We put great stock in the educational value of calendars here in the River Houses. The calendar is the framework on which we hang almost all the facts we know about the world: historical events, natural phenomena, personal reminiscences, the seasons, the sun and moon, the planets, the stars.
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 as time goes on.
As you think about your own homeschool calendar, 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 you could have your students assemble a portfolio of their recent accomplishments. With a little imagination you should be able to come up with a clever and comfortable arrangement and a new way to think about the structure of your educational year.
Right now we’re in the third month of Cygnus Term, named for the Great Swan of the Heavens, which is high overhead just after dark. (Your students’ vocabulary word for the day is “cygnet.” 😊 And be sure to take note of the scientific names of the terrestrial swans on page 22 in your bird guide.)
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 Cygnus and its most prominent stars:
“Cygnus is a beautiful, easily recognized constellation in the form of a giant cross; it is sometimes called the Northern Cross. Deneb, a brilliant white star of magnitude 1.3 (18th of the 20 brightest stars), marks the top of the cross. There are many bright stars in Cygnus; it lies directly in the Galactic Plane and [therefore to the eye it appears] embedded in the Milky Way. Sweep this entire area with binoculars and note the many stars and clusters. The triangle outlined by α [alpha], γ [gamma], and ε [epsilon] Cygni encloses the region known as the ‘Coal Sack,’ a dark area in the Milky Way caused by an obscuring cloud of cosmic dust with no nearby stars to illuminate it. 61 Cygni, a double star, is the first star whose distance from the sun was measured.“ (Celestron Sky Maps, page 12)
Why not spend a little time out after dark this term with your students and locate the Great Swan as it makes its nightly migratory flight to the west. Once you learn to spot it, you’ll have a new autumnal friend for life.
What calendrical events and astronomical transitions are you marking in your homeschool this Cygnus 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. 🔭