One of the big topics of conversation in homeschool circles this time of year is whether each family takes a summer break. The big question is if you are done with your school year. In the early years of our journey, I was adamant that we just had to have a summer break. Recently I have really been considering this question more closely.
Travel with me back to the early days of public education in the one room schoolhouse. Agricultural communities all across our land would contract with a young teacher to provide instruction in the fundamentals of education generally in the late Fall through the beginning of Spring. The school year was short in comparison to the academic year today with some schools only being session for three months. This is when children in the community would learn their “book skills”. They would practice their math facts, refine their reading skills, and learn the history of our nation.
We would all be gravely mistaken if we thought that this was a primitive form of education. What is easy to omit is that these children were constantly learning when school was not in session. Young men learned what it meant to negotiate contracts that were upheld by a man’s honor. They obtained the skill to handle horses and the farming equipment needed to provide food, shelter, and other necessities of their family. When danger approached, they learned what true loyalty was all about in many times sacrificing their own safety to protect their mother or younger siblings. The young ladies gained knowledge handed down by their mothers and others in the community in sewing clothing for their families, cooking regular meals, providing a watchful eye over younger siblings, and preserving extra food from the harvest for the winter months.
It is easy to overlook the value of all that these young people were learning, because today when students are out of “formal” schooling their time is spent much differently. There may be structured summer programs or part-time jobs, but the reality is that most children expect to be entertained and released from responsibility when school breaks for the summer. It is time for mom or another caregiver to provide something fun to do everyday or shouts of boredom prevail.
So does our family take the summer off from school? Like many farm families of today and yesteryear, the demands of planting, tending, and harvesting are great. It is the time for baby chicks and turkeys. Projects are always abounding during these months of good weather from fencing, building repairs, or expanding into new diverse interests. Each of these things provides great learning opportunities for our children that could not be measured by pages in a textbook.
We will be doing some “book learning” this summer, but I must admit that those few final math lessons and spelling rules just don’t seem as important as they did back in November. There is so much rich hands on learning waiting outside our kitchen window. Today alone we finished planting bean and pea seeds in the garden, worked on fencing, began building a new shelter for the baby chicks, and began organizing all of our canning supplies and making a list of things that will be needed. Once the skies began to give way to dusk, discussions evolved around new ventures on the farm, tomorrow’s projects, and dreams of what even five more years of being faithful to the land will yield.