down to the minute, and life happens every day so in some ways every day is different, but, for the most part, school days all look a lot a like. The structure that comes on a school day really works well for my boys. Because of that, I really don’t want to have many weeks in a row of no school and more behavior problems, especially not on the hottest days of the year.

When we do take breaks, it’s usually not in the dead of summer, unless we’re traveling somewhere. For the most part, our longer breaks (at least the ones that don’t revolve around a birth or something like that) take place in the fall and the spring when we can get outside and enjoy life out doors. If we are able to take a family vacation, this is when we usually do it, which is fabulous because vacation spots are way cheaper in May and September than they are in June or July.

Flexibility, control, better behavior, cheaper family vacations. Yup. I <3 year-round schooling!

Thanksgiving, Traditions, and Itineraries

DCF 1.0

Thanksgiving 2007. We hosted my side of the family in our Cordova apartment. Somehow I made everything using the stove, our single oven, and a crockpot.

This morning, my parents finally chose a time for tomorrow’s big family dinner, so now I’ve finally been able to put together a timeline for my family’s Thanksgiving festivities. I was getting really frustrated trying to come up with multiple “what-if” scenarios based on various times they could wish to serve dinner. One of these days I’ll learn to stop doing that to myself and do a better job rolling with the punches. In the meantime, I’m a planner, and I want a plan in advance.

I know that to some, or maybe even many, my desire to plan out events may seem extreme or like it’s a waste of time. But, I truly believe that family memories do not (in most circumstances) make themselves. This is certainly true for my little family. In the absence of a plan, we end up sitting on our behinds and doing a whole lot of nothing. If I failed to plan tomorrow in advance, we would all sit around until the last possible minute, get ready, and head out the door to go to my parents’ house. Downtime is certainly good, but who wants to look back at a life full of downtime? I want to make some memorable memories!

My plan for tomorrow isn’t particularly memorable because it includes anything fantastic, rather, it is going to be special because it contains all the things I love about Thanksgiving. You see, I’m a sucker for tradition. I’m not the type that wants to go to to Florida for Christmas or go skiing for summer vacation. (I suppose if those things were our tradition, I’d feel differently. But they’re not. So I don’t.) I like to stick with the tried and true. I don’t think that’s boring. I think that’s meaningful. This certainly doesn’t mean there’s no room to add new traditions or do away with empty routines that have been substituted for traditions, but, in general, it means I like organic growth and development when it comes to the way I celebrate my holidays.

Thanksgiving 2011 at Josh's parents' house.

Thanksgiving 2011 at Josh’s parents’ house.

When I think of Thanksgiving, several things come to my mind: THE BIG MEAL, cooking all day, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Mass, and family expressions of thankfulness. Some of these, like the parade and the meal, are rooted in my childhood experiences, but most of these stem from who I am today and why I believe Thanksgiving matters. Regardless of where my holiday notions stem from, this is my jumping off point for creating all of our family’s traditions. Josh and I compare our lists of what we equate with any particular holiday or event, evaluate what is the most important, decide if there’s anything we want to add, and, VIOLA…we have our little family’s traditions.

Despite the fact that we have been married for nearly 8 years, we still often have a hard time helping our parents’ understand that their ideas and traditions aren’t number one anymore. This is often uncomfortable and results in strife, sometimes between Josh and me, sometimes between us and either or both sets of our parents. Either way, it’s no fun. Needless to say, we’re still a work in progress. (Which, by the way, is how I ended up waiting on my parents to select a time for Thanksgiving dinner before I could solidify our own plans…)

So, what will tomorrow look like for my little family? I’m so glad you asked!

6:30-7:00AM – snuggle and drink coffee until I’m conscious.

7:00-7:45 – shower and get ready while the kiddos play or watch Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving or Madame Blueberry or something else keeping with the spirit of things.

7:45 -8:00 – Start cooking! Our breakfast first. Our family always has some kind of yummy (and incredibly unhealthy) egg & hash brown dish. I’m still working on the specifics, but I’m pretty sure it will involve ham this year instead of bacon.

8:00-9:30 – Turn on the parade and watch while we cook and maybe even leave it on in the background while we eat. (We’re such rebels!)  The kids also have to get dressed during this time.

9:30 – Leave for Mass

10:00 – Mass!

11:30ish – Get home from Mass. I’m going to have apple cider waiting in the crock pot to warm everyone up. While I’m drinking, I’ll get back to work in the kitchen. Josh usually helps too. We’ll coax the kids into a nap or, at the very least, a little rest of some sort to help curtail cranky moods for the rest of the day.

I’m sure Gone with the Wind or the Godfather will be on during this time, so that’s probably what we’ll have on in the background while we cook and chat and catch up. (I really love cooking with Josh. We ought to do it together more…)

Sometime before 2:30 – I hope to lay down or at least put my feet up; I’m so exhausted with this pregnancy!

2:30PM – load everyone up again. To Grandmother’s house we go! We’ll likely talk about what we’re thankful for in the car on the way there. Maybe I’ll even come up with some kind of cute activity to make that more fun. I’m curious to see if the kids simply say the same things they wrote on our Thankful Tree or if their responses will vary somewhat.

From 3:00 on, we’ll be at the mercy of my family. I’m hoping between my newly evaluated expectations and some kind of Thanksgiving miracle, it will be an enjoyable evening. If nothing else, the food will be delicious. At the very worst, I can suddenly become some kind of football fanatic and pretend I’m completely engrossed in a game. ;)

If we get home before it’s too terribly late, we’re going to watch the Wizard of Oz. We recorded on the DVR a few days ago. The kids have been dying to see it, but we haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet. If it is late, we’ll just watch it tomorrow while we all lounge around waiting for my grandmother to arrive from Atlanta.

Thanksgiving 2005. Our first "family" Thanksgiving picture! 9 mos preggers with Andy. :)

Thanksgiving 2005 outside our apartment in Bartlett. Our first “family” Thanksgiving picture! I was 9 mos preggers with Andy. :)

I must say that, if it were entirely up to me, all holidays would involve a little sleeping in. But, alas, that’s not realistic for our current season of life. Ben will be up by 6:30AM, regardless of when we put him to bed tonight, and I want to spend every holiday minute with my littles.

I know our plans aren’t particularly glorious or magical, but I’m happy with them. I’m a little disappointed that I played the “let’s just make everyone else happy game” but I’m quite pleased with the way it’s all going to come together.

It goes without saying that tomorrow will not work out exactly as I imagine. That’s why the schedule isn’t broken down into more specific time chunks. That would never work for us. Other than that, I’m just going to have to remember that each moment is a gift, and sometimes gifts aren’t what we were expecting, but gifts are always wonderful.


Mass: It Fits in the Schedule!

massWhen I first imagined myself homeschooling, one of the perks was the ability to take my kids to daily Mass. Three years later, that is finally becoming a reality. As with so many other areas where I feel called to grow, I had a list of excuses of why it just couldn’t work. My most prominent excuse was our schedule.

If only Mass were earlier. Or later. Either would be more manageable. How could I possibly go to Mass at 9AM and have any semblance of a reasonable daily schedule? How would we ever get anything done?

While visiting with a friend recently, we were chatting about the unreasonable expectations we place on ourselves in the context of our homeschools. In the course of this conversation, I discovered that one of my unspoken expectations was that we must be done with our school day by lunch time. Why? I don’t really know. Other than for bragging rights. You know, something along the lines of, “Oh look how efficient and productive we are. We finish school by lunch and then have the whole day to play and enjoy childhood.”  Yup. That’s about how my thought process went.

Discovering this was a major revelation for me and, best of all, released me from my scheduling hang up. Granted, it took me a few days to come to terms with this revelation, (Yes, I’m ever so graceful when it comes to change.) but once I did, our whole day opened up! I love our new schedule and the icing on the cake is: so far, we haven’t gone past lunch time with our book work! It is so true that when we make time for God, he allows everything else to fall in to place.

Just in case you’re curious, this is what our day looks like right now. I know my family well enough to know that there are many areas I can’t put tasks in order or schedule them into 15 minute increments. In these instances, I simply schedule blocks of time. The routine in that area may vary some each day, but I allot enough time for us to get it all done. This flexibility is also incredibly useful for the days when we’re not exactly “on schedule.”

6:00AM – Mommy’s alarm goes off. Ideally, I get up and exercise, but, unfortunately, I have a rather strong tendency towards sloth. Some Most days I just hit snooze.

6:30-8:30 AM – Everyone gets ready. We get dressed, I shower, nurse the baby, serve breakfast, etc.

9:00 AM – MASS!! Truly, the highlight of our day. Sometimes, thanks to my not-so-angelic children it’s also the low point. Thanks be to God, even when it’s the low point, it’s still the highlight!

10:30ish – We get home from Mass. It just depends on how long we chat afterwards.

10:30ish-12:00 – Formal lessons and bookwork.

12:00PM – We stop to pray the Angelus and sing the Salve Regina.

12:05 – 1:00PM – Lunch and free time.

1:00-3:00 PM – QUIET TIME! (It’s almost as good as Mass.) The little ones (and cranky ones) nap. Other options are reading, praying, or quietly working on a project that requires no assistance. No group activities allowed. In the future this will also be a great time for studying, test taking, researching, etc. (This concept may seem odd. One day I really will write a post about the value of silence to further explain why I find this so important!)

3:00PM – Those who are awake pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

3:15-5:30PM – Finish lessons (if needed), art or science projects, chores, free time.

5:30ish – Dinner.

6:00-9:00ish. Family time. Baths. Prayers. Goodnight!

9:00-10:30PM Mommy and Daddy time.

10:30PM – Lights out everywhere. Sweet dreams!

Despite having our day planned out, I am certainly not opposed to impromptu water gun fights or trips to the park or visits to/from friends. This flexibility is one of the many things I love about homeschooling and one of the reasons our family chooses to school year round. But that’s a topic for another time…