My boys are one week into Summer break. In Scotland, Summer break was approximately six weeks long; here in Pennsylvania the Summer break is ten weeks long. That month difference could prove significant.
Today, for instance, I have already had to thwart some insurrections. My kids get “electronics time” twice a week with bonus time some weekends. Today is one of those days when they can play the computer or a games console. The rule is that they can have a couple of hours in the afternoon. My oldest interpreted that as meaning that at noon precisely he could jump on the computer and lose himself in Minecraft. Despite informing him, several times, that I would determine when electronics time commenced and that certainly it would be after we had eaten lunch, he was checking the various clocks in the house every few minutes. He then decided to launch a legal case that “afternoon” literally meant “after noon” and that, therefore, I was being unjust and that he should be able to switch the computer on as soon as the minute hand moved past the 12. That’s not the type of law we practice around here. That attempted revolution was put down. Meanwhile – because my kids launch attacks at me like velociraptors – my other three sons were trying to flout my “outside time” rule. I told all four that they had to play outside in the fresh air for a while. I should have been more specific clearly because every few minutes they were asking me when they could go back inside. Next time I will set an alarm. And booby trap the doors. This is because, as I was working in the house upstairs, the three younger ones were sneaking into the house downstairs. I, therefore, had to defeat that rebellion too.
This is just day seven of the summer break.
The usual pattern of our summer breaks was that we would sludge around, recovering from a busy school year, for the first few days; we would then embark on trips out and about to castles and standing stones and forests and lochs on the sunny days and would play games and watch movies on the rainy days; we would have a break away from our own four walls and for Mr Pict a break from work by going to visit my in-laws in England for a couple of weeks; and throughout it all I would be “homeschooling” the boys by working on a themed project. In creating such a programme, I not only got to be an anal-retentive, control-freak, colour-coded diagrams and spreadsheets mother to my heart’s content, but my kids were always kept busy, engaged and stimulated. That was how I prevented anarchy: keep the colonies so busy that they can’t find time or energy to organise a rebellion. I also organised the learning projects to prevent recidivism in their learning over the Summer break.
But that was for five or six weeks. This year I have to fill ten weeks with fun and activities, keeping my potential rebels engaged, keep their brain matter charged. In some respects, it should be easier. The weather is more consistent and certainly more accurately predicable here which means I can make plans for trips without those plans being thwarted or go for treks wearing appropriate clothing rather than, as we used to have to do, dressing for the beach while also packing wet weather gear. Now that we live in the suburbs of a major city rather than a small and remote town, we have easier and quicker access to a wider range of activities – such as the cinema and museums – to add to our usual outings for walks and explorations. However, ten weeks is still a lot of time to fill.
Furthermore, this year I have decided not to organise a homeschooling summer project. This is a decision I may live to regret. In previous years we learned about, for example, the continents, about knights and castles and two years ago I put together a massive project on each of the 50 United States plus Washington DC – which has subsequently proved handy. Last year – knowing our summer was going to be disrupted by a whole lot of immigration hoo ha and that our possessions were being packed up and shipped – we decided to create animated movies using lego so the kids got to storyboard, direct, build, film and edit stories (they chose recreations of Universal’s monster movies). This year I was going to teach them History of Art. However, my parents are visiting for the whole of July and the boys’ other grandparents are visiting in August so we will be busy touring around with them plus hopefully packing up and moving (yet again) so I decided – in my myopic wisdom – to keep things simple. Instead, we would pick up our curtailed lego animation project and work on it again.
One week in, however, and I am remembering the other reason why I homeschooled my kids so intensely: they need structure and routine and order. They are not kids who thrive on endless flexibility and freedom. That way chaos lies. Essentially they are my children, products of my nurturing. They now need the lesson plans, lists and spreadsheets as much as I do. Oh dear. Oh dear because now it is too late. I cannot put together an entire learning programme, gather materials and organise resources without a lot of planning time. This year, therefore, we are going to have to wing it. Hopefully between all of the trips we will be taking with their various grandparents, including a short vacation, and the fact that the school has provided them with packs of math and literacy work, they will be kept occupied enough to not plot a coup against me.
But I am going to start planning next Summer’s History of Art project as soon as they return to school in September.