Summer Vacation for the Catholic Homeschooler

This Monday, our Humble Homeschool officially went into summer session! We’ve done the year-round-school thing before (a rough first trimester and newborn in one school year will do that to a girl), but when I got honest with myself, I realized it’s really not my style. I need some time off each year to just be mom. Not teacher. Just mom. I don’t know about you, but mom seems to be quite enough–wonderfully, gloriously, blessedly enough.

It’s weird in some ways, this homeschooling life. When the world is your classroom, school’s kind of always open. When you’re your children’s primary educator (and news flash: every parent is), you never really take a “break” from teaching. There’s always some sparked curiosity, some niggling question, some uncharted territory, or some book begging to be read, and we are so. there. All in, all the way.

Which is why, sometimes, it’s good to take a break. Well, as much as we’re able.

Personally in we have a few skills we’ll be continuing in our home through summer. Both Huckleberry and Sugar will be continuing with handwriting through the summer months, not much, just a couple of pages a day. My thinking is: (1) practice makes perfect, and (2) without all the “more important” subjects weighing us down, I will have the bandwidth to be really nitpicky about ahem, excuse me *attentive to* their technique.

Huckleberry will also be continuing with math, since we took the foot of the gas part way through the year to really master some concepts, and so haven’t quite finished off the curriculum. (This is one of the things I love most about homeschooling. You really can work at your kid’s individual pace, and nobody gets left behind!) In addition, I have a pile of read alouds that I cannot wait to dive into!!

So with all this going on, what does it mean to have a summer break? Well, I don’t know what it looks like in your home, but if you’re looking for some ideas, here’s what it looks like in ours.

1. No Planning Allowed

This is pretty much the clincher for me. I am a planner by nature. I’m also a neurotic re-planner (any other INFJs in the house?). I love creating systems… and then I love tweaking them… and tweaking them… and tweaking them. Okay, so I might be a little alotta Type A. But here’s the thing: sometimes I need a break. Much as I love all this tweaking, it can seriously fatigue me: mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Sometimes, I need to go with the flow. I need to let go and let God. And the easiest way for me to actually do that is not have anything I feel like I should be planning.

So: school work in the summer is okay (see above), but for me, it has to be something that requires no effort on my part beyond handing out the paperwork and grading it at day’s end. That means, all the math work is printed out and in a binder; I just grab what’s needed for the day and plunk it on the school table; and handwriting is just in their workbooks. Okay, okay, I know we need to plan for next year. I know we love to plan for next year. But if you’re doing any schoolwork (like we are), do not choose to do anything that requires significant teacher effort. No planning, no tweaking, no brain power needed. (And all the Type A homeschoolers said, Amen!)

2. Peace In/Grace Out

This is another one of those balance things. I’m an introvert, which means I’m a homebody. During the school year, though, my home is also my classroom. As a stay-at-home home educator, home is my job. And there are no vacations. So, I create them. Summer break is one of the ways I do that. It’s the time I take home back and find peace there. It means I give myself permission to say no more often than not. No to that home improvement project, no to filling up the calendar, no to tweaking complicating my meal planning or my laundry or chore systems.

It also means I say yes to things I normally wouldn’t when the pressures of home-school-life is keeping me busy from September to May. Yes to the slip-and-slide, yes to breakfast on the porch (no clean-up!), yes to sleeping in the tent in the backyard. Yes, yes, yes to cherishing my little people and to relishing every messy, slowpoke, dreamy, snuggly, whimsical whim! This is the time I get to be that “fun,” relaxed mom I wish I could be all year round. Some homeschoolers manage to pull it off, but if I did that, seriously y’all nothing–and I mean nothing–would get done.

The good news is, that’s the whole point of summer break! Nothing needs to get done. And praise the Good Lord in Heaven for it! Hallelujah!

The other side of this balancing act is the “Grace Out” part – and by that I mean that summer break is the time when I can be extra attentive to the needs of my village. Sure I still reach out through the school year, but during the summertime, my capacity to do so is vastly expanded. I can make park dates with my mommy friends who have all littles and need to meet when I’m usually doing school. I can make more meals for more new parents. I can dive more deeply into ministry I need to pull back from during the school year so I can focus on my primary vocation. Summer break is a gift to myself, but at its best, it also leaves me more available to make a gift of myself. I’m so grateful I get to do that.

“Grace Out” is also about showering grace wherever we’re out and about. We do this all year, but we just happen to be out and about more in the summer months. Less school, less rain. It’s a win-win for outside fun.

I try to encourage my kids to bring their joy of Christ and their servants’ hearts with them whenever and wherever we go. That means going above and beyond the expected. It means holding doors for strangers, looking people in the eye with charity no matter who they are, leaving a place cleaner than we found it, keeping an eye out for whoever is lonely or marginalized or forgotten and reaching out in love. It means that when our large family sticks out in the crowd, we try to do it less like a sore thumb and more like a light on a hill. And believe me when I say, we only ever succeed in this by the grace of God, and that means we need to approach our outings with humility and cover them in prayer. Then whatever grace he extends (and it’s always extravagant), we get to share it with those we encounter wherever we go.

And speaking of going places…

3. Vacation Like a Catholic (not a Homeschooler)

I know, I know: museums, national parks, Little House RV trips! We homeschoolers just adore cramming as much learning potential into our vacations as we can. But during the summer, I try to rein things in a bit. Or if I can’t quite rein in, then I at least try to focus our vacation on the things that matter infinitely more than book larnin’, namely: deep faith, and deep love.

In addition to all those fun and educational excursions, may I suggest:

  • getting out in God’s Creation, not to study, just to marvel.
  • taking a pilgrimage
  • finding a peaceful getaway to just be present to each other as a family
  • finding opportunities to serve

Whatever you do, wherever you go, be sure to hold your agenda loosely, and hold God and each other close, and I promise you will come home blessed and more refreshed.

4. Evaluate with Grace

While things are still fresh in our minds, it’s important to be honest about what went well and what went, well, less than wonderfully this past school year. If you can do this with a hefty measure of grace, you’ll be able to keep a lid on that little voice inside that threatens to turn your honest assessment into a misguided opportunity to criticize your efforts. Ask yourself the hard questions, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember, it’s not just the kids who are learning at home. It’s a matter of course that you’ll be learning and growing, too. To paraphrase Anne Shirley, next year is always fresh with no mistakes in it.

If you’re having trouble coming up with some questions to guide you in evaluating where you flew and where you need to grow, here’s a list from Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers that I personally found really helpful. (My additional thoughts are parenthetical.)

  1. What’s working and what isn’t?
  2. Are my kids all happy at home?
  3. Is the curriculum that I love really the best thing for my kids?
  4. Who’s struggling and in which areas? (Think holistically: academics, physical health, emotional intelligence, spiritual life, habits…)
  5. Does someone need more “outside the home” time?
  6. Do I need more (or different) “mama time” away from the kids to refuel? (I have found knowing my personality type really beneficial in figuring out how I specifically refuel. Hint: It’s not Mom’s Night Outs.)
  7. Does our homeschool space still work for us, or do we need to rearrange?
  8. What areas am I struggling in right now, and what can I do to improve them?
  9. Do I need help in certain areas and I’m too prideful to ask for it?
  10. Do my kids and I enjoy homeschooling?

A few questions I think every Catholic homeschooling mama should add:

  1. Am I taking full advantage of the sacraments?
  2. Am I seeking God’s will in my homeschool, or have I been trying to succeed on my own terms and on my own strength?
  3. Am I spending time daily (enough time and the right kind of time for me) with God to fuel myself as a catechist and a mother?
  4. Have I sought my husband’s guidance and heeded his advice in my schooling choices, or could I improve my listening skills?
  5. What virtues have I grown in this year and which do I need to cultivate moving forward?
  6. What vices do I need to humbly bring to God in confession, knowing he is ready with all the grace I need?
  7. Am I still being called to homeschool?

5. Find Joy

Sometimes a year doesn’t go the way we wish. We homeschoolers can easily wind up burned out and seriously let down if we’re not careful. Even when things are going well, we still run the risk of being drained, just by the wear and tear of living and learning day in and day out. Sometimes, we lose the forest for the trees. Summer break is the perfect time to reconnect with your vision and rediscover joy in your vocation.

Spend some time really listening to your needs and learn what brings you joy. What activities refresh you? Which relationships make you come alive? Which little daily habit or chore could you make more enjoyable if you wed it to what inspires you? What corner of your world could be made more beautiful? What makes your soul sing? Do those things; find that friend; relish that routine task; beautify that corner; sing that soul song, sister. This is your season in the sun, so claim it and soak it up.

Above all else, seek God. Draw close to him, and let him lead you. Let him cover you in his compassion and fill you up with his grace. Approach all of creation with gratitude to the Creator, live life abundantly in Christ, and joy–deep, abundant, awesome joy–is yours if you simply open our hands and let him fill your heart.

I’d love to hear your heart. Do you take a “summer break” and if so, what does it look like? How are you planning to refresh yourself this summer? What is the melody of your summer soul song?