I am a listmaker. I love writing and revising lists and crossing things off and writing new lists. Book lists, task lists, grocery lists, I love them all. I especially love when, as this week, one of the items on my To Do list is to make a list. After six weeks of time off from school for traveling and appointments and pneumonia (me) and a tonsillectomy (Boo), my big task for the week is to plan out the next few months of homeschooling - roughly through the end of summer. As I get out my favorite list-making notebooks and say hi to Rebecca Rupp again, I keep receiving lists on Facebook and in my email and feedreaders that are meant for the rest of the country. And by "the rest of the country" I mean non-homeschoolers. You know, normal people who do things at the same time and on the same schedule as everyone else.
When the first list of Cool-Things-To-Do-With-Your-Kids-This-Summer-So-You-Don't-Drive-Each-Other-Crazy popped up on my screen two things went through my head. The first was, "It's summer?" (living on the central coast of California we are never in the same season as 95% of the rest of the country.) The second was the theme song to "Phineas & Ferb." [Google it- it's a Disney Channel cartoon and the kid's are right, it's actually pretty good.] By the second and third list, I started to get twitchy, like there was something I should be doing but wasn't. I mean these were lists, right? They were inviting me to make my own lists of indoor and outdoor fun and ways to maximize the family togetherness and minimize the screen time. How could I keep trashing these lists and booting them off my feedreader unread?
I had this same feeling of dissonance last September when we had already been "doing school" for several weeks and all of a sudden every media outlet was crackling with school supply sales and and lists of how to survive every aspect of "school" from making lunch and the container in which it should be carried to how to manage homework and your kids' teachers. It took me a week of needling Bean about her handwriting and her refusal to do fifty versions of the same math problem (and I'm sorry to say more than one threat to march her over to the local public elementary school) before I realized I was borrowing angst from fifty million other parents. Really, angst is not something that's in short supply around here so there's no need to suffer it vicariously.
As in September, the solution to making peace with our summer-time asynchronicity is to knuckle down and get my head around the next few months of homeschooling. Once we are settled back into our own routine, it won't matter so much that the rest of the world thinks it's summer vacation.
Except that it kind of does matter what the rest of the world is doing in both positive and inconvenient ways. On the positive side, there are many more daytime camps and workshops available during the summer, and Bean has kids her own age to play with (or around as the case may be) no matter what time we show up at the park. For Boo, he gets a little more one on one time with me while Bean is off at her various summer-only activities. On the inconvenient side, we have to share some places that we might normally have to ourselves during the school year, like the beach or the library, with so many people it's a different experience. And as clever as we think we are to travel when most other kids are in school, this can backfire, as it did when we showed up in DC for one day with several thousand junior high kids having their turn at the annual pilgrimage for the entitled. Or when we showed up at the La Brea Tar Pits in LA during the first week in June, which this homeschooling mom had forgotten is designated school field trip week.
As I continue to plow through my list ("Homeschool Lesson Plan Summer 2011") and try to ignore everyone else's summer plans, a post titled "Getting Organized for an Intentional Summer" came across my feed reader. The contents may be aimed at the "rest of the country," but the title spoke to me. That's exactly what my current list and the schedules it will drive are all about. I may not be intentionally planning carefree days or intentionally planning to cross items off a summer bucket list, but I am regrouping with intention for the next few months of home learning.
In our first year and a half of homeschooling I have found that periods of downtime followed by a renewed focus seem to come naturally, often after a period of travel or through the completion of educational goals or change in educational focus. We already changed our educational focus several months ago, going back to an eclectic approach - based on the afore-linked book by Rebecca Rupp - after a trial run with a packaged curriculum. But after six weeks off, it's time to look again at what we're doing and make tweaks where necessary.
One of the first changes I am making is to shift our reading time to the beginning of the day. It just hasn't been happening for us at the end of the day lately and that's something I don't want to lose. Although Bean reads on her own, I want to make sure there is diversity and continued challenge in her reading selections, so we will take turns reading books from the New York Times Children's Book list. With most other subjects, it's just a matter of reminding myself of where we are and making lists (Yes!) for the library. All our recent museum visits while traveling have renewed my desire to include trips to local museums in our "curriculum." This isn't the first time I have set this as a goal, but it often seems to lose the extracurricular activity competition. I am writing it into our schedule this time to see if that helps. Every week seems too ambitious and likely to lead to museum ennui. We'll try every other week on a designated day.
As I finish up my list and turn it into our summer schedule, it matters less that we are out of sync with everyone else and more that we are in sync with our family's intentions and what works for us. And that is pretty much my one-line homeschooling manifesto.