Beginning last school year, we started including a Sabbath week in our homeschool schedule, and it has been an excellent addition for us. When I mention this practice, especially on Instagram, I often get questions about what it is or how we do it, so today, I thought I’d share what it looks like for us!
What is a homeschool Sabbath week?
A homeschool Sabbath week, simply put, is a week that is inserted into your homeschool schedule during which you don’t schedule any lessons. Usually, this is done on a rotation of six weeks on and one week off, which follows the idea of having a Sabbath day every week, as outlined in the Bible.
When I first started homeschooling, I scheduled our year very similar to our local public schools and what I grew up with in public and private schools. Generally, we only had longer breaks around holidays, so that we would take one week off for Thanksgiving, two weeks off for Christmas, and another week off in the spring, sometimes around Easter.
However, a Sabbath week is more of a week designed to allow you to rest (or take a Sabbath 😊) from the learning you’ve done the six weeks before that. The week doesn’t necessarily coincide with a holiday but is more just meant to be a break from the usual lesson routine.
Why do I include a Sabbath week in our homeschool schedule?
I include a Sabbath week in our schedule because, after four years of homeschooling with a more traditional schedule, I decided we needed more breaks. As I mentioned above, our schedule was very similar to what our local public schools were doing. We would start the Tuesday after Labor Day (which was actually about a month later than our local public schools, but they ended their school year a few weeks before we did), and then we would not have another break until Thanksgiving. This schedule gave us a little over two and a half months of consistent school with no breaks.
Our weeks were pretty full; we would have four days of school per week, and then every other Friday, we had our homeschool co-op – usually an all-day activity – which was essentially another day of school. On the Fridays that we didn’t have co-op, we planned hikes or had appointments or something else going on. While this isn’t different than an average week of school for any public school kid, I did notice that they often had smaller breaks scattered into their schedule, like teacher workdays and lesser holidays. So I wondered how I could change things for us to allow more breaks as well.
A Sabbath week was something I had originally read about in Teaching from Rest, so I thought we might give it a try. I decided, going into our school year last year, that instead of having a full three months off for the summer with few breaks during our school year, to shorten our summer a little in order to be able to have more breaks during the school year. At the end of the year, I was happy we had done that, and it was a nice improvement for us. Our Sabbath weeks were something to look forward to after our six weeks of school, and then when we were done with our Sabbath week, it always felt good to get back to our routine.
What do we do during a Sabbath week?
How you spend your Sabbath week is really up to you. I know some families who like to keep that week strictly for rest, so they don’t schedule anything else. They don’t do any extra housework or any sort of homeschool planning or activities, and they don’t plan events outside of the home.
It works out well for our family to have a little bit of productivity that week. Because both my husband and I are small business owners and work from our home, I like to spend at least a little time doing some deep cleaning that I couldn’t get to during the six weeks before that. I also like to organize and purge things because our preferred donation center only has drop-off hours in the morning, so it’s easier for me to stop by there during our Sabbath week. I like to fit things in along those lines that aren’t as easy to get to during our regular school weeks.
We also like to schedule mini-vacations during our Sabbath week. These usually aren’t for the whole week (though we have done that as well) but maybe just two or three nights away for a little road trip somewhere relatively close. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we can schedule vacations when other families are not necessarily able to do them because their kids are in school. We have the opportunity to visit popular attractions in the off-season that are usually pretty crowded when everyone is out of school. So a few weeks before our Sabbath week, I’ll begin to plan that. If we don’t end up going on a mini-vacation, we’ll just take a day trip somewhere local or go for a longer hike.
I also do a small amount of school planning for the next six weeks that doesn’t take much time. For instance, some of our recitation pieces change at the six-week point, so I will pick out new ones during that week. I leave this for the Sabbath week rather than planning it all out before our school year starts because sometimes there may have been something that we read during that six weeks that one of the kids would like to learn for a recitation piece. So I do end up doing a few school things, but I try not to do any more considerable planning for school as I take care of most of that before the school year begins.
I did get a question once about how we do exams, and right now, I include exams during our Sabbath weeks, but only the two that are between terms (after week 12 and week 24). Because of this, those weeks don’t follow the strict definition of Sabbath weeks. However, our exams don’t take the whole week at this point in our homeschool journey because I have just two kids in lower forms (usually, we’re done by Wednesday). This may get more complicated as the kids get older, and I’ll have to revisit how we do Sabbath weeks at that point. Right now, though, because our exams don’t take an entire week, I do still feel that we’re getting a little bit of a break during those weeks.
Otherwise, I like to keep it an open slate. It’s a week where we don’t have a lot of things scheduled, and we’re able to catch up on chores around the house or spend some unstructured time together. At the end of the week, we feel rested and ready to get back into our school routine because other things are taken care of, or we were able to spend some extended time together outside of lessons.
How do we schedule our Sabbath weeks?
Scheduling our Sabbath weeks is pretty straightforward for the first part of the year. When I’m sitting down to do our school year planning, I see when Thanksgiving is, and then I count six weeks back from that. The week just before the six-week mark is our first Sabbath week of the year, and then I count another six weeks before that week, and that’s the start of our school year (in other words, 13 weeks before the week of Thanksgiving). In the last two years, this ended up being the third week of August. So whereas before, we were starting the Tuesday after Labor Day, we now begin about two weeks before that. This schedule still works out well because the public schools in our area start the first or second week of August, so we still have about two weeks to take advantage of less crowded public places.
Then we have a week off for Thanksgiving, followed by three to four weeks of school between Thanksgiving and Christmas break, before we take two weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s Eve/Day.
I like to keep the period of time between Christmas break and the end of our second term, which is when we would take another Sabbath week, flexible. I don’t schedule a specific Sabbath week because the second term is already broken up with Christmas break. Usually, in February (when there isn’t a pandemic shutting everything down), I am part of a retreat for which I appreciate having extra time to prepare. Another option is to look at how many weeks there are between Christmas break and the beginning of your third term and take a break at the midway point.
Six weeks after the start of term three, we have another Sabbath week, and then another six weeks after that, we’re done with our school year. With this schedule, we were able to take two months off last summer, so we still get a more extended break in the summer, and it’s so nice to have those other breaks scattered throughout the year as well!