Have you ever read Pat Hutchins' 1971 children's classic, Changes, Changes - or seen the Weston Woods video for it? I wanted to post the video here, but - surprisingly - it's unavailable on YouTube or anywhere else.
Of course, the wordless book - in which a pair of wooden dolls creates a whole bunch of different projects from the same handful of blocks - lacks the video's delightful background music, but it's well worth multiple readings, and I remember it fondly from my own childhood. It demonstrates to kids the value of imagination, thinking outside the box, and making necessary change. And, though I wear my husband's nickname of "Rou-Tina" for good reason, I feel as if I could well have been a character in the book over the last few months.
For starters, I inexplicably felt led to start a new academic term in July instead of August, as has been our habit the last few years. But at least the reason for such an odd switch quickly became apparent...and, as a result, I made a major curricular adjustment, dropping the packaged program I'd assumed would work for us "for life" in favor of a decidedly more eclectic approach. And then in October, a serious issue rocked my church, and all of us there have been living in flux ever since. We recently learned that some resolution will come on January 15, but that in itself could result in more change of one sort or another. I've also been wrestling with the need to consistently make some significant behavioral changes within myself. And in December, though I'd planned to do an extensive Christmas Around the World unit study with the girls - adding 12 more countries to the eight we learned about last year - I very reluctantly changed gears after just four, choosing instead to vastly simplify the month for my own well-being.
On top of all that and unbeknownst to most, I've recently been contemplating another big change with our home learning program: "going rogue" by changing our official academic calendar from the typical northern hemisphere approach (i.e., a "school year" that runs from September through May) to the southern hemisphere way of doing things. In other words: running an academic term (or "school year") from January through December. And, after doing the necessary research, my husband and I have decided to implement this alternate calendar starting immediately - on January 1, 2012.
Of course, in some ways it won't really matter. After all, we're talking elementary school here at this point, and we needn't keep any sort of official records; in fact the annual notification deadline in my state occurs in mid-October, which doesn't coincide with either type of calendar, so it obviously doesn't matter to the state. Plus, homeschooling (here) has always afforded us the freedom to adjust our calendar whenever we'd like, and we implemented a type of year-round calendar a couple of years ago. In fact, since I'll maintain the five- to six-week summer break we've always taken, the girls might not even notice the change. And, though they've opted to forgo Sunday school this year anyway, we'll keep them in their current "grade" at church, where Matriculation Sunday doesn't occur until June. And their "level" for other activities is either skill- rather than "grade"-based or includes a three- to four-year age range. So we needn't change their "grade level" for anything else.
But, for graduation purposes, our new term will begin on January 1 - with formal studies commencing on the third - and, thus, if we maintain this calendar throughout the girls' formal learning years, and they take the typical four years to complete their high school credits, they'll graduate in December, 2019, rather than May, 2020. Since they're a year apart in age but have been functioning at roughly the same academic and emotional maturity level, this approach "splits the difference" (one daughter will be 17 1/2 and the other 18 1/2 when they graduate), and that really appeals to me.
Of course, I'm actually loathe to assign a "grade level" at all because such a designation is merely an irrelevant construct of the institutional school system - totally meaningless, especially in home education where each child has the sweet freedom to work at her own skill/ability level in every subject area, regardless of what same-aged peers are doing elsewhere. But - for the purpose of planning for the time of the girls' likely high school graduation - our calendar change effectively means they have had just one semester of "fourth grade" and are now moving into "fifth." Again, though, it really doesn't matter, especially in elementary and middle school, because we just keep moving forward toward mastering necessary skills and abilities at each girl's pace without regard to the "grade level" on a given book. And a December high school graduation won't have any effect on them if we follow through with our current plans for alternative post-secondary work. Or, if we decide for some reason later on that following a traditional northern calendar would somehow be of benefit during the high school years, I'll simply tack on an extra semester of "eighth grade" and move forward from there. And, in any case, there's no saying that high school coursework must or will take four years; we'll cross the high school bridges when we come to them.
Since deciding to take this plunge, "Rou-Tina" has happily resurfaced! And I've had a lot of fun mapping out how to best finish Mystery of History, our current multi-year history program, and Answers in Genesis, our new 12-book science core, over the next four calendar years, while continuing to appropriately progress in the skill-based subjects (math and spelling), adding in the amazing Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) for composition, and - of course - continuing to have the girls read, read, read - broadly and deeply.
As I mentioned, I've maintained a long-enough summer break every year - all of July, plus the last week of June and several days in August - in addition to a week at Easter, their birthdays (and mine!), and more than three weeks off in December. In addition, I was thrilled to be able to include "Sabbath weeks," during which we'll take week-long breaks from bookwork every six weeks or so...and still schedule at least 185 days of formal academics a year.
Our 2012 calendar shows the general pattern, with days in blue being weekends, of course (generally free of bookwork, but likely to include piano practice and the possibility of art or "enrichment" activities), and days in red being our scheduled Sabbath weeks and other vacations:
What about you? Have you considered customizing your family's home learning calendar, even if that means it runs counter to tradition? Why or why not?