I saw a friend the other day who asked, “When are you finishing school work for the year?”
I grinned wickedly and replied, “Finishing? We haven’t even started. We haven’t done anything for a long time.”
I shouldn’t joke. People will think unschoolers are lazy and do nothing. I should take the time to explain properly exactly what we do. For of course we do lots of things. We’re always learning. The girls are just not doing ‘school work’ in the same way most other people are.
Anyway, my friend’s question made me think about Christmas. I guess at this time of the year, most people are busy tying up the term’s loose ends so they’re free to focus on Christmas preparations. They're looking forward to the holidays.
So are we ‘finishing up’ for Christmas like most other homeschoolers?
Well, we’re not busy completing planned school work in preparation for a holiday. But life is changing as Christmas approaches. We seem to be slowing down in a natural way.
Even though learning happens all year round, our learning year isn't the same from January to December. Our days aren't all alike. We adjust our days, taking into account what's going on in our lives.
The season and the weather affect what we do. We don't want to be stuck inside on a beautiful sunny day. That’s the perfect time for picnics and nature walks, trips to the beach and outdoor sports. On cold winter days our thoughts turn to more formal type learning. No one minds working on a computer when the sun isn’t beckoning from outside.
And then we have days where we are healthy and full of energy. We run along rabbit trails, taking delight in all the new things we are learning. But sometimes we are sick or overtired and we need to rest. This is a good time for quiet reading or DVDs or even just sleeping.
There are times when some family member has a particular need which must take priority. When we had babies and toddlers they always came first.
Unexpected things happen, like bushfires, and we need to go with the flow until life calms down again.
There are some things that do follow the official school terms like outside music lessons. And August is always the month for music exams. The girls spend extra time practising the piano and singing at this time of year. When a concert is approaching, music is again the priority of the day.
April and November are always novel writing months when we all take up the NaNoWriMo challenge.
The liturgical year and our own special celebrations affect our life too. If we are busy with a lot of other things how can we savour and learn from the traditions and different seasons of the Church year? We want to take time to enjoy our own special days too, instead of squeezing them in around everything else.
So the learning year flows and ebbs in its natural rhythm. The year isn’t all the same. It isn’t artificially organised around the official school terms. It just follows life. It is life. And that means different types of learning happen depending on where we are in our year.
So what are we doing at the moment?
It’s summer and the sun is shining. We want to be outside. We are enjoying running through the bush early in the mornings before breakfast. It’s Advent so we’re involved with all the traditions and preparations that lead to Christmas. The girls are making gifts. People are singing and playing the piano. There’s Christmas concerts and Masses to prepare for.The girls are reading and drawing and watching various DVDs. They are writing Christmas letters and diary entries. They've been doing a few DIY challenges. We’ve been talking and discussing and listening to each other as usual. My husband Andy is a school teacher. In 1 ½ weeks’ time he will be home for his long break. We want to spend time with him, resting and relaxing and enjoying. Soon we will be off on lots of outings and picnics.
And then in the New Year, when Andy returns to school and the weather begins to cool down, life will change once more in a natural way. This learning season will end. Another one will begin.
So back to my friend’s question. When are we finishing up for the year? We’re not.