It’s the middle of August, and here in the Raleigh, NC area, that means that many kids have already been back in school for over a month.
Yep! When we moved to this area, I had no idea that over a quarter of the schools here operate on a year-round schedule. It took me a while to figure out what my friends were talking about when their kids were on a certain “track” or “tracked out” (on vacation) at certain times, but I caught on to the concept eventually. I don’t think I could personally get on board with schooling in July, but I’m becoming used to the idea enough that I don’t think it’s completely crazy. ;)
When I began homeschooling, though, I didn’t bother trying to understand the local schools’ schedules. I just stuck with what I knew, and that was to start the week after Labor Day. Some years we started a few weeks early because our school books had showed up and the kids couldn’t wait to use them, but I’d never actually purposed to start before the traditional “end of summer.”
Last year, I tried something different. We began the first full week of August and ended around Memorial Day, taking breaks around holidays and a few weeks off here and there at other points. I LOVED it. Needless to say, our plan for this year is very similar.
I’m not here to recommend this plan for everyone, however. Before writing this post, I took a quick poll of my homeschooling Facebook friends, asking them when they started their school year and why. Most started either in early August or early September, with a few who schooled year round or started even earlier. But the real key was the reasoning. Every family has different needs and priorities, and that is what influences their scheduling.
Here are some things my friends and I consider when deciding at what point the family’s school year should begin.
This one is obvious, but when you start the school year generally determines when you end (unless you’re schooling year-round). If you want to be done by a certain point, then your start date must be planned accordingly.
Local school schedules
Several people mentioned starting their school year around the same as local schools. This makes sense considering things like sports and other extracurriculars generally operate around the local school schedule. Also, if your child has non-homeschooled friends, they may want to be in or out of school around the same as their friends. This is one thing that influenced our calendar this year; I tried to plan our breaks more closely to those of the track my children’s friends use.
On the flip side, some families might use the local school schedule to decide what NOT to do. For instance, you might want the freedom to attend a zoo, the beach, or a theme park when it is practically deserted due to everyone else being in school.
Family vacations / special events
Your school year may need to start earlier or later due to plans of taking a week or more off for a family vacation or special event (such as holiday activities or the birth of a new baby). We often plan to take time off for a family vacation in September, when the rates are cheaper and the beaches are less crowded. We are also usually involved in various church productions around Christmas, so I often work in extra time off for the month of December. One family I know used to start school in January and finish at Thanksgiving just to give the family more time for the holidays!
This is one of those points with widely varying opinions. Some prefer not to have a long summer break, to keep the kids busy year-round and lessen the necessity for review. On the other side, some crave the summertime freedom and flexibility—for themselves as well as their kids! (As one of my sisters put it, “August is summer and there shouldn’t be school in summer.”) My personal view is somewhere in between: I definitely don’t want to give up the whole summer break, but I also don’t mind doing some school during the summer months because of . . .
North Carolina in the summer = a sauna. I know it’s probably not as bad as Florida or the dry roasting of Arizona, but my kids often won’t spend more than 10 minutes outside in the summer unless they’re in the community pool. So rather than having them inside complaining of boredom or asking for screen time, I figure they might as well get a jump on school. In return, we can take more breaks during the fall and spring when the weather is truly beautiful. Plus, we can still enjoy our summer by going to the pool when we’re finished schooling for the day. Win-win!
It might sound strange, but this is one of the major factors in my school scheduling, and I know I’m not alone. And while milder areas of the country might not have such strong opinions, those in cooler climates might take the opposite view, jealously guarding the summertime months for playing outdoors while it’s still warm enough.
Flexibility / break times
The other most significant reason for our current school schedule is that I want to have the flexibility to take more regular breaks throughout year. A long summer break unfortunately doesn’t allow for that. This is one of the big reasons that some opt for year-round school, so they can schedule breaks more often or even just as needed. As I said, I still want my summer break, but I also hate feeling trapped in the midst of a never-ending school year. I heard someone suggest doing a schedule of 6 weeks on, 1 week off, and that sounded about perfect. Our schedule last year didn’t work out as an exact 6:1 ratio, but the general idea worked wonderfully. My mental health very much approved.
In short, the time of year you begin your schooling all depends on your family’s priorities and preferences. If you love your current school calendar, I’d love to hear what it is and why you do it! It’s always interesting to hear what works best for different families.
Photo Credit: Photos by author.