For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-hercules
Today marks the beginning of our Summer Term — Hercules Term — here in the River Houses. Hercules Term runs from June through August.
We put great stock in the educational value of the calendar in the River Houses. The calendar is the framework on which we human beings hang a great many of the facts we know about the world: historical events, natural phenomena, personal reminiscences, the seasons, blooming flowers, migrating birds, the sun and moon, the planets, the stars. A key part of every student’s intellectual development is the development of “calendar sense” — a sense of time and history.
Our annual River Houses calendar divides the homeschool year into four three-month terms (quarters) that roughly correspond to the seasons, and these terms are named after prominent seasonal constellations of the northern hemisphere:
- ✦ Fall or Cygnus Term (September–November)
- ✦ Winter or Orion Term (December–February)
- ✦ Spring or Leo Term (March–May)
- ✦ Summer or Hercules Term (June–August)
This calendrical division is a new and open-ended idea that we’re developing for the River Houses, and we think has a great deal of educational potential. We’re looking forward to its elaboration as time goes on.
As you think about your own homeschool year, think about how different parts of it — curricular, co-curricular, social, or recreational — might be informally arranged into these four three-month terms. You could have a different decorating theme in your classroom each term, for example, or you could schedule a regular trip to a special place at the beginning of each term to see how the seasons change. You could group your curricular work by term, or set goals at the beginning of each term that you want your students to meet. You could have your students measure their height and weight at the beginning of each term, or take their penny-jar to the bank for a quarterly deposit. At the end of each term you could assemble a portfolio of student accomplishments. With a little imagination you will be able to come up with a clever and comfortable arrangement and a new way to think about the structure of your educational year.
Today is the first day of Hercules Term, named for the Great Hero of the Heavens, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, who is up in the southeast each evening now at sunset and will be passing high overhead throughout the summer.
Hercules Term is home to Flag Day (14 June), Father’s Day (16 June), and Independence Day (4 July); to the important 50th anniversary of the first moon landing this year (20 July, which is also Gregor Mendel’s birthday); and to the annual Perseid meteor shower (12–13 August) — not to mention countless other holidays and anniversaries, local and global, public and private, that you may wish to mark each year on your own homeschool calendar.
If you want to make a special astronomical study this Hercules Term, your River Houses reference library (riverhouses.org/books) includes a handy set of sky maps and a planisphere that will show you the location of the constellation Hercules and its most prominent stars:
“The keystone-shaped figure formed by the stars π [pi], η [eta], ζ [zeta] and ε [epsilon] Herculis helps to identify this constellation; also the stars θ [theta] and ι [iota] Herculis, representing respectively the bent left knee and the left foot of the kneeling Hercules, appear to rest directly on the head of Draco, the Dragon. It is one of the most ancient of the constellations. The outstanding feature of Hercules is the great globular cluster M13, the finest visible in the northern latitudes. On dark nights it is barely visible to the naked eye but it is easily seen in fieldglasses. A small telescope begins to reveal its beauty, while at least a 4″ telescope is necessary to resolve the stars. In a large telescope, it is a never-to-be-forgotten sight. There are thought to be no less than 100,000 stars in this cluster. Ras Algethi [α Herculis, the brightest star in the constellation] is binary and also an irregular variable, varying in magnitude from 3.1 to 3.9.“ (Celestron Sky Maps, page 8)
Why not spend a little time out after dark with your students over the next three months and locate the Great Hero as he makes his nightly passage to the west. Once you learn to spot him, you’ll have a friend for life.
What educational adventures do you and your homescholars have planned for this Hercules Term? 😊
❡ Quarter days and cross-quarter days: Dividing the year into quarters is an ancient and natural practice: the annual movement of the sun across the sky automatically gives us two equinoxes, two solstices, and four seasons. Our four terms are just a simple modification of that natural arrangement so that our River Houses calendar will align more conveniently with the ordinary months and with the more-or-less customary American school year. In many traditional calendrical systems, going back into the Middle Ages, the first day of each quarter is called a quarter day and the midpoint of each quarter is called a cross-quarter day. That means the quarter days of the River Houses year are 1 September, 1 December, 1 March, and 1 June, and the cross-quarter days are 15 October, 15 January, 15 April, and 15 July. (Fun fact: a vestige of the old system of quarter and cross-quarter days is Groundhog Day, also known as Candlemas on the Christian calendar: it’s the cross-quarter day between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.) Quarter days have for centuries been the traditional days on which school terms began, so homeschoolers who follow our River Houses calendar are participating in a very ancient tradition indeed. 😊
❡ Watchers of the skies: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. The planisphere on the front of your River Houses star atlas (riverhouses.org/books) will let you dial up the northern hemisphere sky for any night of the year, and the descriptions and maps of each constellation will point out the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this term and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🔭
❡ Choose something like a star: If you’d like some more simple and comfortable homeschool astronomy lessons, download and print a copy of our River Houses Star Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us month by month, making twelve heavenly friends for life over the course of the year. 🌟