Each January, I like to stop, take 5, and assess where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  What worked well for us the first semester, and what didn’t.

Typing it all up helps me to get all my ducks in a row moving forward, and allows me to sort out my swirling thoughts.

(btw, if you are feeling discouraged, and need to know you’re not alone in your failures or missteps, feel free to skip this post altogether and stop back in tomorrow to hear about the bad and ugly, and I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better by the time you’re done reading).

Here’s what we did WELL these past 5 months.

1. We adopted a “Sabbath” School Schedule.  
Amazingly, I have not experienced any burnout yet this year.  A rough week or two, maybe, but seriously, no major burnout like I’d experienced in previous years.  I know, I know, that usually happens sometime mid February, but I’m encouraged that this year, burnout will be kept to a minimum.  Here’s why: We implemented and stuck to our Sabbath School Schedule.

What is it exactly?  It’s 6 weeks on, one week off school schedule.  So we work hard and plug away for 6 solid weeks at a time, then we take one full week (the 7th) off of school completely (that’s the Sabbath week, get it?).  During that week off, I am able to catch up on the house, relax, plan ahead (which I found to be hugely beneficial), and 2 different times, we went on small family vacations during our week off.
It was awesome.  Initially, I got to our first scheduled week off of school and I did not feel like stopping.  I didn’t feel I actually NEEDED a break yet, and thought maybe I should “save” that week off for a time when I’d really want and need it more.  But, encouraged by my girlfriend (with whom I share a schedule) to take the break anyway, we stuck with the plan to put school aside, and we took our week vacation, as planned.  

And can I just say? I had no idea how much I actually DID need that week off.  It was invigorating.  I was able to really come to a full stop, not feel the daily added burden of formal school work, plus, I was able to take a look at where we were at, and plan clearly for the next 6 weeks.  I got caught up on things that I’d been putting off, and I spent some great (non-schoolish) time with my kids and my husband.  Oh, that’s another thing–once we started using this schedule, and mapped it out from the beginning of the year, I was able to share that information with my husband, and he was able to plan his time off of work to coordinate with my time off of school.  
SO much better communication between us this year.  

Some people who use the Sabbath School schedule actually do school year-round, and that works great for them.  I find that we still want a longer period of no-school-at-all during the summer months, but I don’t feel we need a full 3 months.

So here is how we’ve structured our year so that we meet the 180-day requirement here in PA, but also have time off when we want it most.

**We only take a 2 month vacation in summer and we begin school on August 1st.  
Now before you scoff, here me out–it’s not as bad as it seems.  We basically ease slowly back into structure and routine in the mornings in August, then in the afternoons, we kick back, relax, and head outdoors to garden or play or head to the pool or whatever!  We definitely don’t stop enjoying summer vacation on August 1st.  

 School in August isn’t so bad!

It’s really like the best of both worlds.  I find I am energetic about school, motivated and refocused after a 2 month summer break, and honestly, the kids are also really excited to bust open the boxes of new materials and to get fresh pencils and notebooks and journals.  
There are tons of benefits for taking shorter, more frequent breaks during the school year, instead of one giant break where kids (especially younger ones or kids with special needs) experience retention issues.  If you really struggle with burn-out as a home educator, I’d encourage you especially to look at how you schedule your school year.  Take more frequent breaks, and shorten your summer vacation a wee bit, and you’ll be surprised how much more efficiently you can manage your work load.

I also want to mention that we do schedule in a longer break each December as well, which is about the true mid-point in our school year, and also, the busiest holiday season of the calendar year.  Knowing from past experience how much we DON’T feel like keeping up a rigorous academic routine in December, this time, we purposefully planned in a 3 week break.  And oh man, was it nice.  I actually had a hard time even doing ONE week of school in December, and I was so grateful for this break.

From January on, we go back to our 6 weeks ON, one week OFF schedule, and we will actually be able to finish our school year right before Memorial Day, which feels appropriate, since that’s when the pool opens and all.  Not gonna lie, during that last month of school each year, it is still SO.DOGGONE.HARD. for me to stay focused.  That’s when everything in me just wants to put away the paper and pencils to go outdoors and explore the woods and dig in the garden and play with the children, free from any burdensome routine.  So I’m sure I’ll need to get creative in order to stay the course this year.  Taking learning outdoors and planning extra hands-on activities, field trips, etc sounds like the start of a good prescription.

Oh, before I forget–as you map out your school year, be careful you don’t miss counting certain days inl that really actually SHOULD count as learning.  
Example: on one of our weeks OFF of school this year, we went to the PA Renaissance Faire.  While this was indeed a mini family vacation, one of the main reasons why went in the first place was because we have been studying the Middle Ages this year.  So you better believe that we counted that Saturday’s hands-on learning as school.  
Also, whenever any of our homeschooling field trips or outings with friends, or our monthly Homeschool in the Park dates fell on a week off, I still made sure to count it.  Remember, public schools still count things like “Field Day” as a school day so if you tend to be more traditional in mindset, feel free to chill out a bit and relax with what counts as a school day and what doesn’t.  Really, we learn together everyday with our children, so counting up to 180 days of “school” is actually pretty silly.  But that said, I also know that I will not be able to provide the type of Classically rich education to my children that I want to by slugging off all formal academics in favor of just doing life together, and learning as we go.  And I need the accountability as much as they do.

Speaking of…

2. Accountability and Co-op Involvement
Another thing that has really been working well for me this year is the accountability I share with a few other fellow homeschooling moms and friends.
We did a little experiment this year by coming together (just me and a handful of my closest homeschooling friends) to form our own little cooperative, where we meet once a week for a morning of hands-on classes for our kids.  We have anywhere between 11-15 kids present each week between these few families, and so each mom takes a turn lead teaching the school aged kiddos (K-2nd), while another mama hangs with the preschoolers, and one or two moms care for the babies and toddlers.
It has worked out beautifully, and we’ve been diligently meeting together since August.

It works because we share the same core (History) and we’re all studying the period of the Middle Ages, so we’re able to plan some of our learning experiences to reinforce what we’re teaching at home with our own kids.  Also, me and my girlfriend Becca share not only the same History, but the same science curriculum too, so we’re able to come together for even more.
That brings me to accountability.  The moms in our group make it a point to come together at one of our homes every 6 -8 weeks, and over coffee and dessert, we plan out specifically what we want to cover (exact chapters in both history and science for each week) and how we will work together to drive home the big ideas from the curriculum during our weekly co-op gatherings.  

We sign up to lead-teach in the areas where we feel most comfortable, and plan activities that are within our ability and interest.  Example: I love love love planning the living history events.  When it’s my turn to teach the K-2nds, i like to go all-out with reenactments, crafts, costumes and food that reinforces major concepts we’ve covered in history/reading with our kids at home.  Another mom~my friend Hannah~ whose farmhouse we gratefully meet at once a month, stores all of our kids’ art easels in her front room, and she has a passion for leading structured art classes for the children, complete with classical music and artist appreciation activities. The kids just love it.  My friend Becca enjoys creating meaningful seasonal events for our kids, like the First Thanksgiving Feast she led, where the kids dressed up as pilgrims or indians, ate a traditional thanksgiving feast she prepared, and enjoyed hearing stories and doing some awesome hands-on activities like removing pumpkin seeds for drying and roasting, or making Thanksgiving puppets.  It’s really special to see how each mom comes up with special activities for the students, and as fun as it is to lead teach, it’s also pretty great when your job is just to hold babies, and not worry about any of the academics.  🙂  On the 4th week, we plan a field trip that fits with our learning.  In this way, we’ve been able to create some pretty amazing learning experiences for our children, and we’ve all (moms and kids alike) benefitted from the consistent time spent together, week after week, as we build relationships, encourage each other, and learn from one another.

First Thanksgiving!
Barbarians ready to overthrow Rome
Miniature paper town~Europe in Middle Ages
The royal castle, ready for the kids…
Art Hour at my friend Hannah’s house
Creating super-sized insects!
Monk Joshua, ready to practice with his homemade quill pen.
Amazing garden cookies made by my friend Hannah
Plus flying creature- cookies to go with our science studies!  So beautiful!
The K-2nd grade kids in our co-op, having show and tell.
The ladies of the castle, playing dress-up
My sweet princess.
Another Living history event…the Golden Age of China and the Far East...
We had fun  making candy sushi when we studied the East.
And the kids got to taste-test some interesting Chinese fruits that my friend Becca brought for them…this fruit sure looked strange, but was absolutely delicious!
Then this “dragon fruit” was absolutely beautiful, but none of us enjoyed the taste…
Joshua trying on the dragon mask that one of the kids brought for show and tell. 🙂
When we studying Vikings, we built this awesome village, and a longship out of boxes and popsicle sticks.  Took us about 2 weeks to finish it, but it was amazing and the kids still play with it.
A peek at the detailed inside of the longhouse…my 2nd grader made lots of clay food and a clay oven for the people.  It was pretty cool.

Not every parent in a co-op is similarly gifted, and that’s not only ok, but it’s really such a good thing, as long as everyone is contributing. Some moms don’t even prefer to lead-teach at all, but are more comfortable providing snacks, or doing the calling and scheduling for field trips.  We all have something to contribute, and when we do, it works well.

Logistical questions we’re often asked about our co-op (which we call King’s Academy):

Where do you meet?
Twice a month, we meet at a pavilion / playground at our favorite local park, Mingo Creek.
The older kids have their classes with the leading mom over in the pavilion while the moms who are in charge of babies, toddlers and preschoolers take our crew over to the playground.  

Once each month we meet at a chosen field trip destination.
And we’ve been fortunate to have a mom who has the space to accomodate all of us at her house, which is centrally located.

We always come together for a shared lunch, and unless the food is themed to fit with what we’re learning (as it often is for our History events), each mom packs lunches for her own kids.  

What do you do in winter when you can’t meet at a park?  
We’re still able to meet in our homes in the winter, though it’s understandably more difficult when you can’t use outdoor spaces due to the cold.  Thankfully, all the moms in our group are really relaxed, and it it’s 40 degrees or higher and somewhat sunny, we bring our kids dressed to play outdoors for at least part of the day.  

These 2 pictures are from one of our big Living History Events–this one was Kings, Castles, Knights and the Feudal System in the Middle Ages.  The first part of the morning, the kids were simple peasants, and we had planned for them to pick vegetables from the garden at my friend Hannah’s house, then pick apples (which we strung up for the on a tree the day before), collect wood, and set up their house –the cardboard box- with straw bedding.
We got a dumping of snow the night before our event, but we still got together, and we still sent them out to do the activities.  The kids had such a great time, and it made their invitation to “lunch at the castle” even more special because they were all nearly frozen when this part was done! 😀

Sometimes, if we can’t meet at a park, we just amp up our field trip outings to 2x a month, obviously choosing indoor destinations.  This is where our Science Center yearly membership is really enjoyed, but the sky is really the limit when it comes to field trips, and so many places you can go are free or reasonably priced.

We also look for locations like churches or rec centers where we can meet occasionally, free of charge.  I find many of our home churches are willing to let members use a room from time to time, as long as they keep it tidy and are respectful of the space.  Don’t be afraid to ask  your church.  It can’t hurt and you have nothing to lose.

Even if you are not part of a weekly or monthly cooperative, it can make all the difference in the world to have one other person to buddy up with.  I don’t know how different these past 2 years would have been if I did not have my friend Rebecca.  

Sharing the same core curriculum with her means I am more motivated to stay on track in my pacing and learning.  Believe me, you are less likely to blow off school for the week when you know you’ll be falling behind if you do.  Not that that hasn’t happened anyway as kids get sick or life gets hectic.  But in general, we stay on pace together, and we plan our schedule {for the year} so that we can journey side by side.  Since our kid are best friends, it’s worked out really, really well.  I also can’t tell you how wonderful and motivating it is when your homeschool buddy calls you up to tell you how awesome this week’s science experiment was, and wants to know if you’ve done it yet. It’s truly so much fun to learn side by side with others.

Since this post is getting dangerously long (what’s new?), and those really were the biggies, I’m going to give you the rest as a quick list. 

Here are several other things we’ve done well this school year:
…But first, please consider reading THIS POST to find out about these 3 overarching goals that are the backbone to everything else we’ve been able to do well… I promise this one is worth the click. 🙂
3.  Maintained our chronological study of History.  Can’t say enough about this.  It just.makes.sense.  Last year, we walked through the ancients, this year, we’re in the middle ages.  The timeline is starting to make sense.
4.  Kept History as our CORE (meaning most of our reading, writing, arts and crafts were centered on what we were learning in history).  Such a time-saver, and we’re able to  use living books, which sure beats a dry textbook.
5.  Stuck with Apologia for Science. L O V E this curriculum. And happy to say, we completed our study of Flying Creatures and my daughter’s journal is jam-packed full of drawings, notes, photos, experiment results and learning projects.  Another keepsake, no doubt.  From the preschoolers to the older ones, all of our kids were pretty sad to depart from our studies of insects and birds, they all loved it so much. But I’m pretty sure this semester’s Swimming Creatures curriculum will awe them just as much.  
I talk more about both our history and science curriculum in this post and why we love these approaches so much.
6.  Eliminated Spelling as a “subject” this year.  Woo hoo, just another workbook we DON’T have to worry about, as we teach spelling naturally, as we encounter words in daily writing, per Charlotte Mason’s recommendations for children until 3rd grade.  
7.  Kept up our daily devotions/ Bible reading.  Ok, it still doesn’t happen daily without fail, but we are far more consistent than we’ve ever been, and the kids just devour it.  More importantly, I see fruit in our lives from this time spent in the Word.  We’re growing, thank you Jesus.
8.  Beginning each day around the breakfast table with a read-aloud, and /or an oral routine.  Right after breakfast is when we do math fact practice, calendar, clock work, sight word (or letter) practice, memory work, timeline song, and so much more.  From there, the little boys run off to play, and my daughter stays put to do some independent work while I’m nearby, cleaning up kitchen, doing house stuff, having my 2nd cup of coffee, playing with the boys…
9.  Beginning formal routine when baby goes down for first nap at 10:30 (this is where I actually need to sit down WITH my daughter, or both my oldest) to teach math, history, science, writing.  Bottom line is that it cannot be done {well}while my 19 month old is underfoot.  He is too needy and busy in this stage, and when I try to push school at that time, it simply does not work.  He needs me too much.  And so I don’t fight it.  We begin the sit-down stuff when he goes down for nap.  And then, we’re really on the clock to get it all done by lunchtime!
10. Kept on our Math Practice.  I still believe kids should come pre-programed to at least know their basic math facts already.  I am not really a fan of teaching math every single day.  But this year, we’ve been ON IT, especially since my daughter is performing about a grade level behind where she “should be” right now (whatever that means).  Even just this week, I have seen her take such huge strides and it’s just awesome to see things clicking after a lot of slow and steady effort.  
11.  Read Aloud. A LOT. Our goal has always been 2+ hours per day of reading aloud.  And before you freak out, it’s really not all that lofty of a goal.  For one, we’re television free, so playing and reading have become the natural alternatives. Secondly, we’re pursing a Classical, literature-rich path of home education. That means I am really committed to reading on a daily basis with my children.  But the main way that I am able to easily meet my 2 hour goal each day is that rather than reading to them in longer segments, I break up the reading aloud into specific periods during the day…first is morning, and preferably, I read them the Word, plus whatever applicable reading texts we brought home from the library that week that fit in with science or history, plus poetry or whatever we want to start the day off with…during formal school time, I spend at least 1/2 hour reading aloud from our actual history and science lessons for the day…then at tea-time, we mix it up…some picture books, and always a few chapters from whatever chapter book we’re reading at the time…and last, reading before bed.  This is the longest stretch of reading, usually about an hour total, though the little boys drop off to sleep one by one, and at the end, it’s just my daughter awake, listening.  Snuggling and reading aloud at bedtime is the most precious, treasured part of my day at home with my children.
That reminds me, I have been compiling our book list for this school year, and hope to share that with you later this week.

A few other things we did well:

12.  Kept the homeschool station decently organized!  I’m telling you, this system is money.  
13. As teacher-mom, I’ve really stayed relaxed for the most part.  I only made my daughter cry like 2 times this year, as opposed to numerous times  previous years. 
14. I decided to take it easy with my Kindergartener (after seriously stressing my daughter out 2 years ago in Kind.).  
Kindergarten should full of joy and discovery.  It’s that happy time when you learn your letters and numbers and learn to cut with scissors and use paste, and take lots of hands-on field trips to discover the wide world around you.  At the same time, you’re still MOSTLY learning through play, so it should not be overly structured.  I feel I’ve struck a nice balance of all of this with my Kindergartener this year.  And when I get a wee bit stressed that he doesn’t know enough of his letter sounds or whatever, I remind myself that he’s only 5 1/2 and in most cases, wouldn’t even enter Kind. until next school year…and that he’s a boy and not necessarily ready when my daughter was.  I have had ZERO stress about his progress, which I feel, has been just about perfect thus far.  
16.  Pushed ourselves to memorize more, and how rewarding!!  Check out my post, Why Memorize? to read more.Ok, one more.

15. Started doing routine kid-swaps with a close friend.  To date, it’s been one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever had.  What if I could send my 4 kids over to my friends’ house to play with her 4 kids all afternoon, while I run errands, clean my filthy house, or even just stare at the wall for a few hours?!?!  Then next week, I could take her 4 while she does the same.  Guess what? We started doing it, and can I just say–
And we’ve found that 4 to 4.5 hours in the afternoon is the maximum amt of time that our kids can handle it (if we go longer, we end up having to feed them full meals and babies start melting down, etc).
The alone time is a priceless treasure.  We will for SURE be continuing this plan in the coming months.

Well that’s it for the super-long post of the Good Stuff so far this year.  

What successes are you celebrating as you journey alongside your kids? Ask the Lord for eyes of grace to see the many blessings and provisions He has given you as you teach and train your children, then give thanks, with a grateful heart.  


Tomorrow, I’ll be dishing out the bad and ugly of the past 5 months, so get ready. 

Until next time, friends~




2 thoughts on “First Half of School Year — PART 1 — The Good

  1. Amy Maze

    Sounds like a great year so far! We do lots of small breaks as well (a few weeks on, one week off all year through) and I’m really liking it this year. I’m doing a series this week about reevaluating each subject, so I’m enjoying thinking about things that have gone right (and wrong!) too. I’ll have to click over and see your bad and ugly now 😉

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