Today we’re going to do some slicing and dicing. Not in my kitchen. We’re going to slice and dice a calendar. I want to show you four different ways that you could schedule your school year.
Most of us were raised with a traditional nine-month school year: nine months of school and three months off in the summer. But did you ever stop to think about why that schedule was used? It’s a relic of years gone by. Schools used to break during the summer because most children were needed at home to help with the crops on the family farm during those warmer months. That’s not the case today for most of us. But for some reason, that traditional school year schedule has persisted.
The good news is that, with homeschooling, you’re not tied to that schedule. You can slice and dice your year anyway you want to. Homeschooling gives you options. You have the freedom to make your school year fit your family; you don’t have to try to make your family fit somebody else’s schedule.
So let me walk through four different ways that you can schedule your school year. Hopefully, these four ways will spark your own creativity and help you design a school year that works best for you. And keep in mind that you can use different plans during different years. What works best this year might not work as well next year; and that’s fine.
When I start playing with my yearly schedule, I find it easiest to get a rough idea of how I want to slice and dice it by using math and counting weeks. Then once I have that basic plan, I grab a calendar and lay it out in more detail, making little tweaks and adjustments as needed.
The easiest way to calculate a yearly plan is by looking at weeks. Usually a school year is around 36 weeks, if you do school five days a week. We’ll look at a different option in just a minute, but for most of these plans, we’re thinking five days per week. (Warning: there will be some math involved here. We did say “calculate.” But don’t worry, it’s not that hard.)
Most school years are about 180 days, and 36 weeks x 5 days per week gives us 180 days. So we can use 36 weeks as the benchmark of what we will need to complete a school year.
A calendar year is 52 weeks. If we subtract our 36-week school year from that (52–36), we should have about 16 weeks off of school each calendar year. So just keep in mind those two numbers: 36 weeks of school and 16 weeks off. We’re going to look at a few ways that you can mix and match those numbers to create a yearly schedule that will work best.
Traditional School Year
First let’s look at how a traditional school year arranges those weeks. Usually this schedule starts in August and ends in May. It’s a total of about 41 weeks, but that includes 4 weeks of breaks: one around Thanksgiving, two around Christmas and New Year’s, and one in the spring. Then one more week of break is broken up and sprinkled throughout the year as a day off here and a day off there. That’s a total of 5 weeks off. So to do the math, 41 weeks – 5 weeks = 36; there are the 36 weeks of school work needed. Five of the 16 vacation weeks have been used; that leaves us with 11 weeks of vacation. In this traditional schedule, all of those 11 weeks are taken in one big lump during the summer. So you’re packing all of the school in those 41 weeks with just a few small breaks and taking one big break at the end.
You see how that works? OK, let’s do the same thing with a few other yearly schedule options.
Charlotte Mason’s school year was divided into three 12-week terms. Now, we’re not trying to replicate exactly what she did, because her students did school six days a week. But let’s play with that concept of three 12-week terms and see how it might look for us.
First, let’s do the math: 12 weeks x 3 terms = 36 weeks of school. There you go, that’s pretty neat. Then we would have those 16 weeks of vacation leftover. We could split them pretty evenly between the three terms: 16 ÷ 3 terms = a little more than 5. So we could put about 5 weeks between each term. If you plug that into a calendar, you could do September, October, and November for Term 1. Then take off 5 weeks for the holidays. Then January, February, and March for Term 2, and take off 5 weeks in the spring. Finish up with May, June, and July for Term 3, and take off 6 weeks at the end of the summer. There are your 16 vacation weeks. That might make a nice yearly routine.
Of course, another possibility would be to shuffle those vacation weeks between the terms, instead of making them all the same. So maybe you want to go ahead and take 5 weeks off during the holidays between Term 1 and Term 2, but take only 3 weeks off in the spring. That would give you 8 weeks off in the summer. You see how, once you get the basic plan calculated, you can tweak it as much as you want.
Three Weeks On, One Week Off
OK, let’s look at a third yearly schedule option. This is one that I used for several years: three weeks on, one week off. Now, in my head I kind of think of this one as three weeks on, one week off per month. So let’s do the math. If I calculate 3 weeks of school each month x 12 months of the year, there are my 36 weeks of school. And if I do 1 week off per month, there are 12 weeks of vacation spread out nice and even. But I still have 4 more weeks of vacation left to use. Remember, 36 weeks of school + 16 weeks of vacation = the 52 weeks in a year. I’ve only used 12 of those 16 weeks of vacation so far. So I could take some extra weeks off during the holidays or during the summer or anytime of the year that I wanted to. I really enjoyed the Three Weeks On, One Week Off schedule, because it kept us in a rhythm with regular breaks and gave us some flexibility with those extra weeks of vacation as well.
So far we’ve looked at three different schedules: a traditional school year, a year broken into three 12-week terms, and the Three Weeks On, One Week Off school year. Now let’s take a look at a schedule that focuses on days rather than weeks: the Four Days a Week schedule.
Four Days a Week
We’ll just do our math a little differently. We said that a typical school year is 180 days. So take those 180 days and divide them by 4 days a week: 180 ÷ 4 = 45. So it will take 45 weeks to get in our school year if we do school only 4 days per week. Forty-five weeks of school, but there are 52 weeks in a year; that still leaves us 7 full weeks of vacation to use whenever we want it. You could do school only four days a week and still take 3 weeks off over the holidays and 4 weeks off in the summer or 2 weeks off over the holidays, a week off in the spring, and 4 weeks off in the summer. You decide.
And that’s the beauty of exploring these different options for your school year. You get to decide what’s going to work best for you. I’m sure you can probably come up with other options that we didn’t talk about here. The sky is the limit. Just get your trusty calculator and remember to do 36 weeks of school (180 days) and enjoy those 16 weeks of vacation, however you want to slice and dice them.