by Jessica Frierson, July 2021
“Oh, Lord, why didn’t you give us a pause button for life?” This is a common prayer in those moments when it feels like all the plates I am trying to keep spinning in the air are about to come crashing down on me. Any mother can feel that way in caring for her busy family, but add homeschooling into the mix and it can feel very overwhelming. One of the best things about homeschooling is the flexibility to find the schedule that works best for your family.
There are pros and cons to the various approaches to planning your school year. For those whose families participate in a lot of extracurricular activities that operate on a traditional school calendar, it may work best to coordinate your year along the same path. Summer is the time to put the textbooks away and have a vacation. Families who enjoy travelling or being outdoors a lot may prefer to schedule their school breaks during the months when the weather is more temperate. So summer may be the best time for them to get down to some serious studying.
Another option that brings summer schooling into the center of their plans is year-round schooling. Year-round schooling has many advantages. The first time I tried a year-round schedule it was a solution to the difficulty I was having trying to balance household responsibilities, schooling four children, and caring for both a toddler and a newborn. Either the house fell apart while I kept us up-to-date with the lessons I had planned or the lesson planning that I had worked so hard to accomplish fell to the wayside as I tried to keep up with all the household chores. Then I would have to go back and do my lesson plans over again to work in where we had gotten behind. A lot of time and energy was being wasted. The frustration, tears, and discouragement far outweighed the progress we were making. Worst of all, my little ones were being lost in the shuffle. Something had to change!
After much prayer and consideration, I landed on a new strategy. I pulled out a one-year calendar, marked the upcoming two weeks for preparation, then blocked out six-week segments for school days. In between each six-week period, I left two weeks for more preparation or catching up.
To put my plan into practice, I used the first of my two-week preparation break to get our house back in order. Laundry mountains were decimated, the seasonal changeover of wardrobes was made, the stacks that had accumulated on the kitchen counter were organized, the children got their closets cleaned out, and we completed some outdoor chores that had been neglected for far too long.
The second week of my preparation time was used to get us back on track with lesson plans. I only planned out six weeks’ worth of lessons for each child in each subject and gave myself a little more leeway in science and history, which we did as a group and involved more hands-on activities. When I went to bed that Saturday night, my house was reasonably clean, school was ready to go for Monday morning, and I could enjoy a day of rest on Sunday without feeling the burden of a hundred undone tasks weighing me down.
What I discovered about doing a school year with six weeks on and two weeks off, is that it worked out to a total of six of the school sessions per year, for a total of 36 weeks, or 180 days. While we have no obligation to have 180 days of school in North Carolina, many textbooks are planned around a 180 day school year. This also gave us, in addition to five of the two-week preparation breaks, six full weeks for a long break before starting the next academic year. We chose to take extra time off at Christmas and have a family vacation in April. North Carolina law does require that we “conduct instruction in the home school on a regular schedule for at least nine calendar months of the year”. Even though I felt like I had more time off with this schedule, I ended up conducting school over eleven months.
For our family, a year-round schedule offered the flexibility for schooling multiple children as well as caring for babies and toddlers. We were glad to trade a summer break for multiple shorter breaks throughout the year. In fact, I credit our year-round schooling with maintaining my sanity during those crazy years where the world seems to be spinning out of control. Even though God didn’t hand me a remote control with a big pause button, it did give me a chance to catch my breath. And when you are juggling diapers, science experiments, dirty dishes, and preschoolers trying to decorate your house with Crayolas, a chance to catch your breath is what you need most.