Summer School

This is the first year that we have attempted to school through the summer. Let me explain a bit what I mean by "school".

Our family follows an interest-led learning philosophy. You can read more about the specifics and how-to's of that approach at Homeschool Help. But although we let our childrens' interests guide the majority of their learning we are also focusing on the development of specific skills during these early and middle years. Those skills are: mathematics, reading & writing.

It is the practice of these skills that we call "school". For a time I called it "skill building" (my anti-establishment bent coming through) but school is just shorter and easier to say.

camp journaling

I started off this homeschooling journey fairly set against a set school schedule for our home and I am still very hesitant to require too much of my children in this regard. Childhood is mostly for play and discoveries of all kind. Not to be spent in a chair for hours of required reading and workbooks.

tide pool nature study

Having "homeschooled" now for six years (I consider Celine's birth the real beginning of this journey 11 years ago) I have made peace with a little bit of scheduled school and a whole lot of other life learning during the rest of the time. My children are learning all the time and for that reason I have always considered us to be year round schoolers. But this summer, for first time, I have continued with our little bit of scheduled school - math, reading & writing.  

Some people have asked me over the years if we are unschoolers. Most of our day looks very "unschoolish" but there are set blocks of time where I require our children to do work I have chosen for them, whether that be household chores or practicing their math skills. It is this required work that distinguishes our approach from a truly unschooling home environment. 

My children are not free to do whatever they want all day, neither am I. Meals must be prepared, laundry done and the house tidied at the end of the day. Likewise, there are specific academic skills that the children and I work on to build their foundation for later learning. This is why I don't consider our family to be unschoolers. 

Ah... but back to summer school. In years past I dropped any planned school work for the children by May late April and didn't pick it up again till September. This year things are different for several reasons.

  1. The kiddos are older and more independent in their learning and play so it's actually possible for me to schedule weekly time to garden and do school where in past years it was one or the other. In which case gardening won.
  2. Summer for most folks is the time to travel but our family adventures happen all year round so I find myself "losing" time during the usual school months of Sept thru June as we pack, prepare and then unwind from those activities. If we adventure all year round, why not school all year round also? You can read more about that perspective at Why we Homeschool.
  3. In past years I noticed that with mid summer came a bit of lethargy and boredom, the dog days of summer I guess. A structure-free summer became too much of a good thing. Our children really appreciate their free/reading/crafting/bouncing/outdoor time more when there is some required work in their day. The Yin and Yang of freedom and responsibility. 

Monarch study

So for those reasons and maybe more that I can't remember right now we are carrying on with school (math, reading and writing) all summer.

I've already written about what math looks like around here. World study is another one of our learning foundations but I don't schedule that, it just happens. Still to come in that series on foundational learning are posts on writing and reading. 

Very briefly this is what school time reading and writing look like this summer:

  • Laurent and Brienne are still learning to read (slow process for them) and I work on this skill with Laurent using anything I can get my hands on that seems to work.
  • I read aloud to the kids each day, this is not part of morning school but usually happens before bed.
  • The younger two practice handwriting using the Getty Dubay method. Celine now writes cursive and has "graduated" to typing practice using the Ten Thumbs program.
  • Writing composition is real life based and depends on what is going on. Thank you cards, blog posts, correspondence and poetry for example.

This school time doesn't include Celine's independent reading which is approximately one to three hours a day. All together, including math practice, school takes about 1.5 hours (less for Brienne) each time, always in the morning. If it doesn't happen during the morning it just doesn't happen!

During the summer I attempt to do this 3 days a week. Some weeks we don't do any school because of vacation and other summer activities. Often school only happens 2 days/week for a whopping 3-4 hours/week of actual work time. I know, I'm a slave driver. If my kids weren't learning all the time I would find this paltry number quite distressing but because I observe (and record) all the other learning going on I am confident this is just right for us. 

an e-book reader for backpacking

I am currently gearing up for our yearly portfolio review in a couple weeks, which officially ends our 2009-2010 school year. We start a new year in September, though that date is quite artificial and is marked as such mostly to keep our records in-line with the state homeschool regulations.

We're always learning, growing and adventuring. Fall, winter, spring and summer

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  • nicola@which name?

    nicola@which name? on Aug. 4, 2010, 5:57 a.m.

    This is such a good post, Renee. I must be in emotional turmoil of various types right now, because my very first thought was that I am simply not brave enough or tough enough to home school. Too tired to explain further, but I admire you greatly. Nicola ps. the Captcha for this post is "scrota Phenomenological" No wonder I am tired. All that typing!


  • Claudia

    Claudia on Aug. 4, 2010, 2:52 p.m.

    Renee, you always manage to post topics that are muddling around in my brain! :)

    With the beginning of our first official homeschool year about to begin, I have been giving much thought to what, exactly, "school" is to me. More and more I am slipping into what I consider an unschooling, or at least interest led, view of what "school" is for our family. Like your kids, my son is always learning, exploring and discovering, and I find it difficult to separate "life" from "education". That said, the basics (math, reading and writing) still have to be covered, so studying those will be the main difference (at least this year) between summer and the rest of the year.

    Your post today leaves me feeling encouraged that I am on the right path, and I am grateful for your insight.


  • Kika

    Kika on Aug. 4, 2010, 5:43 p.m.

    I am just now reading "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle" which you recommended months ago (your post reminds me a bit of the novel) - I've selected this book as my book choice for a woman's book club I'll be part of this coming school year. Only two of us, of nine women, are homeschoolers and I look forward to other people's reactions to the author's memoir. The book is wonderful - full of real life humor and adventure. Thanks for the recommendation!


  • Wendy

    Wendy on Aug. 4, 2010, 8:59 p.m.

    Really enjoyed this post. My youngest is only 20 months, but it's currently my plan to homeschool him when he is of "school age". I really appreciated hearing about the balance you're trying to strike between "school" and interest-led learning, as it is one of the concerns I have. Thanks!


  • Spring

    Spring on Aug. 5, 2010, 1:31 a.m.

    Haven't commented in a long time, so I'm feeling a bit like a stalker! LOL! So just wanted to say, as always, loved your post. While we are a bit more structured, which is working well for us, I love to read your homeschooling posts to help keep our pendulum moving, and not stuck too far to one side. :)


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 5, 2010, 1:09 p.m.

      You're too funny! You're hardly a stalker when I spend time with you most every week and talk in person about life.


  • Earth Mama

    Earth Mama on Aug. 5, 2010, 5:47 a.m.

    This was our first year submitting paperwork, filing, standardized testing, etc. Our "school year" ended in June. We unschool and I was so happy to find out how little is actually required by our school district. I'm glad, but at the same time it kinda makes me loathe the whole process more. The nice thing though was that I actually got to see that my "third" grader, was learning, happily, just fine outside the school district, despite all of my mother's questioning and concern. Homeschooling is such a great way to live!



  • daffodil lane

    daffodil lane on Aug. 5, 2010, 2:42 p.m.

    You have such a good mix of posts on your blog - super helpful and exact to thoughtful musing and my favorite, the how-tos. And great photos, of course. I always love checking in.


  • deborah rabbon

    deborah rabbon on Aug. 5, 2010, 7:22 p.m.

    love this! we dont call ourselves unschoolers for the same reasons...there are somethings that we all just have to do! be it laundry, dishes, math, reading, etc...& sometimes that means sitting still for a few hours out of the day. i teach the core subjects from a text (or some form of structured teaching tool). the other stuff is interest~led life learning that is usually found in our home or outside. im a biology major, so the science & curiosity comes naturally! ~ dtr


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