One blazing summer day my children came in from playing outside because it was too hot for their plans. “Why do we have school when the weather is the best for outside activities and take our break when it’s too hot?”, they asked. I realized that they had a good point. That is when I began to consider turning the tables on the typical school schedule. So that year, and many years since, we have altered our school schedule to do our textbook-oriented lessons during the summer and winter. We take our breaks during the wonderfully temperate spring and fall months. We love visiting vacation destinations in the off-season. Rates on lodging are lower, while many locations are still pleasant enough to enjoy swimming and other water activities, especially in more southern regions. Popular attractions are generally less crowded as well.
Years ago, we lived in Charleston, SC. Our favorite time of year to go to the beaches was late fall or early spring. Not only would we have the beaches nearly all to ourselves, but the autumnal weather left amazing tidal pools along the shore that were teeming with all kinds of fascinating sea life. Winter storms out at sea left the spring time beach littered with beautiful shells that are rarely found in summer. The best part of all is the quality of learning involved in studying tidal patterns, seeing how the moon phases affect the tides, gazing for hours at the marine life swimming in the tidal pools, leafing through our field guides to identify the shells we collected, and seeing the life cycle of various forms of sea life on display in our coastal playground. It doesn’t “feel” as much like school when we are running through the sand or when we are back home in our North Carolina mountains gathering fall leaves or finding salamanders under river rocks as it does when we are sitting at a desk filling in the blanks on our workbook pages, but the depth of significant learning is great.
Our current school year had the tables turned on it for other reasons. We moved last May, going from a two-story home with a full basement holding a large homeschool library to a much smaller ranch style home with no basement. I spent the spring months of 2020 downsizing our belongings while our children enjoyed the spring breezes, flowers, and butterflies outdoors. I was very sick this fall from long-term effects of having COVID-19, so my capability to do much schooling with my children was very limited. Each day my children read in a book of their choice from either our science shelf or our history shelf then went outside to enjoy the fall weather. Other than some fall crafts, online art classes, and weekly Zoom STEM classes with the local library, they had the time off to run and play, ride bikes or scooters, decorate the driveway with sidewalk chalk, swing from a tree branch, or simply lay in their hammocks.
As we went into winter and the days grew colder, we moved into a more rigorous schedule of school, even though some days I had to assign math and English lessons then find a YouTube video for science and history for them to do while I recuperated. When the effects of spring made them grow restless indoors again and our daily lessons were interrupted by minute-by-minute commentary on the nest-building activity taking place outside our dining room/classroom window, we again stowed our books for a break.
In April, we packed our bags and headed north to visit Lake Erie, Niagara Falls, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and an impromptu stop at the Lincoln Memorial on the return leg of our trip. May days were full of building and planting raised garden beds, creating a wildflower garden area, documenting the growth of three different sets of baby birds, and hours of experimenting with new art techniques.My daughters learned to knit and crochet and have even begun taking orders on custom-made pieces. Now that the heat of summer has hit us again, the school books have been brought back out and we have resumed more formal studies. We look forward to our upcoming fall break after a summer spent finishing up our textbooks.
Different years have had different approaches to our school schedule. One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling has been the freedom to plan our school days around what we want to do and what works best for our family each year. Many years we have changed course midstream to adjust to unexpected circumstances. Turning the tables on our school schedule has been one of our most effective and efficient methods by taking full advantage of the changes of season. How about you? Do you follow the traditional school calendar or have you discovered a different routine that works better for your family? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section.
[Don’t miss last week’s post: Summer Schooling Part 1: Does Education Take a Vacation? We looked at taking a vacation from the school books while cultivating a lifestyle of learning by finding fun ways to continue our studies over the summer months.]