There’s something about the beginning of a new term that brings out the best in everyone. In our house we all enjoyed the holidays enormously and although none of us was especially looking forward to getting back to “work”, we had a wonderful first week of term. And I know we’re not the only ones. Homeschooling families across the world have begun 2012 learning lots, enjoying each other’s company, and basking in that “fresh start” feeling.
I’m tempted to jump straight into talking about some of the fun things we’ve been doing and the positive changes we’ve made to our schedule, room arrangements and curriculum, but before I do, I want to have a closer look at where that “fresh new term” feeling comes from to see if I can make it last another week – maybe even a whole term…!
Many people, me included, crave routine and yet thrive on change. The trick is to find a balance between the two and to set things up so that change is built into the routine. This is maybe why some homeschoolers take frequent weeks off and make up the time with shorter summer breaks. It works best for us not to do schoolwork public school holidays as we use the holidays to catch up with friends and do sports courses. But there are other ways to build change into the routine.
Building change into the school term
1. Switch around subjects
I aim to organise our schedule so that we do a balanced variety of subjects within each school day and over a week. No two days or weeks are exactly the same, but once I find a schedule that works I can be reluctant to to give it up – I never want to stop for the holidays, for example! But this term I’m going to try taking a few days or even a week out every now and then to change the pace completely. This could be a great opportunity to try some projects or unit studies you’ve been wanting to try. On my list, for example, there’s:
- “Virtual travel” (geography) – geography isn’t a regular part of our curriculum right now (except where overlaps with history), so I’d love for us to spend a few days taking a virtual journey around the world (map work, computer research, living books, cooking, languages, lapbooking etc)
- Art & crafts – bigger projects, or learning new skills like sewing or knitting
- Field trips – field trips we can’t easily make in one day, maybe including an overnight stay with friends or relatives
- Sports – having an ice skating lesson, booking a family climbing wall session or just taking rackets and balls to the local tennis courts. Making time for those sports that aren’t in our regular (busy) weekly schedule and so tend to get overlooked.
2. Take vacations
If money allows, take off for a week in the middle of term. As homeschoolers we can take advantage of cheaper travel and accommodation while other families are bound by school dates. The prices at Centerparcs in the UK, for example, go down from thousands to a couple of hundred pounds at this time of year. Before we head off, I sometimes feel slightly anxious about the prospect of missing a whole week of schoolwork, but once we’re back, not only do we all enjoy that renewed “fresh start” feeling, but I realise how much the children benefitted from our time away – from the fresh air, physical exercise and skills, family bonding, meeting new people, and all the other learning that naturally happens in unfamiliar environments.
3. Change your physical environment
Before Christmas we were doing almost all our schoolwork in our family room: bookwork at the kitchen table, reading aloud on the sofa, hands-on activities on the rug. This term we are working in a different part of the house entirely – bookwork in my office and reading aloud on our lazy-boy sofa. Of course I’m convinced this new arrangement is the best possible way of doing things … which reminds me of a joke my mother and I share, that whenever we move furniture around it always “looks so much better” – even if we’re moving it right back to how it was six months ago! So even though our new room arrangements seem to be working well, I might try making another move midway through term just for the fun of it
Depending on how much space you have, you don’t have to move into a different room entirely. Inspired by Denise at Let’s Play Math’s idea of buddy math, we’ve recently being doing maths on the sofa rather than at the table, which brings a different mood entirely to maths lessons. If you always work at the table, try the sofa; if you always do read-alouds on the sofa, trying all lying together on the biggest bed in the house! It might just bring some fresh energy into your school day.
What do all these changes have in common? They all make you feel different. But what if you could feel different without having to make any practical changes at all? In the week since I’ve been mulling this subject over, I’ve realised that the main reason we’ve had a good week is because of the positive attitudes we brought to the new term. In part this is because we’re naturally feeling a bit more goodwill towards each other after the holidays. But more than that, I think it’s because I began the new term with my parenting and educational intentions very clear in my mind.
When we’re caught up in the many daily tasks that running a homeschooling household involves, it’s easy to lose touch with our underlying educational philosophy. Writing about our curriculum recently (here, for example) was a timely reminder that my children are still young (aren’t they all?) and that my most important homeschooling goal right now is to foster in them a lifelong love of learning and to help them acquire skills to pursue that learning. With this intention fresh in my mind, I’ve found it much easier to recognise any imaginary external pressure for what it is (imaginary!) and I’ve been able instead to respond lovingly to my children’s needs, moment by moment.
For me, then, the key to having that first-week-of-term feeling last all term is twofold:
1. Be very clear what your intentions are, as a parent and homeschooler.
2. Set up your life in a way that you are frequently reminded of those goals.
How do you do to keep your homeschool fresh?
[Image by nongpimmy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]