Breaking Down “Attendance”

Attendance days, or school days per year, are not something I have to worry about personally. In Queensland, Australia, I only need to provide a plan for the year and show proof of progress. Our school days, or attendance, is not recorded. But, more than a few times, I’ve gotten comments from people concerned that I might be ‘falling behind’ in school because we are taking a public school day off, or voicing thoughts that we might not ‘get it all done’. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently and wanted to break down the school days per year debate.

First off, I’m starting ahead. In America, the compulsory attendance days are 180 days per year, or 36 weeks. In Australia, our school year is actually 40 weeks, as we don’t have that absurdly long summer break. But, since Australia has very few curricula, most of my books are American. They cover about the same amount (comparing apples and oranges). So I already have 4 weeks up my sleeve ‘extra’

Then, those 180 days INCLUDE days like sports days, excursions/field trips, swimming carnival, under eights day, class party days, and various other forms of school days where no schoolwork occurs. These curricula take that into account, and so, instead of planning for a 9 week term, most plan for an 8 week term. to allow the extra days. This is 32 weeks per year of actual schoolwork planned for in these curricula.

Now, having said all that, I definitely don’t agree with just doing the bare minimum, and homeschoolers aren’t restricted to ‘grades’ and ‘levels’. I work to doing about 36 weeks per year personally, NOT including excursions, and special events. But, if we finish the current grade level math book 3 months ‘early’, then we just start the next one. If we finish our science work halfway through the year, then we just pick up the next years work. And, likewise, if a child struggles with their handwriting and is only two thirds through the book at the end of the year, that’s fine, we just pick up where we left off next year. We aren’t trapped within strict year levels, that’s the beauty of homeschooling.

Another thing we are not trapped in is the school schedule. At times people have seen us having a day out or not doing school one day and make comments. This is especially true when the public schools have just had their own holidays and are now back in school, people will say things such as ‘didn’t you just have a break?’. But, no, we didn’t. Lets face it, anywhere public is miserable during school holidays, they’re overcrowded, full of screaming kids, and you have to wait for EVERYTHING. With the exception of Easter holidays, we intentionally do NOT take the scheduled ‘school holidays’ off. We work around them, so that we can have our time off during the school term, we can go on trips when it’s nice and quiet, a more manageable level of children and crowds, and often cheaper as deals for various events and places come up during the school term.

People keep all sorts of schedules when they homeschool. I knew of families who did 12 week trimesters, and a family who schooled 3 days a week with no holidays at all, which added up to the required days by year end. A popular schedule among unit study families at the moment is 6 weeks on, one week off, which is a routine I put some serious thought into using, but have tweaked considerably. I even knew a mining family who schooled for the 10 days their dad was working, whether it was a weekday or weekend, then took off the 5 days, or whatever it was, he was home, all through the year. They still had holidays, since they were working weekends for that routine.

And that’s another one, weekends. Who determines what a weekend must be? For us, right now, my husband works Tues/Wed/Thur, I work Fri/Sat, so our weekend is Sun/Mon. We do school Tues/Wed/Fri/Sat, and Thur is playgroup/shopping/library day. This works great for us, and means we are free to do family activities on Monday when it’s less crowded. Some people have frowned upon us doing school on a Saturday though, since it’s not the normal routine everyone else follows.

That is another interesting bit of scheduling, our 4 day week. Very common to do back when my husband and I were growing up, both our families kept a 4 day schedule. It seems less popular now though. But, we don’t just miss a day of school each week, we merge the 5 days of work into 4. So, if the maths book calls for 3 pages a day, we will do 4. If a book is set up for a chapter a week, we will still complete that chapter in the week. If we usually do one handwriting sheet a day, we will do two one day a week. An extra 15-30 mins each day gives us a whole day free each week. It doesn’t necessarily work in high school, but, throughout primary and even for 7th and 8th it works very well.

The point of this is all to say that, homeschoolers have the freedom to make the schedule which works for them. They needn’t be restricted to the public schools default plans, so long as, over the course of the year, they are completing what they need to.

So what does that look like for our family right now? 4 day weeks (with a little extra work each day), approx 36 weeks a year. We go off earlier than the schools in summer, finishing the week before the 1st of December, but we also start our school year earlier too, beginning in the first week or two of January instead of waiting until February.  Other than that, and a planned break around Easter, we just do school each week, taking breaks as needed. Sometimes there’s family drama, sometimes kids are sick, and sometimes we are just at burnout and need a week off. We have the freedom to do that, and because we work through standard school holidays, AND use curricula which finish earlier than our countries school terms anyway, we still keep right on track. That’s what works for us, right now, in this season of life. Who knows what it will look like in a few years!

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