Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

Are homeschoolers entitled to summer vacation?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This blog is part of Educating My Boy: Chronicles of a Free-Schooler

This is our first summer as homeschoolers. My son left school in February and I did some official “teaching” from March through May. Come June, however, Jack started rebelling against our “lessons.”

I put “teaching” and “lessons” in quotation marks because what we basically did together was read. And look at maps, discuss topics that came up, look up some of the things we didn’t know, etc. It wasn’t that different from reading together when he was in school. We are just a reading family. But the fact that Jack was now officially a homeschooler made him look at reading together differently. He saw reading time as teaching time now.

Being in transition and often overwhelmed by all the changes that quitting school had brought on, I can’t say we even read that much together. We finished Great Expectations that we had started while Jack was in school and read Around the World in Eighty Days, his first official homeschooling book.  We were half way through Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley when Jack demanded a summer vacation. The book was a little slow going which made summer break that much more appealing.

I really don’t like to leave projects unfinished. I am so conditioned by my own schooling that I think not finishing your work by the end of the school year means you have flunked the grade. It feels like getting an “Incomplete” in a college course. How do you leave John Steinbeck stranded in the middle of nowhere in some Midwestern back roads and ask him to wait for you to come back in three months?

I had also set the goal – very modest, I thought – that Jack should complete a record of the major books he has read over the years. I designated a notebook, a Book Log, for him to record the following information about every major book he has read so far:

    Title of book


    Original language of book

    Year of publication

    Three other titles by the same author

    Date the book was read

    A short paragraph of comments about the book.

    Age group Jack recommends the book for (just for fun)

These are the books of substance that Jack has read since second grade and he is to enter into his Book Log:
    Little House on the Prairie (second grade)

    Harry Potter series (third grade)

    Tom Sawyer (fourth grade)

    Huckleberry Finn (fourth grade)

    Percy Jackson series (fifth grade)

    Great Expectations (fifth grade)

    Around the World in Eighty Days (fifth grade)

    Travels with Charley (fifth grade)

Nice assignment, isn’t it? And it really is not much. You can do all this on way less than two hours of reading and writing every day.

But did we do it? No!

The old college professor in me freaked out at the idea of abandoning a book in the middle and not completing the final report. But alas, I did not have the grading weapon to wield against my kid. He let out one loud “It’s not fair” wail and I officially declared summer break.

The question is, do you deserve a summer vacation if you have only worked less than two hours a day during the school year? And if I am doing away with all the traditional trappings of schooling – grades and tests and homework and mandatory attendance and whatnot – should I also be doing away with the traditional breakup of time into “school” and “vacation”? Shouldn’t I be “teaching” my son that when learning is fun it is not necessary to take a “vacation” from it?

Obviously these questions arise out of my own years of conditioning. We adults are so shaped by our own school and work experience that we end up sticking to our own unconsciously held (mis)conceptions even when we are trying to do things differently. But what I noticed was that Jack was also driven by his misconceptions.

Here’s the example. The books that we had read with Jack in second through fifth grade up until he left school, were evening family-time reading. They were “fun” not “work.” But the minute he was out of school, reading together became “homeschooling.” And of course any kid worth his salt has to resist homework, right? Wouldn’t it be totally “uncool” to just read a challenging book without putting up a fight?

The moral of the story is this: If you don’t have cause for rebellion, you invent it.

I figure I’ll spare Jack becoming a rebel without a cause. We’ll pick up where we left off as soon as possible in the new school year. Meanwhile Mr. Steinbeck will have to sit in Rocinante, sip his bourbon-laced coffee and wait for us. And once he has safely returned home and put away his gear I will promptly demand my book log entries.

I think I will provide a cause so Jack does not feel deprived of his rebellion.



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