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.
We divide the River Houses year into four three-month terms that roughly correspond to the seasons, and we have named these terms after prominent seasonal constellations:
- ✦ 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 an open-ended idea that I think has a great deal of potential, and I look forward to seeing it developed 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 terms. Different astronomical decorating themes in your classroom, perhaps, or a traditional visit to a particularly 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 with your students at each term’s beginning that outline what you want to accomplish, or have your students write achievement reports at each term’s end. With a little imagination you may 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? 😊
❡ 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. 🔭