When a 10-year-old needs a sabbatical

Laura Brodie’s 10-year-old daughter, Julia, needed a break from her regimented elementary school. In Love in a Time of Homeschooling, Brodie writes about her decision to give her child “one ideal year of learning,” a child’s sabbatical.

The monotony of fill-in-the-blank history and math worksheets would be replaced with studying dinosaurs and Mayan hieroglyphics, conversational French, violin lessons, and field trips to art museums, science fairs, bookstores, and concerts.

As an adjunct professor and writer in Lexington, Virginia, Brodie was able to teach her daughter at home for a year.

With more technology-enabled parents working at home, short-term homeschooling could take off, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

Within the homeschooling community, Brodie says, these breaks are no longer considered unusual. Home Education Magazine calls them “emergency homeschooling.” Your kid is being bullied. A hurricane has wiped out your city. This year’s classroom teacher is not a good fit. Your spouse gets a sudden transfer. So you teach the child for awhile.

At her home school, Julia wrote every day on a subject of her own choice and read for an hour daily.

Brodie writes:

Julia was ready for the excitement of a new middle school after our fifth-grade year together, but she was soon dismayed by the elimination of recess and “shockwaves of homework” (her words).  There was also a lot of multiple choice and much less writing than we did in homeschooling, but her school was filled with good teachers and she liked the band and tennis team. Still,  she says in the book that “School is a lot like sitting in an airport. You learn how to pass the time.”

I had a journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan when my daughter was in fifth grade. Due to joint custody issues, she started fifth grade at her old school, then transferred to an Ann Arbor school for five months, then returned to her old school for the rest of the year. She was way ahead academically, so I figured the disruption wouldn’t matter. It didn’t. The experience was great, thanks to her great attitude. (She still has credit in the Good Egg Bank.)  If she’d been having trouble in school, I wouldn’t have done it, however.

About Joanne


  1. As the author of Love in a Time of Homeschooling, I’m happy to see this discussion of my book and want to add one clarification to a point that has caused confusion at Jay Mathews’ blog as well–

    “At her home school, Julia wrote every day on a subject of her own choice and read for an hour daily.”

    Actually, that was Julia’s homework assignment each day after three o’clock. During regular school hours Julia wrote history essays, science reports, author studies, etc.–sometimes on topics she chose, sometimes on subjects I insisted upon. She also did more math, foreign language study, art and music than her school could accommodate, along with weekly field trips and daily exploration of our community.

    The result was more academically rigorous than the usual 5th grade model, but also more freeing, because all of the reading and writing (and science experiments) offered a change from the multiple choice tests and worksheets that had dominated Julia’s schooling prior to that year.

    Laura Brodie

  2. My daughter will also be taking a school sabbatical for 6th grade. We are looking forward to a year of Syngapore math, ancient history filled with interesting projects, chemistry, serious grammar study, art and French with a tutor. My daughter is in particular looking forward to a year away from constantly disruptive students, teachers repeating directions over and over and a boring science/history-free curriculum. We’ll have moved to a state that has a much stronger curriculum and a full honors program for kids willing to do the work by the time she’s ready for 7th grade.

  3. greeneyeshade says:

    Friends of ours did this for their daughter, now at Penn.

  4. My son and I are just now finishing a “gap year” for 8th grade.

    One challenge with dropping out of school and into homeschooling is that it’s best to go into it with good existing social supports (through church, sports, scouts, music). You can’t instantly join homeschool groups. So plan ahead.

    We look forward to rejoining a school community, but we do not regret having had this year to ourselves. To go our own way. To do our own thing, academically.

    I’m only sorry that I can’t convince the school system to provide the same quality of content and instruction for other people’s children.