Today marks the beginning of our Spring Term — Leo Term — here in the River Houses. Leo Term runs from March through May.
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, 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 think has a great deal of educational potential. We’re looking forward to its development and 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. At the end of each term your students could assemble a quarterly portfolio of their 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 Leo Term, named for the Great Lion of the Heavens who is rising in the east in the evening now and who will be passing overhead throughout the spring.
If you want to make a special astronomical study this 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 Leo and its most prominent stars:
“Leo is a zodiacal constellation lying south of Ursa Major. It is one of the most beautiful of the constellations and is easily recognized; the stars forming the head of the lion are arranged in the shape of a sickle, or reversed ‘?.’ Regulus, its brightest star, has a magnitude of 1.3 and is 19th among the 20 brightest stars in the sky. It lies almost exactly in the plane of the ecliptic and is therefore eclipsed by the sun once a year (on about August 23). τ [tau] Leonis, a double star, can be separated with binoculars. A meteor shower, the Leonids, radiates from the head of the lion every year about the 14th or 15th of November.“ (Celestron Sky Maps, page 6)
Why not spend a little time out after dark with your students over the next three months and locate the Great Lion 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 have planned for this Leo 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 system 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. 😊
❡ 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 month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🔭