I would love to be posting some sort of end of year review of all the marvellous projects we have done… but we appear to be unable to reach the end of the year. I think perhaps dithering is the word. So much is said about getting your homeschool year off to a good start, but not a lot is said about ending your school year… and I have a feeling that is because most of us eventually just fizzle out and then we spend the next while pondering: should we just carry over the work we didn’t finish to the next year, or should we just let it go? For the last three weeks I have been saying, “This is our last week of school.” And still we are kind of dragging on… but after one of our best school years ever (and yes it has taken many many years of practice) I have been battling to finish our school year off. I do actually know how to end a school year… I just need to put it into action.
Schooling all year round is one thing, and in a homeschooling family you will know that it is a lifestyle of learning… so the learning never just stops… but not all learning has to be formal learning and your children do not have to fill in a page of phonics, everyday in order to have a productive career one day. It turns out that we all need to change things up and down, we do need to have hard days and easy days, hard weeks and easy weeks… our brains need the stimulation of variety, it just helps us all think a little better.
About taking breaks… we need them. Not only do we need a break to refresh ourselves but, and I am sure there are documented studies to prove this somewhere, our kids need a break to put all the pieces of the puzzle together that they have been learning about. Imagine you feed all these facts into a bucket, its fun and you are learning and the facts keep on coming… eventually your bucket fills up and you have to take a break and hang all those facts onto the relevant hooks to connect things together. Take for example reading, slow and steady wins the race and we can practise every day, but when it gets dull and we appear to be stagnating… I stop for a couple of days. When we return we are eager and there seems to be a mental jump to a new level of skill. The last long break we took, two of our readers went from barely sounding out words, to competently plodding through chapter books. There is something to be said for taking a break…
And yet for some reason we are loath to take a break. I can assure you that your kids will get into college if they take many long breaks throughout their school careers. If they end up pursuing their passion then no amount of cajoling and pushing earlier on in their school careers will equip them half as much as the child who has had lots of free time to explore the things that they want to pursue. The end the school year is upon us and best we treat it with respect and take a break…
Se7en Steps to Finishing Your School Year (And Staying Sane):
- Have a good reason to take a break: And believe it. So many of us have a good reason to want to carry on schooling: Firstly, it is fun (most of the time), who doesn’t want to sit around reading books all day; Secondly the rhythm and routine of school days works for us… and we think we can soldier on… push through and all that. And in the world of mass-self-help and get-aheadness we secretly believe that our children will be better scholars if they continue with school work through their summer break or for us our winter break. May I suggest that you find something lovely you would like to do, not your kids because they have plenty of their own plans already, and then get on with it… refresh the garden, work through a book of art projects, take a daily nap, clean out closets, read a series of books… anything that you don’t do during school time… ponder a little bit and then treat yourself.
- Set realistic goals: Now is just not the time to quickly tackle those bits of curriculum that have been sitting on the shelf all year, now is not the time to start a project that you think will be a fantastic learning experience for your kids. Now is the time to be realistic and ask yourself, “When do we want to finish?” and “How much can we realistically fit into that time period. At the end of last week I sat down with each of our kids and I said, “This is what you need to do for your school year to be done.” We made a list, they are tackling their lists and when their work is done, their work is done.
- Stagger the Ending: Folks like to start their school year slowly… slowly introducing the topics that you plan to do all year, a day at a time or a week at a time. In the past I would just roll our school round, when a child finished their math books for the year, I would begin the next ones… and just roll along… turns out that a better strategy for us is actually to finish the math and put it aside. That way their list of daily work does actually get less and less… and the time I spend with them for school is not spent teaching them new things but rather helping finish the work they are battling to finish. Some of my guys love science, they finished theirs weeks ago, and they are busy getting through their history, and the others are the opposite. There is no problem if they don’t do every subject every day, or even every week. If the work is done, then its done… if it isn’t done, then you have to pause and assess: Have you in your enthusiasm plotted and planned too much? Have they actually learnt enough but the list was too long?
- You have done your time: Like most homeschool moms I begin the year with lots and lots of ambitious plans… a rhythm and routine that is completely over the top. Packed with every idea that I have gleaned from reading other folks’ blogs and highly acclaimed books, not to mention taking a peak at what all my friends are doing with their kids for school too. Turns out I need to look at what my kids are doing and what we are doing for school and then get real. We only school in the morning, free play time is absolutely fundamental to our kids’ education. So we can only do so much in a day, and then probably only half of that. Have they been learning all year, have they worked through their curriculum? If they have done their time then they are done. The opposite is true too. If I have a voracious reader and I direct them to a shelf and say these are your readers for the year and they read them all in a month or two, then much as I would like to get ahead (what is this obsession), it is time say, “The work is done, now read what you like.” Turns out, if they have done their work for a particular subject really quickly then they have found something they love and they will pursue it in their free time anyway.
- You don’t have to finish everything: This one is huge for us homeschoolers… you can actually say done is done and be finished. Your children will thank you, you can pat yourself on the back and they will not actually be damaged for life, if a couple of assignments over a whole year didn’t get done. We are often so focused on what we haven’t done that we don’t actually notice what we have done. One of my kids is just finishing up two years of American History, he has made it to the end of World War II. He has done it himself and it is actually quite epic for the kid that only mastered reading a year or so ago. I need to stop hunkering after the last few chapters in the book… he has done enough. He knows American history, in specific detail and he knows it well. I need to just say, “that’s enough.” If your child has never made an electric circuit, that was scheduled, don’t assign it over the holidays, put it on the list for next year and let it go.
- Give your kids something to look forward to: This is not the time to fill in all the things you missed in school… this is not the time to say, we didn’t do science experiments all year and I saved them for the holidays. If your child picks up a science book and decides to do some experiments for fun, that’s one thing. This is actually the time to take a break, not the time to reframe your schooling into another version of more schooling. Trust me if you haven’t done art all year and you leave some inspiring stationary out on the table and intentionally get busy in the kitchen with dishes… your kids will be doing art. I do ask my kids what they would like to do, yes we would all like a round the world trip on a cruiser packed with a library and lego, but realistically we are going to play a few board games, read some books together, bake, sleep in and rest well and recover, not to mention plot and plan and dream about next year. We don’t make wish lists, that is the death knoll to each of those activities… our wish list becomes the list of promises we will never get to keep. Get an idea of what your kids want to do and then go with it… it is so tempting to plot and plan fabulous activities… but very often, your kids want to just sit at home and play with legos.
- Have something you are really looking forward to: We have to stop thinking of the holidays as an opportunity for your kids to learn a million things they never have time to do during school. Now is the time to take a break yourself… if you have always wanted to spend a day on the couch reading a book, for yourself… now is the time. If you always wanted to start a nature notebook, so you get all the materials for your kids, now is the time to start your own one… not in a half hearted way, but with intention. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it does have to be for you… give yourself the break you would like to have…. instead of whiling away the hours on extra housework and chores, because everyone else is on holiday. Trust me you will very quickly find your kids emulating you and without having to say a word they will be spending their hours happily along side you, maybe doing what you are doing, maybe working on something quite different, that’s ok, because this is your thing… the thing you have always wanted to do… think about it, make a plan and start.
- Just Stop Already: At this stage, what isn’t done is just too bad… it is time for us to stop. The next one-on-one meeting I do with my kids will be to admire the work they have done. Talk about what we have achieved, what we loved and what really didn’t work. Take a few photographs of extra special projects. Ask them what they especially want to learn about in their next school year… it’s worth asking, I am always surprised. Pop their books back in their crates and when we get back to school they will carry on with their math and workbooks where they left off… and they move on to the next shelf of reading books for history and science. That’s is… the big secret to ending your school year without stressing about everything being done 100%, every box ticked and every book read… is to just stop. Enough is enough… let the rest go.
And the se7en + 1th