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There are a lot of photos on my Facebook feed today, reminding me that outside our little Lively Learning House, many local kids are celebrating their last day of school. They hold up signs to tell us which grade it is they are finishing, toothy grins abound. Some children are wearing jackets as it's a rainy, blustery day out there. Not so great for lingering on the playground to say goodbye to friends, but I'm hoping that parents still keep their promises for a celebratory ice cream cone or other treat to commemorate the end of the academic year.
Year-round homeschooling, though, does not offer an official 'end' of anything. Kiddo will likely tell people he's going into fifth grade if they ask, but we have really moved out of that way of thinking. Learning is something that is constantly happening. We might take off a week or two of formal work, but those are spaced out between weeks of focused assignments. Our breaks are connected to what's happening in our family. A few months ago, we took most of Spring Break off because his friends in public school were off, too. It was a good time to get together with buddies. A few weeks ago, he had several days off of school-- he had traveled to Florida with his father to visit family, and between the day-before excitement, packing, and subsequent jet lag, a one week visit needed a few extra days off as a cushion. The first day back into studies is always a bumpy ride, but not nearly as big of an adjustment as the September return-to-school usually was. We can ease back into things and build up our stamina for school, rediscover what we were studying before the break and move forward in just a few days.
This adjustment to year round learning is one which works for our family. Summer learning loss was very real previously, and we spent money for tutoring to keep his skills sharp. Now, though, with year round school, different challenges arise. How to keep school feeling good,fresh, and, albeit not my first intention, dare I say it- fun. It is that balance of having enough routine to help school feel predictable without falling into the trap of being boring. Schools do it by having those little distractions like Spirit Week: Crazy Hair Day; wearing one's school colors; Pajama Day... all those fun and silly times when some kids feel more excited about going than usual. Those little public school celebrations which we have become accustomed to culturally here in the US do serve a purpose.
Without a larger student body, though, things don't quite have the same charm. Pajama day? There is nothing novel about seeing Mom in yesterday's shirt and fleece pajama pants. Crazy hair day? Who's going to see it, besides the people at the grocery store or maybe a friend in the afternoon? School colors? Well, um.... the house is orange and white, so are those the school colors? Who knows.
What I have learned, so far, is that keeping school fun means taking the time to think about what Kiddo is excited about, and then to run with it. A few days ago, Kiddo was completely stoked; he had just used his own money to purchase a rank on a video game. (For those of you who haven't lost part of your brain to a deluge of Minecraft information, players can pay a certain fee to have special privileges within the game and to unlock special abilities on a specific server.) When I told Kiddo that we were having his favorite, pasta and meatballs that evening, he shouted "We could have a party to celebrate me getting Lifetime MVP!"
And so we did. The party consisted of my making dinner, him making a paper replica of his game character, and then watching the Lego Batman movie together, which had arrived earlier that day. To me, it was a fun evening with lots of dishes, but to him, it was so much more. It was something to look forward to, something relatively spontaneous and simple which meant something to him. That was the beauty of it: like the Spirit Days at public school, it was something small which had meaning because of the energy and excitement he brought to it. I couldn't have planned it to make it any better. Sometimes, simple is the way to go.
A few days ago, we had been told that yesterday was the last day of school. Bright and sunny, even though it wasn't our last day, the awareness of it put me in the mind to go for a walk and get some ice cream for Kiddo. Besides, we needed a few groceries. It was a gorgeous day and we traveled through the streets down to 28th and Burnside, soaking up the Vitamin D and looking at houses, talking of all manner of things. We grabbed some bread at the store and then headed over to 50 Licks for a treat. Kiddo wanted a blood orange creamsicle ice cream in a waffle cone; I chose a more conservative sugar cone with a small scoop of some wonderful coconut milk based treat with chocolate and caramel. (The lactose-intolerant of us are in luck; 50 Licks offered at least 4 vegan options, and not just your usual fruit sorbet suspects but CHOCOLATE and other delights!) Taking our cones, we walked around the Kenton neighborhood for a while, chatting and looking at the dogs wandering with their humans, the cats in various windows,wondering at bugs and my endless delight in other people's gardens.
Tomorrow is a school day; next week, we will play some, school some. I think this is the rhythm which feels respectful of Kiddo's whole person as well as my own. On Monday, we go with friends to the Oregon Trail interpretive center. We've been studying a lot about First Americans, Lewis and Clark, and Westward Expansion, so this trip will be business and pleasure of course. Over the summer, we have nearly a month of half-day camps and he's got a week of Scouting camp with his buddies. We have a busy time ahead of us. I know, in the coming months, I'll continue listening for those moments he wants to celebrate and remember. We will find ways to bring a little extra zip and joy into our lives, even when we have a day's worth of learning to do. Finding bright spots along the way means keeping one's eyes open and appreciating all that life has to offer, even when it seems like something silly or unimportant. Because it's not-- not to him, anyway. Those are hopefully the moments which will remind him, sometime in the future, that sometimes homeschooling was tough, but it was also fun. Educating and nourishing not only our brains, but our hearts and souls as well.