We have observed a year-round school calendar from the very beginning, 9 1/2 years ago. We begin our school year in July, do school in 6-week terms with a break between terms, taking off all of December and June.
Read more: The Secret of Year-Round Homeschooling
For us, the regular breaks – none of which are too long – help keep us refreshed and motivated without going through extended breaks which require lots of review time when we return to lessons.
I find a year-round homeschool calendar with regular break weeks to be a great balance, not only for the time it saves in needed review, but also because inevitably we can’t keep up the housework, we have doctor or dentist appointments, or there are other projects we’d like to do but never have time for.
Such things are for break weeks.
Those breaks are profitable in their own way, too, not “wasted time.”
It is so easy to slip into thinking that down time or vacation time is time that doesn’t “count” for anything. We say to ourselves: “I have 36 weeks of school and 16 weeks off in a year.” Then feel guilty about taking those weeks off and think that maybe we should use our time better and keep getting stuff done.
But that’s not healthy.
Break weeks provide us time for leisure, which is essential to a classical education. Break weeks aren’t for entertainment, amusement, and lounging – at least, not the entire week. It’s time for leisure, for lifestyle learning, for enjoying life.
During break weeks we’re practicing living a life where our minds are a pleasant place to spend our leisure.
How we and our kids spend a break week is indicative of our attitude about life, learning, and doing. We don’t want to be or to raise people who are only good for punching clocks and doing what they’re told. If presented with time and options, what do we choose to do? That says something about us. What’s it saying?
Break weeks are diagnostic weeks, in a way: Do the kids know how to live a full life?
If they only want screen time or they whine about being bored (as several of mine did last week), it’s a clue for us moms as to what needs to be developed in our kids. The answer isn’t giving them unrelenting checklists to keep them busy, the answer is helping them develop interests and hobbies and initiative.
Laying around, being bored, wanting screens isn’t an indication of failure, just of what we need to be working on. They’re under our roof and guidance for nearly two decades for a reason: It takes a long time to help them develop good taste and habit.
Yet, break week is not entirely undirected time, either.
During break week we catch up on housework, clean bedrooms, and get our environment back under control – a little real-world, real-life training.
During break week we often have an outing day, either spending half the day at a park or going somewhere interesting – a field trip or nature walk or play day.
During break week we work on projects. I always have more projects than I can keep up with, so I love having some time off regular routines to do a bit extra deep diving into my current project. The kids often have project ideas of their own, also – whether it’s a lego marathon, board gaming, crafting, reading, or writing a book, they have their own ideas for how to spend their time.
Yes, it’s a time for a break – for reading that novel, for taking walks, for going to the park, for sleeping in. But sometimes a change is as good as a rest. Just changing things up a bit and having the time and space to delve into a necessary project feels like a break, not because it isn’t work – it is! – but because it’s different work, it’s a different rhythm, and it feels more like “getting ahead” than the usual routine.
I get lots of questions about what break weeks and how we make them work. So I’ve collected up as many questions as I could find and will do my best to answer them all here in one place.
I have had some break week “fails” – I had one earlier this year and one or two last year. What I noticed they have in common is that I didn’t get in the “preparation” stuff. If I don’t deal with the piles that have collected during a term, don’t do some extra cleaning (never all the extra cleaning), and a little planning and thinking about priorities for the next term, then I feel like we start back up again without being ready for it and I’m scattered and frazzled still.
How about this:
Break Week Principle #1: You Won’t Get Everything Done
Your break week can’t hold everything you want to do.
If you expect to do all the fun things with the kids AND clean the house, then you’re going to be sad. You can’t do fun things with the kids and have a clean house – those are mutually exclusive.
So we might start off the break week by going to the park or doing something Monday, but Thursday or Friday is cleaning. I find picking a theme for the days of the week helps me focus and not just flit from one thing I could do to another.
Break Week Principle #2: Break Week is for Preparation & Planning
Make sure there’s some significant time set aside during your break week to gather your thoughts and think through the last term and look ahead toward the next. Even if your school planning is done, you need time to review it all, pull it all together, and just wrap your head around it.
Some planning time + clearing the piles = a sanity-saving break week.
When those don’t happen, I’m just as distracted and frazzled as I was at the end of the term.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that if we have a very scheduled weekend or I’m out of town for the weekend, starting back on Monday is not like starting after a break. Having to jump into school mode again after being gone or in go-go-go mode is exhausting.
If you have a busy out-of-the-house week during break week, then taking Monday off to gather thoughts and make plans and tidy up will bring more progress, sanity, and clarity in the long run than jumping straight back to routine.
Break Week Principle #3: Break Week Isn’t a Sabbath Substitute
Some call a year-round homeschool schedule a Sabbath model or Sabbath schooling. It does establish a similar ratio for our school: 6 weeks we labor and 1 we rest.
However, a break week is not a rest week in the same way that Sunday should be a day of rest. Sunday is a day of worship and rest from our own agendas and plans. A break week is for a change of plans, of projects, but it’s still a “make progress” week – just progress of a different kind. It’s not a week of lounging and bon bons.
We do need rest, and that is why God gave us a day of rest: one in seven. Always taking Sunday as a day of rest, making that a priority, break week or not, is the most important break of all.
Break Week FAQs: Logistics
Do you have any summer time off?
Yes! We take about 6 weeks off from late May to early July. We have a 36-week school calendar that still allows us a summer break and also all of December off.
When I plan my interval with a few projects and smaller tasks is my goal to complete those before break week or use the break week when I have more free time to complete them?
I usually wrap things up over a break week, though sometimes it’s motivating to get them done before the break week so I can move on to something else. It depends on the project and my energy level at the time.
Do you do Morning Time during break week?
I used to think that we should, and tried, but it never stuck. I know some do, and I say more power to them! It’s a great “life together” routine rather than a school routine.
We, however, do not.
How can I plan so that the little things like dentist appointments and play dates and other non-weekly activities get planned for break week instead of falling hodge podge into our precious time when we should be completing our lessons?
By planning them for break week instead of school weeks. You’re in charge of your calendar. I put school weeks and break weeks on my calendar at the beginning of the year so I can see it when making appointments anytime. We recently switched dentists and I intentionally postponed the kids’ appointments so that they would fall during our December & June breaks.
Should I be leaving our break week wide open for the kids to explore on their own or for all of us to focus on our poor neglected house tasks and meal prep?
I think there’s enough time in a week for both. Kids need some guidance, and doing some chores first helps them appreciate the wide open times. We often start the day with some extra work then they have most of the day for their own plans.
How do you do meals on break week? Is it only a break from school? Or other stuff too?
Life still happens. It’s not vacation (and it turns out people need to eat even on vacations!). Meals are normal on break weeks, except that there’s more time if one of the big kids wants to make a baked item for breakfast or learn a new dinner.
Our dinners are generally fairly simple and follow patterns, so this doesn’t really take much mental effort or time anymore, as long as I do keep the cupboards stocked a plan made.
How do I swing the 6/1 terms with regular outside commitments? Do you have to drop most outside activities to make it work?
We have piano lessons & a midweek church club that both operate on a traditional schedule. So, even during break weeks the boys still practice piano.
Just like we still do morning chores, they still practice their piano. And their club is fun, so it’s still their enjoyable get-out-of-the-house activity.
We aren’t taking out-of-town vacations during break weeks or anything – break week means we can use those school hours for personal projects and hanging out. I don’t find that a few afternoon commitments get in the way. Your mileage and schedule will vary.
Break Week FAQs: Mom’s Time
What do YOU do, to prepare for the next round of home school?
I purge papers, clear out our school cupboard, put books back on the shelf the right way, and have the older boys clear and clean their desks and shelves. I also change out our Morning Time binder pages.
If something needs to be changed up or planned, I’ll do that, too, but I take care of most of that during the summer break.
Do you have deep cleaning tasks you save for break week?
I save any and all deep cleaning tasks for break weeks. Instead of having a regular schedule for them, though, I just pick the areas that are bothering me most to tackle during break week.
How you manage to catch up on work AND rest in your break week?
I try to pick the 1-2 problem areas that bother me the most and tackle those, while just doing upkeep everywhere else and decluttering and tidying the school stuff.
My break comes mainly from not having to get everyone moving and on track in the morning – that’s my rest. I get to follow my own agenda instead of keeping everyone else on top the school agenda.
How do you use break week to find refreshment, so that you are excited to get back to work when the week is over?
Without school having to happen, there is more time. You need to know yourself and how you find refreshment (know your personality!) and allot your time accordingly. I find refreshment by completing projects, having uninterrupted time to think, and reading. Uninterrupted time to think is always hard to come by, but break week provides plenty of time to work on projects and read.
Break Week FAQ: Kids’ Time
What do your kids do during break week? Are they happy to play by themselves all week, or do you lend some structure?
We have both structure and freedom. Typical morning chores after breakfast continues, and EHAP is the pre-dinner anchor on the other end of the day. If they come to me telling me they’re bored, they’re most likely to be given a job. If they whine for computer time or complain about work (after a warning or maybe even two), they’re liable to entirely lose the computer privilege altogether – they clearly need more practice being interesting and interested.
However, my kids are blessed: They have homeschooled friends in the neighborhood, some of whom follow the same school calendar. So they do play a lot, but not often by themselves.
Last week there was crafting, book writing, code-learning (sanctioned computer time), audio books, Legos, playmobil towns, restaurants, dolls, Lincoln Log cities, and lots of board games.
Do your kids do the same, more or fewer or different chores?
They do the same, plus some extras. It’s part of life. There was a little complaining about extra work during break week last week, unwittingly said in their father’s hearing. He informed them of how life typically works and let them know they aren’t entitled to weeks of pure play and freedom.
I have heard you mention your children having goals in school eg: finishing a section in XtraMath within a time period. How do you facilitate kids’ school goals within intervals?
Often break weeks give us concrete goal points to work toward, but it’s not a regular sort of thing. One of our children had been skipping school work, so the catch-up work had to be completed before break week. Another has to wait to start the next MUS level until the current xtramath level is passed – it’s been taking much too long. This child was told that if xtramath wasn’t passed by break week, it would have to still be done during break week – and it has been.
Break Week FAQs: Excuses
Do you still take a break week even if it was not a particularly productive interval?
Yes. Time to regroup is often needed even more after off-the-rails terms.
How about unexpected break weeks?
Unexpected break weeks happened to us more when all the kids were little. Sickness would send us under, or sometimes morning sickness. Often, I’d let activities fill in the calendar and suddenly not have energy to keep up with school.
That’s a phase of life issue, and one we’re mostly out of now, partly due to the ages of our children and partly due to my own respect for the work we need to get done now. When everyone was 8-and-under, an extra week off here or there for life was no big deal. Now, with 4 school-age kids including two middle schoolers, we can’t be hit or miss or it’s just all a miss and a struggle.
Is it still okay to do a break week if we had a sick week in which almost no school was done??
Probably. You probably need the regrouping time even more!
If it’s happening all the time, then you need to evaluate. If the kids are all 8 or 9 and under, then definitely don’t even worry about it.
If you have outside classes or someone else holding you accountable to covering a certain amount of material in a certain time, then you might need to make that decision with your husband’s counsel.
The weather thing has also been a hang up for me. In MN the summers are golden. We like winter, too, and get outside each day and do snow sports, but a week off in the winter could be brutal weather… or it could be a blast of snow play, depending on the year. I’m trying to think through how to adjust for these things.
Weather does make a difference. I could see flexing a break week to take advantage of weather, especially in MN during the winter! Also, if we call “snow day” or “sprinkler day” or that sort of thing during a school week, we do not make it up. It doesn’t change our break week. I think that’s totally legitimate.
Letting the kids take advantage of peak weather is one of my homeschool priorities – more so than finishing a book on a certain timetable.
. I had 4 doctor’s appointments last week. And every week it seems I have 3 or 4 things that are critical to do that week, and they take away from my prep time, my planning time, my rest time as well as our school time. How do you deal with interruptions, days that won’t fit into the “perfect” schedule?
First, I’d say that taking those breaks so you can return to productive weeks will often get you farther than trying to push through stress and exhaustion.
Just like staying awake for 48 hours working on something straight doesn’t actually mean more progress than working for 16-20 hours out of 48 and sleeping enough between work sessions.
However, you have to evaluate your own situation and ask, “Are we not getting our work done because we need a break or are we not getting our work done because something about our situation is not working?”
4 doctor appointments in a week happens sometimes, but if big interruptions like that are the rule rather than the exception, or it continues for more than a season or one bad year, then it becomes time to evaluate if you’re able to homeschool or not. Math can go to waiting rooms, as can audio books or read alouds – you might need to investigate more portable options if that’s your current reality.
On the other hand, there is no such thing as a perfect schedule, much less one that will actually happen. Instead of creating the perfect schedule and then trying to mash life into it, work with the patterns you have to fit in the work that needs to be done.
Homeschooling is real work that takes commitment and energy, and sometimes situations make it not feasible. And homeschooling “counts” as a job-level responsibility – when we homeschool our time is spoken for and we can’t do all the other activities we might like. Prioritize and see if you can cut back on outside responsibilities if they’re taking you away from your homeschool.
I have high schoolers taking outside classes where I don’t control the schedule. It’s hard to feel free to implement the 6 on, 1 off, when you are not completely in control of scheduling. Should I just schedule breaks even though it won’t be from everything?
While I do love the year-round schooling calendar, I don’t think it’s a necessity or the best for everyone or every situation.
With so many outside commitments on a conventional calendar, I don’t think there’s really a way to make it work in the same way. I would simply take advantage of what breaks those classes do afford and not use them for homework or the at-home subjects, but just let them be breaks.
You can hunker down and make it through the high school years, making the sacrifices needed to see the thing through. You’re doing good work!
When I take a break week, it ends up feeling chaotic because we’re out of routine. I have a special needs son who thrives on routine, and not having school makes him feel a little agitated because it’s not our regular schedule.
You might not be able to implement a regular break week with your situation. That’s ok. Can you take time off on Saturdays – getting out of the house? Are you using Sunday as a day of rest?
My kids mope and complain about getting back into routine. I like the idea of have a break every 6 weeks, but it seems like it ends up being a little stressful.
Kids always complain when they aren’t used to something. It takes time to adjust everyone to a new rhythm – that’s totally normal. Be impervious and don’t let their whining dictate your decisions.
Do you have any experience of doing more frequent weeks on/off? It wouldn’t be the norm, or a permanent solution but I’m looking at late spring and summer as a good time for this. For example: 3 weeks off in May, 2 weeks off in June, July and August, with more regular 6 weeks on/1 week off the rest of the year. Any downside to this that you can think of? I have tried schooling as normal in the summer but have struggled with it.
If you didn’t want to take a longer break in the summer, I think a 3/2 split could work. The downside would be a lack of momentum, but the upside would be not having too long spent in chaos and forgetfulness.
Another summer strategy might be simply moving to a 3 day week and being very deliberate about planning the fun stuff (or very flexible, if you’re able!)
Breaks are flexible things. Do plan them in, but don’t feel like if you aren’t taking one every six weeks you’re doing it “wrong.” Take into account your family needs, the age spread of your family, the weather of your part of the country, and find a flexible calendar system that provides you regular breaks from the need to direct everyone’s attentions and actions all day long.