Balanced Calendar – Learning in All Seasons
Swan School prides itself in putting children first. Since 1983 we have always asked ourselves, “What is best for children? What supports the educational needs of Swan School students?” A few years ago we looked at the structure of the academic calendar in the context of these questions and we realized that there is a better way.
Beginning in 2012 Swan School enhanced its strong program by balancing the school calendar. The question now is, “What makes a balanced school calendar so much better for children?” The traditional yearly school schedule was originally designed to allow students time to work on their families’ farms during the busiest times of the farming year. Even though our local economy has changed drastically since the days when most families earned their livelihood from the land, today’s traditional school schedule still mirrors that earlier need for family farm labor. In addition to the agricultural context, the traditional academic calendar also best supports a school structure that has children organized into grade levels with same-aged peers. This structure was originally put in place during the industrial revolution and is often referred to as a “factory model.” In the single-grade structure the assumption is that all children learn at the same pace and have roughly the same needs based on their age. Curriculum in this structure is very systematic and tied directly to the school calendar – each grade level can be viewed as a step on a staircase. The effect on each child’s education is to lock them into blocks where learning is experienced one step at a time.
A multiage school structure, on the other hand, views learning as a continuous process – more closely resembling a path than a staircase. Children follow their path meandering a bit here and there with numerous ups and downs that often follow their own growth spurts. Although there are common goals and benchmarks, multiage continuous learning structures are much more individualized – and more natural. A balanced school calendar best supports this structure. In fact, research has shown that there is a disconnect between the way in which the traditional school calendar is set up and the manner in which children learn – continuously. A schedule that distributes time at school and time away from school more equitably throughout the year makes more sense given children’s natural learning rhythm.
There have been a number of research studies that have focused on student achievement in modified and balanced calendar learning environments. Nearly all of these have shown positive results, especially in the areas of math and reading. Research has also shown that balanced academic calendars improve overall school climate, reduce student and teacher burnout, and improve attendance. In addition to supporting the way children learn, a balanced school calendar supports families’ home lives as well.
A balanced calendar does not mean that there are fewer vacations or that families lose their summer vacation. Instead it means that in place of a number of short breaks and one long break, there are several breaks of roughly equal length as well as a shorter than traditional summer break (this of course also means that sessions in school are distributed into roughly equal lengths). When teachers have been asked how a balanced school calendar supports children’s educational needs, they point to the following additional benefits which in many ways mirror research findings.
- A better flow of time in school and time out of school.
- Increased information retention.
- A calendar that supports a more individualized education as well as student needs.
- More flexibility for experiential education.
- Opportunity to incorporate more outdoor educational experiences and field trips.
- Chance to work with community educators and artists without competing with other school programs.
- Positive support of children’s social well-being as they are not separated from their school peers for an extended summer break.
A friend of our Head of School teaches a multiage class at an elementary school with a year-round balanced schedule. He emailed her asking what she thought of it. Her reply follows.
“Originally, the staff was leery of the year round (balanced calendar), but teacher satisfaction with the schedule is now over 85%. Parents also like the year round schedule. This schedule allows parents to take vacations at other times of the year. I really haven’t talked to any parents who were unhappy with this schedule. Since I didn’t teach before the year round schedule, I can’t tell whether it has made a difference in academic performance, but research states that it does make a difference.
More and more of the schools in our area are looking at year round, and some have already changed to the modified year round calendar. Rock Island (Elementary School) didn’t go to year round until after all the schools were air-conditioned. This way it is always comfortable to be in a classroom.
I personally like the year round (balanced calendar), just about the time the kids are sick of me and me of them, we get a break. Two weeks is just long enough to rest, but not enough time to have the kids forget what we were doing before the break. The break gives all of us the chance to regroup and be glad to see each other. Also, during that intersession I spend a lot of time planning for the next quarter, which I think makes me a better teacher.”
What does Swan School’s balanced calendar look like in comparison to a traditional school calendar? The graphs linked below illustrate the difference quite clearly. Traditional vs. Balanced Calendar When Swan School first made the decision to move towards a balanced calendar, Board of Trustee Chair, Tiffany Drewry stated, “We really see this as an opportunity to put the educational needs of the students first.” And that is Swan School’s focus, the learning needs of children. If you are interested in more information on balanced calendars you may want to follow to the links below.
To see this year’s calendar of events and intersessions, see the sidebar to the left for the PDF and Google online versions.