Inspiration From a New England Farm Village

I’m enjoying a five-day break from homeschooling this week; however, after learning about life in a New England farm village during the 1800’s — and in particular how very different the school year was from that of today — I’m seriously considering making a change to our school calendar…

We currently follow a slightly modified version of the local public school calendar, beginning our year in early August, and finishing in mid-May — following a six-week on, one-week off pattern (with two weeks off at Christmas) for a total of 180 days.  Instruction in a 19th century New England farm village, on the other hand, revolved around the spring and fall harvesting seasons and took place from December to March and mid-May to August — almost a complete reversal of our modern school calendar year– and the latter session was  completely optional, to accommodate children who helped on the farm.

I’m half-way through my week off, now,  but instead of planning my children’s lessons for the next six weeks, I’ve been busy catching up on all of the gardening and other chores around our new homestead that haven’t been tended to during the last six weeks while we’ve been learning about the Great Papal Schism, reading about the adventures of Ivanhoe, constructing a medieval castle, and practicing all of the other fundamentals of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic.  With all of the fruits and vegetables that need harvesting, weeds that need uprooting, winter seeds that need sowing,  new garden plots that need constructing, and a myriad of other gardening chores that need tending to, I’m beginning to see the wisdom and logic behind the New England school schedule and am contemplating a re-structuring of ours.

Given that we enjoy a 240+ day growing season here, in the Central Valley of California, if we strictly designed our school year around the planting and harvesting seasons,  it’s possible that we could spend as little as four months in formal instruction.  Only during the hottest months of July and August and the coldest months of December and January, when there’s not a lot going on in the garden,  would we turn our attention to schooling.  I don’t know how wise it would be try and cram 180 days worth of learning into about half as many, but my children would probably jump at the chance to have a four-month school year — that is, until they discovered that their eight-month break would be spent outdoors, with me, completely caring for, managing, and maintaining all of the animals, gardens, and landscaping around our homestead.

A more realistic schedule, that I’m mulling over, is  a seven month calendar that would take place from June to August and November to February.  Our “fall break” would be occurring now and would last until the end of October, a perfect amount of time to plant out winter cover crops, start brassicae, lettuce and spinach seedlings, sow radish seeds, and transplant all of the seedlings before the first hard frosts of the year take over.  In the month of November, as the temperatures turned colder, we’d head indoors to take up our studies, once again, until March when we’d embark a long “spring vacation”:  four months of concentrated time,  until the end of June, when  we’d turn our attention to a new planting and harvesting season of warm-weather crops, like cucumbers, melons, squash, tomatoes,  potatoes, onions, pumkins.  A new school year would begin, again, in June, just as the sizzling heat of summer began to take over.  There would be no cause for the usual, “I’m bored!” remarks during these long, summer days, as our days would, largely, be occupied with more learning.

The only down side that I  foresee with this type of schedule is that it would conflict with the school year of all of my children’s friends —  we’d be on vacation while they’d still be in school and vice versa.  They are already a little up in arms over our current schedule, which doesn’t always line up with their friends’, so I don’t think switching to this one would go over very well, at all.

I’m going to spend some more time thinking and praying about it, though.  There are so many positives, in my opinion, to transitioning to a school year that revolves around our local growing season.  Even though it goes against the flow of what everyone else is doing around here, and it’s probably not something that my children want,  it might be just the thing our family needs to make better use of our time, develop a stronger work ethic, and labor more efficiently all year ’round.

So, instead of enjoying a mere one-week off, perhaps I need to take a two-month hiatus, like the New England farm residents of yore, and bring my kids outside for a different kind of education, where they learn the value of hard, physical labor, the joy of bringing their own food to harvest, and the sense of what it takes to care for, manage, and maintain a homestead — something modern-day children know little of, but something 19th century New Englanders have inspired me to do something about — whether we end up making a change to our school calendar or not.