As a musician who equates everything with musical themes and ideas, I would ask you to do me this favor as you read this post. Right now, please begin to hum or sing in your head, the theme from the movie “Jaws.”
(You should now be hearing two notes, a half step apart, played by the low orchestral strings, slowly beginning to speed up. Just in case you weren’t sure).
I begin my post with this musical interpretation to describe what I hear in my head as this week nears. You may feel it must be a foreboding moment I am anticipating – a dentist appointment, perhaps, or a project I’ve been procrastinating on that has an approaching deadline. I do have each of those situations on my horizon, but they are not the source of the scary music playing in my head. Rather, it is tomorrow, or for those reading at a later time, April 30, 2012. What is this doomsday date signify, you ask?
No, it is not the last day on a South American tribal astrological calendar.
It is the last official day of our current homeschool academic program.
Yes, dear reader, the fear I am facing is the same fear that grips most homeschool parents around this time (and I’m sure grips other public school parents, but with the reprieve of a month or two more of school to shield them); the ever-present question of “What are we going to do this summer?”
It always amazes me that, as homeschoolers, despite the popular portrayal of being sheltered and secluded in our homes, we are very, very connected to our social and academic programs outside of the home. That, of course, is one of the strengths of the homeschool movement – the freedom to move in and out of various educational programs without the hindrance of compulsory school attendance to prevent certain schedule or lifestyle choices. However, there remains the inevitable moment that all these programs break for the summer, and just like our public school counterparts, we stare at these once ‘busy-beaver’ children and swear by our graves that they will not become couch potatoes for 3 months. Even as we speak those words, the fears in our heads swirl like little tornadoes, wrecking havoc on any hope that some program will appear that will keep them busy and out of educational lethargy.
This is the quandary I find myself in every summer. This, despite the fact that most summers my children find their way out of my now-non-existent hair and into their grandparents’ home, where they can both vegetate and receive plenty of allowance – ready work around the house to earn money for their church camp and other summer necessities. Every year I preach the same message to my kids about “lifelong learning” and try to fight their insistent plea that they must have total separation from anything even remotely educational. You would think after 8 years of homeschooling that I would be fully prepared for this season every year. You would, however, be disappointed in your optimistic thoughts of my preparedness. I find myself so consumed with finishing the “year” strong that I usually neglect to remember that our academic “year” is barely more than one-half of the calendar year. 22 of the 52 weeks of our year are non-scheduled, non-programmed – dare I say it – “unschooled” weeks.
And so, my emotions and intellect convene on that first of the 22 weeks to remind me that I have two choices. Either I can surrender to the panicky thoughts of lackadaisical children filling their heads with Playstation 3 and iCarly for hours on end, or I can be intentional about keeping the “R”s in my kid’s summer. Not the colloquial “Reading, ‘Ritin’ an ‘Rithmatic’”, but instead, Rest and Retention.
The key of this seasonal schedule is to keep both rest and retention in focus. Too much or not enough of either can lead to stressful summers. No matter how far behind a student is, rest is important, despite worries about ‘time off’. Without rest, the children would become totally unwilling to focus on their studies when they are necessary, and totally unable to prioritize their ‘downtime’ appropriately. Therefore, to use the analogy of our homeschool ‘program’ being a car driven 8 months out of the year, we as a family have to take our foot of the accelerator of our homeschool vehicle, park it, cover it neatly, and let the academic engine sit in the garage for a bit. However, I’m not so quick to settle into relax mode without remembering to take the car out for a spin to make sure the wheels are still turning properly. So a math course for my daughter, or an online study in business for my son will find its way into the garage for proper maintenance. This retention strategy is not just about keeping information in their heads, but more importantly, it is about retaining their learning lifestyle. I want to foster and encourage an attitude that does not shut off their desire to learn based on the current month of the year. Keeping a healthy balance of rest from academic studies, and a plan to retain our learning lifestyle is my ultimate summer goal.
So after the last tutoring session is done, the testing complete, and the portfolios reviewed, I’ll wistfully wave goodbye to this academic year like a familiar face on a ship bound for places unknown and never to be seen again – well at least until August. Then I will square my shoulders, march back into the family room where my kids will likely have either a YouTube video about a hyperactive chipmunk-sounding teenager on their iPods, or yet another insanely ridiculous cartoon on the TV that I cannot find funny for the life of me. I’ll then look them in the eyes and say the words that they hate to hear.
“Pass me the remote.”