When I was a kid, the end of May meant one thing: a slow, agonizing wait for school to be over and summer break to begin. It meant soon I would have the freedom to stay up late and sleep in late every day. It meant that I could go to the pool and read what I wanted to read, ride my bike and steal food from the garden. Best of all, for the most part, it meant no schedules. I didn’t have to worry about working my free time around my school schedule: bed times, alarms, catching the bus, fitting in as much as possible before it was time to come inside and do my homework.
This isn’t something my kids really have to deal with. They’re homeschooled. And in general, we don’t really follow the public school schedule. We fit things in where and when we can. Aside from reading and math (which we actually have to set aside time to do) most of their learning is pretty spontaneous.
Art projects, cooking, life skills, science, social studies. We might be riding in the car and a question gets asked that starts a conversation about nutrition or earth science. We might be outside playing and I ask a question that leads us to experiments with the wind or examining different plants. Or, we find some pretty flowers or leaves that have fallen and create designs on the porch with them that provides us with several days worth of beautiful natural art.
(Ok, maybe I made that one. How is it possible I can’t find pictures of our other work?!)
Don’t get me wrong, we still do paper and pencil projects in those subjects, but a lot of what we do is prompted by the kids’ interest when the opportunity arises (It’s called unschooling and it’s pretty awesome.).
Because we’re so flexible with what we do, this means that we essentially homeschool year-round, on weekends, and holidays. Summer break doesn’t mean much to our kiddos except that they get to spend more time with their public school friends.
We’re first-generation homeschoolers, so we’re learning as we go, and that can be not only stressful, but downright anxiety-inducing at times. Of course, by default, we tend to worry about whether or not the kids are learning everything they should be compared to their public-schooled companions, but thanks to joining an amazing co-op, we’re learning to let those comparisons go and focus on each of their individual needs and interests. This means that for the past few years, we’ve gone back and forth between exciting, child-led learning and panic-driven stints of intense lessons.
The guilt can be overwhelming at times, especially when we know we’ve gone long periods without finishing projects or reviewing material, let alone even finding time to just read a book or explore outside.
Over the past few years, as I’ve refined my organization skills with the material they’ve covered, I’ve noticed a pattern. Starting around the first of November and extending until a few days after the first of the new year, we haven’t done as much homeschooling. This is understandable because of the holidays; not just the days themselves, but all the things leading up to them, like baking and cleaning and shopping. This year, my husband and I finally decided something: no more homeschooling for those two months.
When we made the announcement to my mother, she was visibly concerned, but we reminded her that public school children get more than two months off for summer break whereas we homeschool through those months. The constant stress of trying to homeschool with the added tasks that accompany the holidays was just too much for us. We weren’t going to do it anymore.
The thing is, stress is bad for not just my husband and I, but for the kids when we try to homeschool on top of everything else. There’s no time to breathe and everyone gets short-tempered. And more importantly, it isn’t necessary.
The kids still do their chores. They clean and dust, wash, fold, and put away laundry, help with the dishes – an important lesson that everyday life goes on, even during the holidays. They have always helped with the holiday baking, which is a great skill that we definitely don’t overlook in homeschooling. They do a lot of independent painting and crafts during these months, which helps give mommy time to get things done and gives them the freedom to explore their creative sides without instruction. And we read a lot of books, not just about Thanksgiving and Christmas, but also about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Yule. We have refresher discussions about the Gregorian calendar and the Winter Solstice. It isn’t much compared to the rest of our year, but it’s something.
Sometimes, it’s difficult as a homeschooling parent to put aside the feelings of guilt when you notice that the kids are spending way too much time watching tv and not finishing lessons.
You start to worry that they won’t be where they “should be” by the end of the year. But, we have come to realize that it’s more important that their love for learning and their excitement and curiosity for learning new things stays strong than it is to force learning for the sake of evaluation. As adults, it will serve them better to be curious and have not only the ability to find answers on their own, but the motivation to seek them out as well. And giving them stressful environments and bad experiences associated with learning will not promote this outcome.
If you are a parent who successfully homeschools through the holidays, kudos to you. I don’t know how you do it. But, if you’re like me, and routinely find yourself going through these periods of stress and guilt, I encourage you to reflect on when this happens most frequently and consider making those periods your summer break. It doesn’t work for everyone and every single homeschool family is different, but that’s one of the benefits of homeschooling. We have the benefit of flexibility.
Have you already done this with your family? When is your busiest time of the year and when do you take your “summer breaks?” Comment below and let me know what has worked for you!
Still getting stressed over your kids’ homeschool portfolio? Check out my post about it; I stressed, too! Check out more posts on Fully and Well and don’t forget to subscribe for e-mail updates and opportunities!