Over the next three weeks we are going to be breaking down the different parts of homeschool planning from the big picture of the homeschool year to the nuts and bolts of scheduling your subjects throughout the week and finally the smaller picture of a single homeschool day.
Usually by March I am in full planning mode, thinking about what subjects we want to cover next, comparing curriculum options, and considering how our activities and commitments will affect our school calendar for the next year.
The longer I homeschool, the more I have learned about all the different ways parents choose to schedule their homeschool year. If you are new to homeschooling, you may be wondering where to start. Or, for those of you who are veteran homeschoolers, you may be looking for a new way to revamp your school year. So, let’s take a look at a few popular ways homeschoolers schedule their year and compare the pros and cons of each.
Local School Calendar
Some homeschoolers like to keep the same school calendar as their public school, private school, or county school counterparts. This is good for families who have children in multiple education settings. And, it is also good for homeschool students who take occasional courses from their local public school or college institution. Homeschool students who like to play with their traditional schooling neighbors/cousins/friends also find that keeping the same schedule helps maintain these relationships.
In some ways, it’s an easy calendar to follow because much of the local community is centered around a local public school’s calendar year. Library programs, summer jobs, camps, and other activities all seem to peak during the summer months which makes this schedule hard to ignore.
However, homeschooling with this schedule is not without its pitfalls. Unlike some of the other annual schedules we are going to talk about today, families who follow this calendar year will not be able to go on vacation when others are in school (which I personally consider a HUGE plus to homeschooling), and students often experience more retention loss when using this schedule. In fact, the American Education Research Journal sights that 52% of students lose an average of 39% of their total school year gains during the summer months. For me, that’s a big gamble after all the hard work we put into to teaching our kids.
9-Week or 6-Week Terms
So, if you decide that following the local school calendar is not something you want to do, there are several different options you might to want to consider. The first is dividing your days into 9-week terms. While this may be very similar to most public-school calendars, the difference is you get to choose the start dates, the vacation dates, and the breaks! So, you could technically start the first 9-weeks on August 1, finish the first 9-weeks by the end of September, take a week off, and then complete the second 9-weeks well before Christmas. Or move the dates around to suit you and your family!
This calendar works well as several homeschool curriculums tend to follow a 9-week exam schedule.
If 9-week terms seem like a long time to school without a break, consider 6-week terms. Some call this sabbath schooling as the 7th week is considered a sabbath rest week similar to the day of rest following the 6 days of creation. Thus far, this is one of our favorite schedules to follow. Most of the time we can make it about 6 weeks before we are begging for a break. It gives the girls some built-in time to rest, enjoy their hobbies, catch-up on reading, and play with friends and family. It also gives this momma time to catch up on projects arounds the house, spring clean, and have a few days without feeling like I always have to be “on.”
Breaking up the school year in 6-week terms also vibes well with those considering teaching using a Waldorf Block. We will talk more about a Waldorf Block next time, but in short, a Waldorf Block involves the intense study of a subject for 6 weeks. By breaking up the school year into 6-week units, it gives a parent time to plan for the next Waldorf Block during the off week.
Six-week terms also allows time for vacations and fields trips during non-peak times which is something else we consider a plus as it helps with both our enjoyment and our wallet. But, six-week terms don’t always jive well with how a curriculum is broken up or, for those keeping grades, keeping track of 6-term grades instead of 4 can sometimes be overwhelming. And too, if you are using an online planner, several platforms don’t even offer the 6-week plan as an option.
That’s brings us to forgetting about terms and just schooling year-round. For those whose school district schools year-round, this may be no different from following your local school calendar. However, for most, this is a less common but enjoyable option. Year-round schooling offers better retention rates, allows more time for vacations and field trips, and offers more consistency long term. It is less stressful and often more flexible because there are more days to work with. Instead of trying to complete school during 36 weeks, you have 52 weeks within which to complete your allotted days.
Longer breaks during Christmas and vacation are also possible. And, by making learning part of your everyday, it is making school more real-life. After all, except for teaching, most jobs do not limit their employment to only 9 months of the year.
When scheduling year-round, you may still want to incorporate terms. If so, you may consider planning your calendar year with 6 weeks on and one week off, or 9 weeks on and two weeks off. I also know some families start school without an annual calendar plan. They just go until a curriculum is done, taking days off when they feel like it. That said, they often are still schooling late into the summer when they’d rather be doing other things, because they ended up taking too many unplanned days off.
Some potential down-sides to year-round schooling, is that students sometimes feel frustrated that they must do school during the summer months when their compulsory counterparts are taking a break and enjoying the summer sun. Year-round schooling can also impact participation in summer activities, if not planned out in advance.
4-Day or 5-Day Weeks
Once you have determined how you want to divide your year, the next thing you will want to consider is whether you would like a 4-day or 5-day homeschool week. Four-day weeks leave one day to be used for co-ops, field trips, nature walks, educational videos, the completion of larger projects, educational games, and/or other outside-the-home activities such as work, sports, or even grocery shopping.
One of my favorite school calendars is the 4-day 6-week term year-round calendar. When we can, we start in July and finish at the end of May by following a 6-week on, 1-week off schedule and scheduling our schoolwork on only 4-days. This allows us one day a week to attend our co-op or go on a field trip. It keeps it more realistic for our busy family.
As you plan, be sure to check your local state attendance requirements. For most states it is 180 days or 36 weeks. You will also want to consider co-op schedules, work schedules, dual-enrollment course schedules, and other outside activities as you plan out your calendar for the school year. And don’t think you have to always start school in the fall. Some families have been known to start their new school year every January instead of every July, August or September. The choice is up to you!
Should you decide to use a traditional or 9-week term with a long summer break, you may want to consider adding a shortened summer school schedule to help with retention and keep those vital subjects that build on each other at the forefront of your children’s minds.
You may also want to consider schooling on non-traditional school days. Who says you HAVE to homeschool Monday through Friday?! Tuesday through Saturday may work better for your family, or you may have other days that work better, depending on your goals and availability. The nice thing is that homeschooling allows for all of this.