To break? Or not to break? That is the summer question.
One of the things I have loved most about homeschooling is the ability to create my own schedule. It is so nice to be able to take a break when we really need or want one, and not have to rely on a school calendar to dictate our doctor/dental appointments, road trips, or vacations. This flexibility has allowed us to score deals on a few trips and has given us the opportunity to visit with family when it was convenient for them, not the school calendar.
But summer seems to confound some of us homeschoolers. Every year, public schools spend the first few months of fall reteaching concepts that most children have forgotten over the long break. Many homeschool texts are even written with review portions in the beginning chapters to cover the “summer slide.” So should we even be taking the break? There are two sides to this coin. The answer is very dependent on your family’s personal calendar and your children’s individual educational needs. (Spoiler alert: there’s no wrong answer.) So let’s assess them both.
NOT to break:
When my children were very young, the time of year meant virtually nothing to them. Sure, we can swim in the warm weather. Yes, Christmastime is exciting! But other than that, they didn’t really have any concept of who was on break or not. Dad went to work in the winter, spring, summer, and fall, so they barely noticed the difference. This was an excellent opportunity for me to tailor a year-round homeschooling schedule with lots of breaks throughout the year for our family and a whole month off in December to enjoy the holidays together. We could work when other children were on school breaks, and we could take breaks when they went back to school and popular family destinations, especially local ones, were less crowded. We also lived in the south at the time. Summers were HOT and sticky! We spent a lot of time in the house with the air conditioning running. Why not do school? This also meant that we had very few “slides” in retention, and we could often skip review chapters when we moved into new levels of various subjects.
There are fabulous courses out there that are specifically made for the summer term, though we have not personally worked through any of them. There are online writing workshops. There are summer reading lists. Summer is a great time to delve into a subject or project you never find the time for during the regular school year. This is also a great time to reteach concepts before moving into a new school year if you have a struggling learner.
As my children have grown older, we have become more involved in classes and extracurriculars that follow public school calendars. Now we follow a more traditional school schedule, beginning our school year in the fall and ending in the spring. There is no time to catch your breath when you do schoolwork all summer and then continue courses online or through co-ops without taking any breaks. Truth bomb: my children finally figured out when everyone else was on break, and they called me out on it!
This one is a bonus, born out of the Covid-19 era we happen to be living in. This summer is going to be different than the summers of the past. Many clubs and camps are delayed or closed. Vacation destinations are iffy at best in many locations. My 16 year old began looking for a job before the virus closed many things down. Now we are anticipating a long wait before she finds one, especially since there are so many adults who need work and should be given priority over a minor living at home. So it’s starting to look like the summers when they were very young and we spent most of our time at home.
This summer we are going to try a one week on, one week off approach for just a few subjects. In this scenario, there is still plenty of free time to while away the summer days daydreaming, watching Netflix, or reading whatever interests them. But it also gives us an advantage for the upcoming school year and lightens the load so that when they have papers due online or a big project due at a co-op, we can hit the pause button on one of the subjects where we worked ahead.
The bottom line:
Summer school, summer break, or a combination of the two is one of the many choices we are blessed to have as homeschoolers. We have held summer school and the kids were none the wiser (when they were young). We have had summer breaks that have been good for all of us. Sometimes you just need to shut it down. Burnout is a thing. And we are about to try our first hybrid summer because, well, why not?
Whatever you decide for your summer, remember that you can always change your mind. If the kiddos are bored and need direction, why not give them some lessons? If their eyes are glazing over every time you pull out a workbook, maybe it’s time for a break. Each summer is a new opportunity for your family. Enjoy it!
Beth Bruer lives in beautiful Colorado Springs with her husband, two teens, and goldendoodle. She loves reading, (lifelong) learning, hiking, and yoga.