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Year-round schooling is already a way of life for almost 360,000 children is what would otherwise be overcrowded public schools. To meet the demands of a growing student population without spending more money on new buildings, some school districts have put children on varying schedules of forty-five days of schools, followed by fifteen days of vacation. By running several tracks of these schedules simultaneously, schools can make better use of their classroom space all year.
Although eliminating overcrowding is the major advantage of year-round schooling touted by some public school officials, other benefits are of interest to home educators. With the flexibility inherent in the home school, a year-round schedule seems a natural companion to home education--perhaps more natural than the conventional schedule.
Certain activities, such as swimming, visiting farms or national parks, taking nature hikes, and going on summer mission trips, provide educational opportunities perhaps not available during the conventional school year. By working these activities into the curricular schedule, parents can supplement the subjects being studied with real-life experiences. For example, chapter 10, "Design of Nature," in Science 5 can be much more memorable if students have the opportunity to trek through the woods and find the bird feathers discussed in the lesson. By planning some astronomy lessons for the summer, parents can show their children the often unobserved constellations of the summer sky.
Because parents usually work all year long, a year-round school schedule is actually a more realistic picture of the adult world. Of course, children need not be in class every day of the calendar year, but neither must the learning process stop at some magic "last day" in May or June. This freedom to teach during the summer allows parents to schedule vacations whenever their work and family obligations will permit, without the usual pressure to meet a deadline.
Another advantage is the reduced amount of review time. Instead of having to recall what was taught sixty school days ago, children's memories will need to span only a fifteen- or twenty-day period. And for those who teach shorter days all year long, the need for review can be even less, depending on the strategy. For example, if a parent concentrates on four subjects one week and then moves on the four other subjects the next week, he will need to review the first four subjects when he returns to them the third week. But if a parent teaches a little bit in every subject every day and distributes his teaching days evenly over the calendar year, his child is not likely to need much review. The strategy should suit the child's learning ability.
Parents who teach year-round can also enjoy a practical advantage: ordering materials in the off-season. By starting and ending the instruction period at a time different from that of the conventional school, such as January-December instead of September-May, home educators can purchase textbooks and supplies at a time when orders are typically at their lowest. Service is generally faster in the off-season, and local stores may be eager to clear out unsold back-to-school merchandise.
As with any conventional idea, year-round schooling has some disadvantages. The least of these, yet the one met with the most resistance, is the problem of children being "out of sync" with most children their age. Unless an entire school district is on a year-round plan, home school children will often find themselves in class while others are out for vacation, or vice-versa. Some parents believe that the adjustment for the children in this schedule is too difficult.
Another problem is the need to adjust teaching materials to the year-round schedule. In the 45/15-day plan, the school year or grade level is divided into four units, each consisting of nine weeks of instruction followed by three weeks of vacation. Even though this preserves the 180 days of instruction on which most curricula are built, a subject may not lend itself to breaking right at nine weeks. And if parents choose a more spread-out plan, such as four hours of instruction a day all year, they will probably need to reorganize the curriculum thoroughly.
The greatest disadvantage to home educators is the reduced amount of long-term planning time. On the typical schedule, a parent can order a whole grade's worth of teacher's manuals in May, receive them in June, look them over until August, and be ready September 1. But with any year-round schedule, the parent has to plan his preparation time almost a year in advance in order to have the same sixty weekdays or preparation for the coming school year.
Like home education itself, year-round schooling is not for everyone. But for those already committed to teaching at home, a year-round schedule may suit the needs of the family much better than the conventional schedule. Such a change, sweeping though it may be, may enhance not only the quality but also the enjoyment of the learning process for parent and child alike.