Over the past three and a half years, there has been plenty of changes in the way I run our homeschool, but there’s one thing that has worked brilliantly and that we’ve stuck with since the beginning. 6 week school blocks, with a week off in between, in place of the traditional 10 week terms with two weeks of holidays. By the end of the year, we’ve covered off the same amount of weeks (and more material!) as a mainstream school, without the end of term tired grumpiness we used to experience back when the three bigger kids were in school.
Last week was our final break of the year before we spend the next 6 weeks wrapping up our year before summer holidays. Normally, our break weeks don’t look a whole lot different to our school weeks, just a bit less book work. If you were to take a peek in my school record daybook, there would be times you would be hard pressed to pick the difference. So much of the play and activities in break time are inspired by our school learning, and I can apply it towards our learning outcomes. This break, however, I was feeling all very 2020, and despite a backyard of 150 acres, the thought of another week at home, without the structure of school, made me feel somewhat claustrophobic. Compared to normal, we’ve travelled very little in the last 12 months, and especially so since our Coffs excursion in March. I was more than ready for a change of scenery, so towards the end of last week, I made the impromptu decision to throw the kids in the car and head south for a couple of days at the zoo.
Last year on the way home from a weekend trip to Parkes, we’d stopped in at the Zoo on the way home for a couple of hours, and ever since, the children have been asking for a return visit. Then we wrapped up last school block with personal research, which ended up being animal focused, and there’s been a lot of zoo play among the younger three, so it seemed the ideal option for a spring escape.
The first day of school break was actually a work day for me, when I shot a wedding, before coming home to finish sewing myself a new top. In between all that, I finally let the children in on our plans for the week, and got them busy packing. The top got finished, the wedding got uploaded to the editor, and it was holiday time! We left after church and lunch Sunday, so we could make the most of the two days of our zoo tickets, and thought we were tired by the time we arrived at the cabin right on dinner time, it was worth it.
On our last visit, there were tears when we said, being pressed for time, we would have to drive around, and not hire a cart or some bikes, so this time, the five hour drive was soundtracked by more than a few debates on exactly what everyone’s preferred method of getting around was. The final decision was we would start with a cart on Monday, and possibly do the bikes on Tuesday. The children loved the novelty of the electric cart, and did a fabulous job of negotiating a front-seat-back-bench-boring-middle seating roster without requiring me to get involved. As we were on a deadline, we hit the highlights on the way round, and returned the cart in time to have a picnic lunch on the zoo lawns, along with a play on the flying fox and playground. The afternoon was warming up so we decided to hit up the pool and waterpark at the caravan park. And by “we”, I mean the kids went in the pool, I found a shady spot with my book.
It’s odd, being a homeschooler travelling during term time. My crew were the oldest by far, and all the other mums were in the pool, holding toddler hands, at least half of them sporting a cute little baby bump as well, and here’s me, past that hyper-dependant, hands-on-parenting stage, book in hand, not needing to do much beyond occassionally hollering at the teen to let his brothers go first on the waterslide. As much as I loved the toddler stage, I do appreciate the joy of older kids that don’t require me to get in a pool at the first hint of summer.
Of course, me being me, I couldn’t find myself in a larger town, without finding my way to Spotlight. And of course, me being me, I couldn’t go into a Spotlight and walk out empty handed. I swear I only went in to pick up the carving rubber I couldn’t get in Armidale a couple of weeks ago, but then I accidentally fell into the apparel fabric section, and, well… suddenly I had two metres of fabric and zero plan of what I was going to do with it, but plans are over-rated.
While the trip was intended as more school excursion than holiday, in the children’s minds, it was a holiday. And holidays need special treats, so I let them convince me to head out for dinner at Hogs Breath, which they love but hardly ever get to go to. I even went all out and let them have a fizzy drink AND an icecream dessert. The hedonism, it was out of control.
We headed back to the zoo reasonably early day two, and in the end, decided to walk the circuit instead of hiring bikes. I was really glad we did, actually, it simplified things, I wasn’t trying to keep track of five bikes and five helmets and we could just wander around at our own pace. Our first stop was the gift shop, where the three little ones had their pocket money burning a hole in their pockets, and we walked out with three new furry friends – Havoc the Kelpie, Hedwig the Owl, and Alice the Camel. All three became the primary source of the children’s documentations of the day, with every enclosure needing a photo of the new friend with the zoo animal in question. We decided to jump on the Savannah Safari bus, which they absolutely loved, and have been raving about ever since. We also continued the “may as well call it a holiday” theme and had a treat lunch at the kiosk halfway around, though I think they enjoyed the meerkat enclosure with pop-up bubble even more than the bought lunch. By the time we got all the way around, my fitness app told me we’d walked 9km, most of it without complaint from the small folk. Mister 7 got a bit tired part of the way, but a shot of Magic Walking Juice (aka holding mummy’s hand) and showing Alice the actual real life camels, had him back on track.
The afternoon saw us back at the waterpark, though it didn’t take long before all the walking caught up with them, and we headed back to the cabin. The kids settled in for some cartoons, and I set myself up on the patio with a mineral water, a packet of chips, and my book. Maybe the trip was indeed closer to holiday than school excursion!
Once we were up and moving Wednesday morning, we really got going, and once the car was packed, we realised if we hit the road and powered through to home with minimal stops, we would just about be home in time to catch the tail end of daddy’s lunch break. They all agreed that would be pretty cool, so with that, we were off, homeward bound. We turned on ABC radio to keep abreast of any developments in the US, stopped once for a, ahem, “comfort break”, and once for a coffee top up (for mummy, not the small folk). The benefit of the early arrival was that the car was unpacked, the washing on, and the house tidied, and all before afternoon tea time.
The remainder of our week off was a bit of a mixed bag. Thursday was full of all those chores that need to get done after a trip away – grocery top ups, mail collections, errands. I did manage to make a start on cutting a new project – cutting fabric for some shorts. Friday was calmer, with plenty of free play, bushwalks, and sewing time. The weekend similarly disappeared in a haze of quilting, dinners out with family, and in an attempt to drag out those holiday feels as long as possible, an afternoon of reading and getting a new book started (and finished), with a cheeky bevvie.
In the way of Monday mornings, it rolled around far too quickly, but at the same time, once we sat down at the school table, it was good to be back into our familiar rhythm, and kick off our final block of formal learning for the year. 6 weeks of lessons, along with our renewal due in mid-December, and the summer break will be well earned by the time it rolls around!