The Changing Seasons of the Unschooling Year

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 are 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.

We’re just changing seasons.

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  1. Reply

    I really like the way you described the learning that continuously happens.

    1. Reply


      Thank you! You are right: learning happens all the time whether it is holiday time or not. It is kind of you to stop by and say hello. I appreciate that!

  2. Reply

    I get that question a lot, too: Do you school through the summer? Yes, but not the way they mean! If the weather is lovely, we go out and enjoy it. If it is too cold or too hot, we are often inside with books. There is a nice natural rhythm. I would like to think we are teaching the kids to look at what God is offering today and make plans on that!

    I have an unrelated question: do you say the Rosary with your kids? If so, how do you do it? The reason that I ask is that I don't have a regular daily time to say the Rosary with my kids but I'm wondering if I should. We tend to say a decade or so here and there. I grew up saying the Rosary (5 decades) every night with my family, but I did not like it. My older kids who have had less Rosary time really like the Rosary, and I'm wondering if it's time to ramp up to 5 decades, and if so, how to keep the joy in it.

    1. Reply


      Oh yes it is a common question, and I guess if we tell people the kids learn all year round, they would imagine them sitting with their books from one end of the year to the other!

      "I would like to think we are teaching the kids to look at what God is offering today and make plans on that!" I like that thought very much! I have always thought that unschooling is a "Abandonment to Divine Providence" way of living.

      I would love to tell you we say the Rosary as a family every evening… but we don't. We do say a decade every morning. We always say morning prayers together, and after we've said all our other favourite prayers and listed our intentions (which takes a long time!), we say a decade. Every now and then we do say 5 decades at once, but not on a regular basis. Maybe 5 decades at a time is too much for children. I know my attention wanders sometimes when I'm saying my own Rosary. Maybe a couple of decades at a time is the way to go. I know what you mean about wanting to retain the joy. My kids actually like the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, probably because it moves along much faster! I wonder if I should just invite my family to join me when I say my Rosary. No pressure. Some might take me up on the offer.

      If you find a way of saying 5 decades joyfully with your children please tell me!

    • Eva
    • December 9, 2013

    Like Wendy, I get the same question in the summer and I always have to say that we don't "stop," that homeschooling is a way of life and depending on the season and time of year we do more or less. At the beginning when I got that question I felt like I was not getting things done because we hadn't "finished," but now I just smile, say we are schooling year-round and move on. Only our quarterly reports for the school need to show that we have actually finished certain things. (We do finish a lot, but the school quarterly reports follow a different schedule than we do). It's nice to know that we are not the only ones schooling differently.

    1. Reply


      It sounds like our years are similar in that learning varies according to the time and season.

      Is it difficult to fulfil the requirements for homeschooling where you live? I wonder if your children have to learn certain things to satisfy the educational authorities. Quarterly reports… that would be like end of term reports for us. But we only have to get our records together for inspection every two years. It's interesting hearing about homeschooling in different countries!

    2. Reply


      Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your homeschooling regulations and requirements. I am very interested in what you're doing. Your regulations do sound strict, much more so than ours. You must have to be very organised and good at record keeping. I do admire you very much!

      • Eva
      • December 10, 2013

      We have mandatory subjects for each grade, quarterly reports, and an evaluation at the end, either by a teacher, a homeschool panel, the parent, or every other year (in high school every year) a standardized test. I do the standardized tests for grades 4 and up because they are mandatory from grade 4 on anyway and are easier than the other options. The school we have to report to follows the traditional American school year and they like to have the quarterly reports at certain times, although legally I could request different dates. New York State has the reputation of being the strictest when it comes to homeschooling.

      • Eva
      • December 18, 2013

      Thanks, Sue, I never feel organized. There are many things I could improve :).

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