When we first started to homeschool, hubby and I discussed what the schedule might be. I had read several posts about “homeschooling year-round” and decided that was for us. It made complete sense to me, even beyond all the facts and figures. The girls were young, it’s not like we spent that much time each day in organized lessons to begin with, and I had to keep them occupied somehow. It allowed us to have a very flexible schedule and take vacations/breaks whenever we wanted. Plus, it really seemed to help to keep our lives on a good routine.
And then, I started to burn out.
The first time, I took off a month. Having the break in routine was a welcome change and let us all recover from mental fatigue.
The second time, I took a two month break, and within weeks the girls were begging to do school again. They loved learning, and mommy wanting a vacation from homeschool meant little to them. I crammed all my lesson planning into one week, and then away we went again.
Last year we had a “summer break” in the sense that we didn’t do official homeschool for the entire summer. Unfortunately, we also spent the entire summer with the move from HE-you-know-what. Preparing and lesson plans were squeezed in between repair contractors and my job. I had absolutely no break whatsoever. Getting back to homeschooling in September was a very welcome reprieve!
By this Spring though, I was DONE. D-O-N-E, put a fork in me DONE. Tired and weary, I just needed a break. A true break, one that was going to allow me to catch up on the backlog to-do that I was drowning in, but also a break that would remind me why I was homeschooling in the first place.
And yet, my girls still love learning. They see no need for a long “break” from that at all! (After all, summers during public school for me was all about getting to spend my day playing and doing the activities that I wanted to do. We don’t have that problem in homeschool!) Even while writing this post, my youngest just asked when we are going to get back to the Physics unit we were studying.
MY SOLUTION – SUMMER CAMPS.
We have been mightily blessed that my husband’s job allows him to have a FSA – Flexible Spending Account for childcare. We always fund it, because that usually pays for our regular childcare while I work. Now that the kids are older, they don’t need as much of that during the day as before, so we also use it to cover any summer camp activities I can find.
In the past we did a FABULOUS math camp in the Northern Virginia area (MathTree for anyone who is there.) Our first purpose in this was to make sure they were strong in math, and cover any pitfalls they might have because I am the one teaching them. (I am not a math person. AT ALL.) I love that camp so much that I’d pay for it, even without that FSA account. But, Math Camp and VBS was all that we did.
This summer though, I knew I needed more time. I really needed that entire summer off. Of course though, I can’t take the summer off from being Mom if they are still home! So I was on a mission to find really good-quality summer camps.
Since I’m not really looking for “playtime childcare,” I tend to focus on “educational” type opportunities, specifically on activities that we haven’t been able to investigate during the year, or to help cover any possible “mom-weak spots” like the Math Camp I mentioned before. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a “math camp” here. But even without that, the girls are having a total blast with all the cool things they are doing.
This is our summer plan:
- One week at Franklin Institute (Children Science Museum) in Philadelphia. We LOVE the Franklin Institute. I just wish it wasn’t in downtown Philly, with the hellacious drive.
- One week at local community college kid camp – one did art camp, and one did a “building” camp. The art camp was loved, but sadly, the building ended up being more “crafts” and less “using real hammer and nails” like our younger one hoped. (Neither hubby and I are very “handy” type people.)
- One week off the week of July 4th- they played at home a ton, and we went to the community pool as well!
- One week of VBS at our church. I spent the mornings running errands and doing meetings, then the girls came home and played each afternoon.
- One week of dance/cheerleading camp at their dance center. We didn’t do Upwards Cheerleading last winter and they’ve been asking about it.
- One week of sewing/knitting camp, hosted by another local community college. My girls have been begging for this, but I don’t know how to do either! I was so excited when I found this one.
- One week of no camp, because I have to take a work trip and can’t do the carpool. Most likely we will have our Spanish-speaking babysitter here those days I’m gone, and she will continue to work on their Spanish as they play.
- One week learning of “World Culture” camp at Pearl S. Buck International. This goes along with our World Geography emphasis right now, and also allows us to take advantage of an awesome local resource.
- And then, hopefully 2 weeks of hanging out at the beach and with family!
I’ve been using this time to make myself work on my to-do list! I’ve been cranking out work projects (that were sadly way-past-due), networking locally to find new business and clientele, and catching up on a few work writing projects. It’s that list of “I need to do this” that I haven’t been able to make time for over the past year. You know – that list that hangs over your head making you feel stressed out because X didn’t get done. As an also-working-homeschool-mom, most of mine are work-related right now, in addition to the 60 million blog posts I’m holding in my head for this blog! For you, it could be the deep spring-now-summer clean, or the errands and chores that never get done, or perhaps to get ahead in prepping for the fall.
And as much as getting everything done, it has been a massive sanity saver! I really just needed some time where I wasn’t the one who was coming up with cool summer activities and fun things for the kids to do. My kids also seem to thrive on having a at least a bit of structure in their day and on having some sort of routine. We all love free-form-play days, but after about 3-4 days of that there is usually some sort of behavioral outburst. And frankly, I can’t seem to concentrate well if they are in the house. My “mom-antenna” just won’t turn off if they are here and awake. So projects that require long stretches of quiet or concentration (like my writing projects, or video recordings for work) tend to not happen. So, I’ve been able to take these weeks and just THINK for just a few hours. It’s been awesome.
If you’re a bit creative, year-round “homeschool” can still happen, even if you are on a tight budget! I remember my parents taking me to several different VBS programs when I was growing up. We also were very active in the library summer program – they had a special event/activity once a week.
I have found that today’s working parents are always looking for great deals on summer programs and it feels that there are a growing number of more affordable camps out there – so be sure to ask around! The local YMCA and nature centers might also have “free programs.”
My sister, a school teacher, also used to do what she called “Papa Camp” where Grandpa comes and takes over the week! Sometimes he’d bring the boys down to his house for the week and they’d have the fun of going to the beach and fishing, etc.
Or, you can get a bit creative and “create camp” with a few homeschool moms! Do you have a few families that your kids play well together? Perhaps you moms can each rotate taking a week being “summer camp leader” and share the load, giving the other moms a few weeks off. Locally, I’ve heard of free bowling afternoons and $1 movies.
One of the perks of my “experiment” this summer? I have realized that I absolutely hate carpooling. Just another renewed appreciation for the freedom of homeschooling! I have loved that my girls are having these experiences, but I hate the driving back and forth, the stress of getting up to make sure we get to Point A by a certain time, remembering to make lunches the night before as well as actually remembering to take the lunches with us, dealing with traffic (or what PA seems to consider traffic. HA), and then stressing to make sure that I leave wherever I am to make sure I am back in time to pick them up from Point A at a specific, certain time. I’m very thankful we’ll be back to our “normal” soon!
Another lesson learned, is to not get to a point where I burn out so badly in the first place! I am going to be much more intentional about my planning this year. When we changed our homeschool plan last January, it made a true difference in our homeschool experience, for me. I feel I can really relax and just enjoy the homeschool study with them, as opposed to stressing about whether or not I’m doing enough, blah blah blah. I’ve learned to trust the process, and it’s become one of my of my favorite parts of my day. BUT, I am going to be sure to schedule in full week breaks with regularity in our upcoming school schedule. That way, if we are “behind,” we have a time set aside to catch up. If we’re “caught up”, we have time set aside for goofing off and play! I’m also going to put us on a full 4-day week schedule, allowing for one day to be devoted to whatever it needs to be devoted to. Some weeks that might be free-play while mom works on a work project, some weeks it might be focusing on AHG badge work and learning projects that never got into the rotation last year. So far, this fall we’ll work on some fun AHG Badges for the girls, and I also want to spend some time doing music theory lessons and getting very intentional about their Spanish.
Oh, and the best part? I can count these camp days toward our “homeschool days” requirement of 180 days here in PA. So we are getting a huge jump-start on this year, the girls are still learning even if I am not the one teaching, AND my to-do list is being completed! I’m practically having my cake and eating it too!