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Spring Doldrums – Homeschool Edition

May 30, 2016

I read this article this morning about the spring doldrums and, I have to admit, I was relieved to know it isn’t just me that has a sense of things flagging at this time of year.  After checking in with my lovely Mum pals I discovered that, indeed, I am not the only one with diminished sense of purpose and enthusiasm.  As the weather is shifting I’m feeling a restlessness and desire for change.

When we began homeschooling I set out a few priorities in my own mind as to what I really cared about.  Some of those things have shifted but actually a good amount has remained the same.  I want our lives to coordinate with seasonal changes, to recognise their influence on our states of mind and wellbeing.  I want the boys to spend as much time outside as they can, to feel comfortable in nature.  But I also want them to have a broad education that provides them with transferable skills throughout their lives.  Sometimes it feels like these priorities are working against each other.

During the winter months I find it relatively easy to stick to a nice rhythm that allows us to get plenty of work under our belts.  I’d say that over the course of the year we get the bulk of our table work done between November and April.  In the early fall the farm still demands a lot of our time and the same in the spring and early summer; juggling the priorities of the homestead, the farm business and our homeschool schedule takes up a lot of my mental bandwidth.  I also really care about doing these things, growing a good amount of our food and teaching the boys these skills; so I’m not willing to step away from them entirely in favour of book work.

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When we moved to the farm it was to surround the boys with a certain kind of environment, we wanted to put them in the way of experiences that they could carry forward into their adult lives. Stephen and I both value academics but with practical skills to run alongside them.  As I write Huwyl is out feeding the calf her lunch time bottle, while Neirin collects the eggs from the chicken coop.  This work has a value not just in terms of the produce but in teaching them the importance of work and effort in making a life.  The farm doesn’t simply spring out of nowhere, it takes considerable effort and continuous work, that’s something the boys are a part of and the work they do contributes significantly.

But I also want them to be well read, to understand scientific concepts, to broaden their horizons with a solid understanding of art and history as well as strengthening their bodies with good physical exercise and sport.  I want them to experience all of the good bits of school, the bits I really valued and enjoyed, but without all the trouble of having to go to school.  Basically I want it all.

Each year I have to sit down and reassess what that means to me, how are we going to strike that balance this year?  As the boys evolve and develop, their needs and requirements change, so I have to change my strategies and approaches too.  It can be a bit wearing to constantly reevaluate, but it’s also what makes this work interesting to me.  I enjoy the challenge of researching, planning and strategising, there are always new possibilities to discover and new options to explore.  As the boys are getting older I’m also casting my mind ahead to the next teaching year and thinking about how the work we are doing now can flow into that as naturally as possible.

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So, for my own enlightenment as much as anything, I’m going to outline how I mentally breakdown our year, while hoping to avoid actual mental breakdown if at all possible.

Sept- Nov – This season for us is very busy and active.  The weather is still nice so lots of outside time, activities with friends and farm work.  Our days can still be unpredictable with the demands of the harvest impinging on a regular schedule but we are beginning to get into our stride.  This season is an extension of the early summer season where school and homesteading/farming are very intermixed.  My goals for this season are:

  • Enjoy outside fun as much as possible, soon the weather will keep us in for most of the time.
  • Involve the boys in harvest chores, teaching as we work.
  • Revel in the freedom our homeschooling schedule provides, allowing us to indulge in time with family and friends.
  • Work on seasonal projects that involve outside work.
  • Introduce some of the key elements of our new academic year, begin working on our maths, spelling and history programmes.
  • Through September and early October we often only do a half day of academics that covers our core work.  If we don’t have farm work or an outside adventure we can spend the afternoon doing extra history projects of some science work.
  • As we begin to ‘close’ the farm and garden our days become more school focused, though we take advantage of every warm day that comes our way.

Nov – Christmas

  • School is now in full swing, we are doing full days (for Huwyl anyway, Neirin’s schedule still accommodates more free time) and touching on all of our subjects over the course of the week.
  • We take the odd day for Christmas celebrations with friends, but we are covering a good amount of work each week.
  • We still only work 4 days a week with Fridays as a catch-all in case something has dragged on.  Usually this is a day for free choice projects, chores around the house or seeing friends.

January – Mid April

  • This is where the bulk of our work is achieved.  We are doing full days and covering all our subjects.
  • Mornings are usually focused on core work (different for each child) covering spelling, history, french, literature, language arts and maths for Neirin.
  • Once a week we work on art history and some art projects as part of our history curriculum.
  • Maths for Huwyl and science projects are done in the afternoon.

Mid April – End of June (officially)

  • As the spring ramps up we are back into farm/homestead/homeschool juggling.  Life becomes a bit more fluid again.
  • Mornings for school with time for catching up or free choice projects in the afternoon.
  • As projects/books are finished they are not replaced.  This is the time where we get to leave things behind.
  • Opportunities with friends are taken up, fun is on the menu.
  • LOTS of outside time.
  • Nature rule is in effect (as it is all year really) if the boys are outside playing or active I don’t call them in.

End of June – End of Summer

  • A bit of review work each day, unless we are of having an adventure.
  • Begin nature journalling each day (when possible).
  • A list of projects for the boys to choose from each day, to avoid boredom and bickering.
  • Adventures with friends.
  • Farm work.
  • Regular chores.
  • Hopefully time for silent moments and drifting whenever needed.

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When I was teaching I remember fondly the projects that we used to do post exam season.  There was a feeling of space and the diminishment of stress that led to interesting chats and a slower pace.  I feel that this phase of the year embraces that philosophy too.  We are ticking boxes of work that has been steadily plugged away at over the course of the year and enjoying the sense of achievement that comes with completing things.  But we are also aware of being in a winding down phase that allows for other opportunities to be taken up.

This year, more than any other, we’ll be finishing the year with a strong sense of having reached our collective goals, both in school and personally.  I’m so proud of what the boys have done this year and I’m a bit proud of myself too.  Despite having homeschooled for 6 years now, each year presents new challenges and opportunities, this year was no exception.  As the farming season ramps up, demanding new things of us, and we look forward to the opportunities that summer brings, I’m happier than ever that we made this decision.  At least I’m happy most of the time.  Just like everything else, happiness requires effort and work.  But when the work is done, the payoff is always worth it.

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