Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Year-Round Schooling

Last year, because Geoff and I were in Ethiopia in February for our court trip, and then again in June (with Matthew) to pick the younger kids up, Matthew and I really didn't do a lot of formal school after about March/early April.  We'd finished the grade 1 curriculum, and with the busyness of getting ready for our dramatic life change, we just didn't bother with a whole lot of regular schooling.  Frankly, I think Matthew's education outside of formal curriculum was huge enough last year as he adapted to having siblings!

I'm glad that we did things the way we did, because our adaptation to being an expanded family was so huge.  But there was a price to pay for this extended school break.  First, by the time we resumed school sometime just after mid-September, Matthew had forgotten pretty much all of the previous year's math...so we spent until almost Christmas time gradually re-learning what had been forgotten.  Another cost of taking such a long break from curriculum was that it was very, very hard for him to resume any sort of routine about school.  Matthew's frustration level was often very high as we worked at a bit of a routine again, and this made all of last year's adjustments harder and more complicated.  It took until sometime in mid November to feel like we had any sort of routine in place.

Matthew will be finished his grade 2 curriculum sometime in the next 4-6 weeks, which means that we could technically stop school for the four months between mid-May and mid-September.  But I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of simply stopping for such a long period of time - a four-month break will land us back where we were last fall and I really don't want to go through that again.

The reality is that we take a lot of time 'off' of school throughout the course of the winter months.  I don't know if we've ever done five consecutive days of formal school in a week, and we fill our remaining time with play, play dates, field trips, household chores, errands, and 'extracurricular' activities such as music, gym, gymnastics, dance, art, and skating classes.  Life just seems to fill up all by itself.  In addition, there are regular occasions when we simply take a week off of school altogether because we need a change/break, or because we have a particularly busy week ahead of us.

It's a dilemma:  it doesn't work well to take long breaks; but we regularly take short breaks.

So what I'm planning to try this year is the concept of year-round school.  We're going to continue school throughout the summer, though still taking time off regularly and doing a bunch of summer fun stuff.  That means we'll do school for twelve months this year, but we'll be taking days and weeks off on a regular basis.  Maybe this means we take a week off every four weeks, I'm not sure.  But I really think that the kids (Matthew in particular) will be better off to stay in the groove of doing school year round.

During the months between mid-May and mid-September (our summer months), I'm going to change up the routine so that it will feel quite different for the kids than the usual fall/winter school.  Here's the plan for those months:
  • "Big Cat" week.  Around Christmas time, I asked Matthew if there was an animal(s) that he would like to study at the end of grade 2.  He immediately announced that he wanted to learn more about big cats:  tigers; lions; leopards; jaguars (and we may throw cheetahs into the mix because, although cheetahs are not considered to be part of the 'big cat' family, Matthew loves them!).  So I've gradually been collecting materials and ideas to support Big Cat week, which will take place the week after Matthew has completed grade 2.
  • Math U See.  This is a math curriculum that I happen to think is totally awesome - it combines visual and hands-on learning in a unique and simple manner, and Matthew loved it when we did the first level a couple of years ago.  I want to go through the materials that will help reinforce what Matthew has learned this past year; he should find it fairly easy because he's already learned the material, but the method this system uses is so terrific that I think it will further cement his knowledge of basic math concepts.
  • Khan Academy.  This is on online, free resource that I think warrants attention.  The founder of the Khan Academy has produced a gazillion excellent videos (mostly on math subjects) that simplify and teach basic math concepts.  There are several videos that I think Matthew would enjoy and benefit from, in the vein of reinforcing things he has been learning.  Sometimes it's just helpful to hear various approaches to the same ideas.
  • Five in a Row (FIAR) curriculum.  I love with this home education program!  Matthew and I did it during his kindergarten year and loved it.  The FIAR curriculum provides a list of pre-selected children's books (fantastic, classic books chosen for storyline, art, values, location in the world, etc etc), and the manual provides a unit-study-like approach to each book, covering Language, Social Studies, Science, Art and Math.  The idea is that the parent and child read a book for five days in a row and talk (or do activities) each day about one of those five subject areas.  We typically did four days instead of five (I didn't need the math component) but the idea is the same.  It's a simple and fantastic idea and Matthew learned so much a couple of years ago without even realizing that he was learning anything (our Art days, in particular, were fabulous, and he learned to use various mediums such as charcoal, pastels, oil, watercolours, etc, and to create shadow and movement with his drawings, etc etc).  Anyway, I could go on and on about this program, but it's fabulous, and all three kids will be able to participate in this.
  • Copy work.  The idea here is that Matthew needs more time to work on his printing, and so he'll do some basic copy work to provide this opportunity.
  • Reading.  Matthew is a reluctant reader, and I am loathe to push him on this because I am looking to create a lifelong reader, rather than one who reads only when I make him.  But I read aloud to him (and Seth and Lizzie) a lot, and I will continue this throughout the summer.  I also have a selection of easy books for him to read as he expresses interest.  In order to supplement his desire, I have also identified a couple of websites with fun reading programs that he will enjoy.  
  • Story of the World.  This is a history program that we really began to enjoy last fall.  Sadly, incorporating this into our regular schedule proved to be too much and so I put it aside until spring.  But I know Matthew will love this - he's fascinated with history, and this series of volumes includes read-out-loud materials, activities such as drawing and writing exercises, and amazing experiment-like projects that make history come alive. (I think we'll be mummifying a chicken this spring in an attempt to re-create ancient Egyptian burial practices.) 
  • Star Gazing.  For Christmas, Geoff and I bought a telescope for the kids' homeschool, as well as a couple of beginner books for kids.  Though what we plan to do would hardly be sophisticated enough to actually call astronomy, I do intend for us to have a little fun gazing up at our incredible nighttime sky.
  • Miscellaneous stuff.  The kids will all be taking daily swimming lessons for four weeks.  For various reasons, we do swimming lessons in summers rather than throughout the winter; the progress that Matthew has made by taking lessons every day has been pretty amazing.  Both Seth and Lizzie are ready for lessons now, too - they both love the water, and Seth is (rather to his parents' fear) quite fearless in the water.  The boys will also be doing a week of basketball camp, and we'll spent a week or two at my parents' cottage.  The boys are most excited, though, by something that they will be doing from mid-April through to the end of June: a kids' trail-bike program called Kids of Mud.  About ten kids ride with two coaches (plus parents, if desired) through various city and provincial trails, and apparently really improve their cycling skills.  My boys are crazy for bike-riding, and are very excited at the prospect of getting muddy two times a week for two months!

I'm quite excited about this approach to our four summer months.  I think most or all of it will appeal to Matthew, and it's simultaneously not overwhelming in content or volume.  There's also a fair amount that the younger kids will be able to participate in and/or observe.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of year-round schooling is the need for parental rest.  H/schooling is a lot of work:  because of the time and creativity (not my strength) required on the preparation and delivery fronts; and simply because it can be draining to be with the kids all of the time.  With all of the adjustments of the past year I was pretty fragile, emotionally, during the last part of 2011 and the first part of this year.  I need to be very careful to take time off because I don't want to go back to that dark place again.  This is my #1/only concern with the concept of year-round schooling, but I guess if I'm burned out by summer's end I can always enjoy a fall break with the kids rather than a summer break!


  1. I recommend RAZkids for a reading web site for Matthew. It has hundreds of books, levels, and the kids earn virtual points when they read that they an use in a virtual store.


    My son's teacher recommended it and he does 10 minutes of Razkids each night, before he moves on to pokemon.


  2. Thanks Nicole - I've never heard of raz-kids and will definitely check it out.

    Many thanks!


  3. I would have died 1,000 deaths if anyone had suggested year round schooling to me as a child, but I now think it is a good idea - there is a tonne of research to saying how much information kids loose over the summer and the transitions in and out can be really difficult.

    Beyond this, summer breaks were never intended to be a "break", but were to allow for farming activities. Not really necessary any more, for most of us!

    I hope the public system will move this direction (soon) too!

  4. Thanks for mentioning those things, Melissa. I haven't done any research into year-round schooling, but certainly my experience last year bears out the research that you mentioned, both re: information loss and the transition back in fall. It was pretty brutal around here last fall for both reasons and I couldn't believe how much had been forgotten. I also hadn't thought about the original reason for time off in summer, but it makes a lot of sense to me. It's also consistent with the fact that the public school system didn't even exist until fewer than 200 years ago - before that, EVERYONE was h/schooled!
    ANyway, thanks for noting these things!!

    And Sandy, yes, yes, yes to Kids of Mud - my boys can hardly wait, and I've told them about your boys!!

    Blessings all,


  5. I'm a teacher of many years and I have often said we should have school from Jan. to Mar. April off and continue through the year that way. Kids learn so much BUT if they don't use it they forget it. Unfortunately I haven't convinced anybody else.
    Maybe you can get babysitter when two or more of the kids are occupied and have lunch out or get your nails done or just sit in your car and read a book! But, you have to plan that and consider it important.

  6. Hmm..what an interesting idea...three months of school, one month off. I'd been thinking of something like three WEEKS on and one week off, and repeating that. But whatever the rhythm, I guess the point is the importance of taking breaks but not making the breaks so long that kids forget what they've learned. I really wonder why the public system hasn't looked into this more???

    And yeah, I'm also thinking that I need occasional afternoon relief with this plan...it's hard to find someone who's available for one afternoon every once in a while, and whom my oldest will take to!



  7. Hi Ruth,

    Not sure how you feel about incorporating a movie into your materials but I recently watched African cats and found it incrediably informative. If you aren't familiar with it, it's a Disney Nature film that focuses on two cat families. The lion and the cheetah. It's a 90 minute film. I recommend watching it yourself first to see if you find it appropriate for your kids (you know them best) as it can be a little bit graphic when the cats are hunting. I'm not sure if it's an option for you, but I rented it from our local library.

  8. Hi ANgela - Thanks for the suggestion - I'd actually heart of this DVD some time ago and plan to order it from the library the week before our "Big Cat" week. I've heard it's excellent.

    Thanks for suggesting it!!


  9. ooooh, big cats are the BEST!!!

    This is probably a dumb thing to say, but I took a bunch of big cat photos in 2007 for various reasons - some of them are here:


    and you are totally welcome to use any if they woudl be useful. Probably not, but thought I would mention it in case! I am totally with M - adore these creatures.

  10. Claudia, thank you! I'm going right over there now to check out some of your photos!! Thanks - how thoughtful!!


  11. Claudia, I just went and looked at the pictures you linked me to, and I am blown away. You took all of them???? THey are spectacular. Claudia, seriously, I hope you have done something professionally with those photos because they are breath-taking. The lighting, angles, clarity, poses. Stunning. A few were so beautiful they brought tears to my eyes just to see these animals. Where did you take them??

    ANyway, my friend, you are a very gifted woman.

    Thank you for their use - yes, absolutely, I'll be showing these pictures to the kids next month.