OK, this may be a stupid question, but how long should our homeschool year be? This is our first year homeschooling, and I’m not sure how to know when it’s time for summer vacation.
I’m actually a terrible person to answer this question — when we started homeschooling (in the middle of my daughter’s 2nd grade year), I was so indecisive about when to stop that we ended up becoming year-round homeschoolers. We just kept going until September rolled back around. It worked, so we’ve been doing it ever since. But maybe that also makes me a good person to answer this question because I can honestly say that you can make your year as long as you want to.
Some states require homeschoolers to log a certain number of learning days each year, so of course you want to make sure that if your state has such a requirement, your homeschool plan meets it. Beyond that legal essential, though, deciding when to declare it summer in your homeschool is up to you.
Some curricula make this easy. When you finish them, you can close up shop and call it a year for math or history. That’s easy if your students generally keep pace with the curriculum, but if your child works faster or slower or if she’s faster in some subjects and slower in others, it can be trickier: If you finish one book in January, it makes sense to start a new one, but what if you finish in April? Or what if it’s August, and you’re still plugging away at history?
It might be simplest to just pick an official date as your “last day of school” — your homeschool’s “last day of school” might match up to the date your local school closes or be the week your pool opens or just be the first day May — and say “This is when our year ends.” Bookmarks go into unfinished curriculum, evaluations get written, and you clean up the school stacks. That doesn’t mean you shut down learning, obviously. Homeschooling is a year-round process, whether you put the books away for the summer or not, but you can set a date to stop doing structured learning time unless a kid specifically requests it.
You can also follow my lead and just keep a casual homeschool going year-round. The benefit to year-round homeschooling is that it’s easy to introduce new books and curricula as they become appropriate, and you always know that you can go as fast or as slow as you want without worrying about a deadline. (The downside is that you miss out on all those “New curriculum!” photos in late summer — though personally, just buying things as we need them has worked out pretty well for me.) A year-round homeschool doesn’t mean you’re always “doing school;” you just spread breaks out through the year, so you might take a month off to watch the Olympics or a week off for birthdays.
However you decide to end your academic year, make sure you pause to celebrate your success. One of my friends makes a cake with her kids to mark the end of the great year; we usually plan a pancakes-and-pool-day fiesta at the end of summer to celebrate starting a new grade. When you decide to start and stop isn’t really important, so if you try something this summer that doesn’t feel right, you can adopt a different practice next year. Just like every other part of homeschooling, knowing how your annual schedule runs is something that you’ll figure out for your family one year at a time.