It’s that time of year – summer break. There are two ways you can tell – one is the rain, and the other is by the planning (or the procrastination over the planning. Either one). Want to follow along as I figure out the plan for a home school year with four children (ages seven up to fourteen)? Come join me – you’re welcome 🙂 We’re going to start with planning out how our school year will look overall – what do we actually have to work with?
Figure out the shape of the year
I’ll admit, in our early unschooling years (up to the time my eldest was round about eleven), I didn’t pay much attention to the year as a whole. We figured out what worked for now, and changed it up as necessary. This is a perfectly good strategy. However, even if you want to stay totally flexible, I still think it can be improved by one simple technique…
Thinking in blocks
Call it a term, a half-term, a semester, an interval, Sabbath schooling, 6-on, 1-off, a unit, a season, or as I do, a block – this is not a new idea. There is a reason that most schedules get broken up into a period of around 6-12 weeks. It just works as a decent chunk of time to think about things. A year is too long to look at as a whole; a week is too short. Months are just a bit awkward to deal with. 6-ish weeks is long enough to give something a decent exploration, and not so long that you feel stuck in it. It’s a decent period to look back on and see what works and what doesn’t, and whether you’re on track for any curriculum goals. It’s reasonable for your kids to take a week’s break every six weeks or so and still feel like you have a decent chunk of ‘school’ in there.
I’ve come to really appreciate dividing our time up into 6-8 week long blocks, with (at least) a one-week prep week in-between. For my older ones who are following longer curriculums, it gives us a good checkpoint to see if we’re on track. For my younger ones, it gives us a time when we explicitly change up our electives (slightly organised activities that they choose to work on). I use it as a marker to change artist studies, decide on morning time reads, and reset our quote wall. It’s a break from routine and a little more free time for the children while I catch up on record keeping, prep, and resetting the house (in theory).
But we learn all the time – there’s no ‘school’ and ‘break’! I gotcha. Even so, it can be nice to have a set time to shake things up. Maybe it’s just a time when you leave the kids to their own devices a bit more while you look back over the last block and make some notes of the highlights. Maybe it’s a time to focus more on outside exploration, or the big science or craft activities that keep getting put off – or even the housework. Maybe it’s a chance to evaluate the outside activities you do and decide which ones should stay. Maybe it’s just a reminder to check in as a family and say ‘hey, how’s it going?’. It’s really just a mindset difference between ‘life as normal’ and ‘recharge’ time.
How do I decide on my school blocks?
Well, this is actually completely up to you, but I’d encourage you to not overthink too much. Take a calendar that shows the whole year that you’re interested in (and ideally a month or so either side), grab a pencil, and see what fits. Work it around fixed holidays and when (or if) you want a bigger chunk of unscheduled time. We aim for a month or so off before Christmas and in early summer (mid-June to early August, usually). Birthdays may be in ‘school’ or prep weeks, but either way we take them off.
It’s common to aim for around 36 weeks of ‘school’ – UK schools usually do around 190 days, which is 38 weeks, US states vary, but around 36 – but in the UK there is no requirement for home educators to meet any number of ‘official’ days, so it’s up to you. Some like to keep the basic routine going as much as possible. Some like frequent short breaks, some prefer longer ones. Personally I aim for 5 blocks of 6-8 weeks each. This year we’ve ended up with 37 weeks to fit with GCSE exam dates – but we’ll probably end up with some holiday time in there.
But I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year! What if a great travel opportunity comes up? That’s OK! Just make your plans – if you have any – with flexibility and margin and adjust as you go. You are not locking down precisely what you’ll be doing on Feb 12th next year. You’re giving yourself a rough plan for the way things will go, and you’re holding it lightly. If you’ve never done this before, you’ll be surprised how much you can get done just by having a ‘default pattern’ to come back to – and how much flexibility it buys you knowing that you’ll get back to that when the current opportunity has passed.
Keep your plan somewhere
You need to see the plan you made for it to have any effect! Put it in your planner, in your ‘school prep’ folder, stick it up on your wall… and stick with it. It’s fine to make a decision that actually a week earlier or later works better, or we’re going away this week even though it says ‘school’ – but aim to make those definite decisions, not just drift into not quite getting to it today. And that goes for the prep weeks too – you will appreciate the change from routine, but only if you take it!
To help you (and me) out, I designed a calendar that runs from June to September, and lines up the weeks for an easy visual of what’s happening when. You can get it in the subscriber resource library – sign up to the email list for the password!